First Nations woman claims spruce gum cured cancer

A woman in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., says she's cured herself of cancer by taking traditional medicine. Now Catherine Boucher wants doctors across the country to look at how she did it.
Instead of accepting standard treatment and a hysterectomy, Catherine Boucher of Fort Resolution, N.W.T., took the advice of her late grandfather. 'I heard him in my ear telling me to use spruce gum.' (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

EDITORS NOTE: This story was published before the reporting was complete. CBC North is still pursuing reaction to this story from Catherine Boucher's doctors and any medical professionals who heard her story at the Weaving our Wisdom gathering in Yellowknife. If you were there, please contact managing editor Archie McLean.

Catherine Boucher was diagnosed with a rare cervical cancer in 2003.

Instead of accepting standard treatment and a hysterectomy, the Fort Resolution, N.W.T., woman took the advice of her late grandfather.

"I heard him in my ear telling me to use spruce gum."

The medical community may be skeptical, but Boucher says her grandfather used to take her out on the land and teach her about natural medicines, including spruce gum, which has been used as a traditional medicine for generations.

Spruce gum is dried tree resin. Trees exude resin to heal any damage to its trunk.

Boucher says traditionally the gum was boiled in tea, but she thinks eating it raw makes it more effective as a medicine.

"I froze it all, put it in a big bowl, crushed it all, made it look like sugar, and that's how I took my spruce gum."

Boucher ate a tablespoon of crushed resin every 12 hours. Within six months, Boucher's doctor at the Cross Cancer Institute told her that her cancer was shrinking.

"When she told me my cancer was shrinking, I decided not to have the operation and I would just carry on with my spruce gum."

She's now been cancer free since 2008.

"I don't know what is in there, but there has to be something in there to cure," Boucher says. "It's pure I guess."

Boucher shared her story with doctors last week at a wellness conference in Yellowknife.

The Canadian Cancer Society says it's important for alternative methods of treatment to be scientifically proven to be effective and safe before patients consider using them. 

It also says alternative medicines can interfere with conventional cancer treatments, potentially causing harmful side effects. The society urges patients to be transparent with their doctors about what additional treatments they are taking. It also says delaying treatment to try an alternative method of treatment may pose a serious medical risk.

The doctors involved in Boucher's case did not return calls for comment, but one doctor who researches holistic medicine at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health says she's not convinced Boucher has found a new cure for cancer.

"There is usually more than one explanation for that kind of reality," says Dr. Farah Shroff.

Shroff says she doesn't want to discredit Boucher's claim, but an improved diet, more exercise and a positive state of mind could have played into Boucher's recovery.

"The human mind is a very, very powerful tool that we can harness in our healing."

Meanwhile, Boucher is still taking the gum regularly and hopes other people will give it a try.