Mary Swander’s first meeting with Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez was quick. After sending him scant medical records – they did not “amount to anything,” Mary admitted – she boarded a plane and flew to his office in New York. Dr. Gonzalez met Mary in the waiting room and immediately said the source of her problems was a terrible neck injury.
Dr. Gonzalez recommended a chiropractor in Atlanta. He told Mary to address the neck issue, and then they would tackle her immune system. “I’d gone to umpteen doctors, and they’d all told me, ‘We can’t see anything wrong with your neck.’ And I’m like, ‘I am in excruciating pain. How could nothing be wrong with my neck and have all that pain?’ And Dr. Gonzalez immediately picked up on that. We went from there, and I was a patient of his for 20 years.”
Mary is the Artistic Director of Swander Woman Productions, a theatre troupe that performs dramas about food, farming, and the wider rural environment. She also is the Executive Director of AgArts, a nonprofit designed to imagine and promote healthy food systems through the arts. She hosts AgArts from Horse & Buggy Land, a podcast focused on sustainability, the Amish, and rural living.
An award-winning author, Swander has published books of poetry, non-fiction, drama, and individual pieces in The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Poetry.
Now, Mary has written the authorized biography, The Maverick M.D.: Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez and His Fight for a New Cancer Treatment, available from New Spring Press.
Dr. Gonzalez graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Brown, with a degree in English literature. He worked as a journalist for Time and New York Magazine for eight years during the 1970s, focusing on health-related issues. It was during this time that he became interested in medicine and scientific research.
Dr. Gonzalez’s postgraduate premed work was at Columbia. He earned a medical degree from Cornell in 1983 and worked at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center while in med school. His internship in internal medicine was at Vanderbilt.
“He could clear up pancreatic cancer patients in record time, but autoimmune people are actually more difficult to deal with,” Mary contended. “That’s why we had a long relationship. … I was fascinated by what he did, how incredibly intelligent he was, and how he researched everything – not, you know, wave their hands over you or had crystals or something.”
As a medical student, Dr. Gonzalez learned of the work of a dentist, William Donald Kelley. The latter claimed to have cured his liver and pancreatic cancer with a nutritional therapy – a combination of pancreatic enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and coffee enemas.
“[Dr. Gonzalez] was an Ivy League physician, a scientist very much within the framework of conventional medicine in his training,” Mary said. “He found a different method that was more effective, and he tried to have it tested. A lot of criticism about alternative treatments is they haven’t been through clinical trials, and they don’t want to be tested. He did, and stepped forward and said, ‘I want to be tested; I want this to go through trials, the normal testing apparatus. And if it fails, then I’ll quit.’ I really respected that.”
While researching the book, Mary came to understand how Dr. Gonzalez had “put himself out there” with his belief in pancreatic enzymes and nutritional therapy as a viable treatment for cancer. “He sincerely believed in this, that he was onto something,” she added. “He really wanted to help people. He was a dedicated physician who wanted to cure cancer.”
Within The Maverick M.D., Mary gives the reader a solid grounding of the Gonzalez Protocol and why it is a different paradigm. “This is a total revamping of your entire constitution. It’s looking at the human body as a holistic system and trying to put it into balance,” she said.
“I think we should look at Dr. Gonzalez as a healer. I’ve been talking about him being a very well-credentialed conventional doctor, to begin with. As you read the book, you’ll see step-by-step, he began to enter into a spiritual realm. I think he had abilities beyond most human beings and that he was connecting to a higher force.
“There’s a spiritual dimension to the program that, if you didn’t know who this man was, you might not see that right away,” Mary noted. “I did not see it right away as a patient. I began to get my eyes open to his abilities. It’s a wonderful read as a medical read, but it’s also a wonderful read as a portrait of a true healer. Your eyes will be opened about all sorts of possibilities, medical and spiritual.”