The Voyage of the Voice: Jeff Charles’s Battle Against Cancer

The Voyage of the Voice: Jeff Charles’s Battle Against Cancer

Published: Dec. 21, 2016 at 7:33 PM EST

Most ECU Pirate fans know that Jeff Charles, the longtime announcer for the ECU Pirates battled cancer. What you may not know is that it almost killed him.

“I’m very fortunate I got through that period when I was deathly sick,” Charles said. “I was at deaths’s door. There is no question about that.”

In December 2012, Charles was diagnosed with colon cancer and had three surgeries in nine days. Then he developed a near deadly infection. He survived, but the recovery was grueling. He had to sleep in a chair for four months; the three incisions in his stomach meant he could not lay flat. He also had to wear an uncomfortable wound vac for four months. Charles underwent 612 hours of chemotherapy in a six-month period.

“The Voice” got back to work and was in remission. He didn’t know his battle was not over.

“I was naive enough to think that I had beaten cancer,” Charles said.

Then tumors appeared again, this time, in his lung. In March of 2015, a man who’s made his living as “The Voice” ended up losing part of that lung on the operating table. Charles said he was surprised to wake from surgery and be told part of his lung had to be removed. He was not expecting that to happen.

Soon after, a conversation with his doctor changed everything.

“I’ve already been through six surgeries, all the chemo, everthing that I’ve been through, and now here the cancer comes back again, where do you think I am? He says, ‘Well, you’ll probably just continue to get more tumors.’ And a lightbulb went on in my head. And I said, ‘You know, there’s got to be a different way to attack this animal. I’m not just going to sit here and be a statistic like I’ve seen so many poor people over the years.’ “

Charles’s search for that different way led to mistletoe. The plant known for Christmas kisses has been used in Europe to treat cancer for about a century. He traveled to Durango, Colorado to the Namaste Health Center, one of a few dozens of places in the entire country where they treat cancer patients with mistletoe extract, shipped in from Germany, by way of Canada.

Mistletoe is administered in the same way chemotherapy is–intravenously.

“Mistletoe is mianly designed to boost the body’s own immune function,” explains Dr. Stacy Mulkey, one of the doctors at the Namaste Health Center who treated Charles. “There are several proposed mechanisms for this, but one of the most studied is the boost in natural killer cell function. These are a specific type of white blood cells that will basically kill off anything that looks weird, whether it’s a bacteria, whether it’s a virus, whether it’s a cancer cell.”

Charles spent three weeks in Colorado and continues his mistletoe therapy through injections three times a week at home.

“I feel absolutely terrific,” Charles says. “I’ve really never felt better in my life than I do right now.”

Charles says he frequently asks oncologists if they know about mistletoe, and many he’s come across do not. That’s something Believe Big, a non-profit group, is trying to change. Co-founder Ivelisse Page is working to get the first-ever clincial trial of mistletoe for cancer patients in the U.S. off the ground. The mother of four survived stage four colon cancer and has been cancer-free for eight years.

“Right now, patients are having to go in deep research mode to find mistletoe, and we would just love for it to be at the beginning stages of their cancer, instead of towards the end, or have difficulty finding it,” Page says.

Believe Big has raised nearly $500,000 through a grass roots effort in order to begin a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins, a world-renown research facility. Mistletoe therapy is FDA-approved in the Homeopathic Pharmacopia, but it’s not in mainstream medicine. It’s also not covered by insurance.

“Even though its so much less expensive, it’s still out of reach for some people when it’s an out of pocket expense,” says Dr. Mulkey.

It’s about $200 a month for mistletoe injections at home. The goal for Charles and other patients is to keep cancer from coming back.

“We all have cancer cells in our bodies that our immune system is fighting off, and it doesn’t really develop into a tumor until to many of them escape the immune system and happen to be in one area localized, and then a tumor can grow,” Dr. Mulkey explains.

Charles’s latest scans for new tumors have come back clear. He’s also cleared his diet of red meat, processed foods and sugar.

“Sugar is just so bad for you. It’s horrible for you,” Charles says. “And if you have cancer, and you’re continuing to eat sugar, it just fuels cancer cells in your body. It’s like pouring gas on a fire.”

Charles’s diet consists of a shake full of nutrients daily for breakfast, a salad for lunch, fish for dinner most nights, and broccoli pretty much every day.

“It’s not a whole lot of fun, but what happens is you get used to it, and what really happens is that your stomach shrinks and you realize that you don’t need all the food that you were eating,” Charles said.

He also works out at a level comparable to the college athletes he does play-by-play for. Charles also says it’s important to keep a good attitude and to believe in your ability to get better.

“Because this therapy worked so well, and is working so well, I feel a responsibility and just an obligation to get the word out to as many people as I can about mistletoe therapy and a natural approach to killing cancer,” Charles said.

The man who will always be known as “Voice of the Pirates” now hopes his lasting legacy is helping change the way we fight cancer.

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Mistletoe: The holiday plant is making headlines as an alternative cancer treatment

Mistletoe: The holiday plant is making headlines as an alternative cancer treatment

Mistletoe: The holiday plant is making headlines as an alternative cancer treatment

Mistletoe’s big season may have just ended, but its role as an anticancer agent could be just getting started. An oncologist at Johns Hopkins successfully treated a patient who had advanced colon cancer with an extract of the seasonal botanical, sparking interest in the plant’s anticancer properties.

The Smithsonian Institution describes mistletoe as a semiparasitic plant in the order of flowering plants known as Santalales. There are approximately 1,300 species that grow mostly in temperate or tropical areas throughout the world. The two types that are commonly sold during the Christmas season are Phoradendron serotinum, the North American mistletoe, and Viscum album, the European variety.1 Scientists are interested in the latter type for medical applications.


Europe and Asia Although mistletoe is poisonous when ingested, doctors outside the United States have been processing it into an injectable extract to treat patients with cancer for a number of years; and with increasingly positive results.2 In fact, German physicians recently published a paper demonstrating how treatment with mistletoe apparently led to the complete regression of an adenoma in the colon of a 78-year-old man who had refused chemotherapy for a cancer relapse 5 years after surgery.3

United States Physicians in the United States, however, have not been so eager to use the substance, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discourages its use outside of clinical trials, despite citing some success. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse

“Laboratory studies have found that mistletoe kills cancer cells and stimulates the immune system.

“The use of mistletoe to treat cancer has been studied in Europe in more than 30 clinical trials. Although improvements in survival or quality of life have been reported, almost all of the trials had major weaknesses in their design that raise doubts about the findings. For example, many of the studies had a small number of participants or did not have a control group.”4

Studies from Europe have shown benefits for patients with cancer of the colon, breast, pancreas, and even for those with melanoma, but the results of treating other types of cancer with mistletoe have not been so positive. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins will study mistletoe as a cancer treatment thanks to one patient’s success story, her open-minded oncologist, and his colleague, a physician specializing in alternative and complimentary medicine.


In 2008, Luis Diaz, MD, an associate professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, treated Ivelisse Page, a 37-year-old woman with stage IV cancer of the colon. Despite resection of 15 inches of colon and 28 lymph nodes, the cancer progressed to her liver. After a second surgery in which 20% of her liver was removed, Peter Hinderberger, MD, a physician on Page’s health care team, suggested trying mistletoe. A specialist in using complementary therapies, Hinderberger had seen patients respond favorably to injections of the substance. Diaz, also the director of translational medicine at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, reviewed the literature on mistletoe studies from Europe, and decided to initiate the therapy. He noted, “… as soon as she went on it, she started feeling better. That’s a universal feature I’ve seen in all patients who get mistletoe.”5

Whether it was the surgery, diet and exercise, or the mistletoe therapy, Page has been free of cancer since her liver surgery.6 She and her husband formed a nonprofit organization, Believe Big, to bring the mistletoe extract from Europe, where it is manufactured, to the United States for clinical trials. They also hope to use their organization to connect cancer patients with doctors who use nonconventional therapies.6 Channing Paller, MD, is principal investigator for the Johns Hopkins research on the use of mistletoe in cancer. An assistant professor of oncology at the School of Medicine, she theorizes that the effectiveness of mistletoe could lie in its apparent ability to boost the immune system and increase patients’ tolerance of traditional chemotherapy. That would mean that patients could receive higher doses of chemotherapy, enhancing the effect but with fewer consequences.

Germany and other countries have approved prescribing mistletoe for palliation, but not for chemotherapy.7 Studies have shown the plant’s derivatives have led to enhanced quality of life, concentration, and mood. Patients on chemotherapy report that they have more energy, and they experience less nausea and discomfort while taking mistletoe. Researchers in the United States are hoping to achieve similar positive effects while proving the extract’s anticancer activity.


1. Mistletoe facts from a Smithsonian Botanist. Smithsonian Science Web site. Accessed January 7, 2015.

2. Wrotek S, Skawiński R, Kozak W. Immunostimulatory properties of mistletoe extracts and their application in oncology [in Polish]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2014;68:1216-1224.

3. von Schoen-Angerer T, Goyert A, Vagedes J, et al. Disappearance of an advanced adenomatous colon polyp after intratumoural injection with Viscum album (European mistletoe) extract: a case report. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2014;23(4):449-452.

4. European mistletoe. Side effects and cautions. NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Web site. Accessed January 7, 2015

5. Sugarman J. Are mistletoe extract injections the next big thing in cancer therapy? Johns Hopkins Magazine. Published Spring 2014. Accessed January 7, 2015

6. Ivelisse’s Story. Believe Big Web site. January 7, 2015.

7. Handwerk B. Medical mistletoe: Can the holiday plant really fight cancer? Web site. Published December 8, 2014. Accessed January 7, 2015.

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Cancer survivor drives Hopkins mistletoe therapy trials

Cancer survivor drives Hopkins mistletoe therapy trials

SEP 11, 2013  8:02 AM
Iveliesse Page is the founder of Believe Big, an anti-cancer non profit in Reisterstown. Believe Big is raising funds for a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Kimmel Cancer Center. (Photo by Karen Jackson)

Ivelisse Page is on a mission.

In 2011, Page launched Believe Big, a nonprofit foundation that helps cancer patients and their families through this traumatic, life-changing diagnosis. Based on her own experience as a colon cancer survivor, Page aims to educate the cancer community about the importance of combining conventional and complementary approaches to treatment.

To that end, Believe Big is the primary backer of a clinical trial of mistletoe extract, an alternative therapy Page underwent, slated to begin at Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center within the next six months.

Page attributes her current health condition to conventional surgery and complementary mistletoe extract, a therapy widely used in Europe as an alternative cancer treatment.

Through dinners, fees from walking/running events and donations, Believe Big has raised $100,000 of the $300,000 needed for the first phase of the three-phase trial, even though nonprofits don’t usually initiate clinical trials. The treatment, using mistletoe extract, is barely known in the United States.

However, her doctor, Peter Hinderberger, of the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center near Sinai Hospital, though, is well versed in the treatment.

Through her own research and through the recommendations of friends, Page became acquainted with Hinderberger’s work in complementary medicine.

He’s one of two physicians in Baltimore — and 50 total in the U.S. — allowed to prescribe mistletoe for certain cases. Hinderberger, now a board member of Believe Big, first learned about the treatment in the 1970s when he worked at a cancer clinic in Switzerland that specialized in alternative treatment.

Hinderberger describes mistletoe extract as the “backbone” of his cancer protocol, the specifics depending on the patient’s kind of cancer, current stage and treatment — surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

While mistletoe is not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It falls under the category of homeopathy and is paid for out-of-pocket, at a cost of $100 to $150 per month, depending on the extract intensity and number of injections.

Page, a slim, vibrant woman who runs Believe Big out of her home in Reisterstown, has had an equally improbable journey.

Five years ago, the 37-year-old mother of four, was found to have Stage 4 colon cancer that eventually spread to her liver, dropping her survival rate chances after two years to just 8 percent.

That’s why after her surgery, Page searched for an alternative to standard chemotherapy treatment.

“As I was going through this process, I saw people who were in such a hopeless state. I wanted to help them, to let them know about treatments other than the traditional ones,” said Page, who added that she is now cancer-free.

At first blush, Page was taken aback by the thought of being cured by mistletoe extract, which is sold under the brand names Iscador, Helixor and a handful of others, in liquid form in injectable vials.

“I’m like, ‘mistletoe, what’s that? That’s what I see at Christmastime,’ she said. ‘Why haven’t I been told about this before?'”

According to the institute, several trials of mistletoe have been undertaken and are under way in Europe for those countries’ official approval. In the U.S., the institute lists two mistletoe trials besides Hopkins, although the sites are not given and the results not yet published.

Still, after Hinderberger explained that mistletoe contains viscotoxin, a poisonous substance that actively and directly kills cancer cells and boosts patients’ cancer-fighting immune system via special proteins called lectins, Page became very interested. Once he added that the substance also prevents new blood-vessel formation in cancers and promotes natural cell death, she was all in.

“When I found out from my oncologist that I only had a 10 percent better chance of survival by taking chemo(therapy), I decided to burn the boats and not look back,” she said. “Why would I want to destroy everything in my body for just a 10 percent chance?”

From clinical studies and his personal experience, “mistletoe prolongs survival time and improves the quality of life,” Hinderberger said.

Page is the link between Hinderberger and Dr. Luis Diaz, an associate professor of oncology at Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center, who is conducting the mistletoe trial. Diaz is also a board member of Believe Big.

“Dr. Diaz followed my progress” on mistletoe therapy, Page said. “Once I hit the one-year mark, I told him, ‘We need to make this available.’ At the three-year mark, he was willing to do the trial. He told me that being cancer-free three years after surgery is unbelievable.”

Apparently, she and the mistletoe also made a big believer of Diaz.

“She showed me research on mistletoe. I saw other patients through her who seemed to be thriving,” said Diaz, who also researched the topic. “It sounds like it’s very common in Europe, but hasn’t hit the mainstream in the U.S.”

The mistletoe trial’s three phases will take between five to eight years and involve patients with different kinds of cancers and ultimately cost in the millions. Diaz expects that once the trial begins, it will attract other funding. Weleda Group, the Swiss manufacturer of Iscador, is providing the extract free for the trial.

“At the end, if we improve outcomes, if mistletoe becomes one of the ingredients in that cocktail, we’ll be pleased,” Diaz said.

To Page, the ultimate goal of the Hopkins’ trial is FDA approval, which would make mistletoe an acceptable “standard of care.”

“As of now, mistletoe is considered alternative medicine, even though it is used all over the world,” she said, noting that she met with representatives of European mistletoe extract developers Sept. 5 and will continue to promote the treatment through Believe Big. “FDA approval would allow it to be used by cancer institutes, and that’s why we’re working through the process now with the FDA.”


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