Living life on his own terms: Clovis resident combats grim cancer diagnosis with nutrition-based therapy

By Valerie Shelton

In June, lifelong Clovis resident Jim Stashuk, 48, was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer and given six to 11 months to live, but rather than raise the white flag and surrender to a chemotherapy regimen that would only extend his life by a few short months, Stashuk has opted for an alternative therapy he hopes will cure the aggressive disease altogether.

On Monday, Stashuk traveled to Arizona, with his sister Debbie Reno in tow, to take part in a two-week Gerson therapy program. The Gerson method, which is highlighted in the 2008 documentary film “A Beautiful Truth,” is a strict nutritional program that consists mostly of juiced organic fruits and vegetables. The Gerson diet is said to heal the body of cancer and other ailments by ridding the body of harmful toxins.

Gerson therapy has been around since the 1920s and is controversial among the medical community. Although it’s not doctor recommended, Stashuk said he has nothing to lose and everything to gain from trying the alternative treatment, as he already knows what the outcome would be with chemotherapy.

“If he did chemotherapy and it was successful it would give him 10 or 11 months and then there is no quality of life. Without chemotherapy it is six to seven months,” Stashuk’s sister, Debbie Reno, said. “This has forced us to look for other alternatives and we have found that through the Gerson therapy.”

Reno is a personal trainer and went with Stashuk to Arizona so a she could learn how to properly fix his food for times when he’s not able to himself.

Gerson, they said, is highly restrictive and there is a lot more they need to learn aside from just juicing. For example, Stashuk can’t have tap water or use regular toothpaste because of the fluoride in it. He also can’t heat food up in a microwave and he had to invest in all stainless cookware with no Teflon coating. He also can’t store his leftovers in plastic containers.

“It’s not just a diet, it’s a complete lifestyle change,” Stashuk said.

The main nutritional guideline, however, is that everything must be organic and Stashuk will be juicing 15 to 20 pounds of organic produce a day—600 to 700 pounds a month.

“It’s is expensive so we’re trying to set up something with growers to get food delivered to my house or go to a place to pick it up so that way we can have it readily available,” he said.

It’s even more complicated then that for Stashuk, who also has diabetes and kidney problems. Many of the juices, he said, have lots a fruit in them that are too sweet for him so instead he needs to learn how to juice more vegetables—vegetables that aren’t as easy to find organically, like beet tops, Swiss chard and edamame.

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Stashuk said he actually tried juicing but failed because he didn’t know the right vegetables to use and ended up using too much fruit that raised his blood sugar levels.

“I tried the green juices and didn’t care for them so much but I really liked the fruit juices,” Stashuk said. “I was down at the Old Town Farmers Market buying blueberries and strawberries and grapes and cherries and made some wonderful fruit smoothies but unfortunately my blood sugar levels escalated into the 500 range and I had to stop. So I stopped and my juicer started collecting dust in the corner.”

Now, years later and doing things the Gerson way, Stashuk said he is already feeling much better because his blood sugar levels have dropped.

“It’s already starting to help with my diabetes,” he said.

The important question, though, is will it help cure his terminal cancer? Stashuk and his family said they are confident and have faith that it will.

Stashuk’s mother, Pat Vollhardt, who owns the Dolls, Bears and More store in Old Town Clovis, said she feels her son has been led in this direction by a series of circumstances she says can’t just be all coincidence.

“Not many have heard of Gerson therapy but my cleaning lady’s sister was diagnosed with a very rare blood cancer and was given four months to live and she went through the Gerson treatment and six and a half years later she’s still with us,” Vollhardt said.

Reno also has faith in the program and it’s emphasis on organic produce, which she tried to convince her family to switch to a little over two years ago when she went on her weight loss journey.

“I knew juicing was good for you but I never knew the degree of it,” Reno said. “I lost 64 pounds. I was headed toward high blood pressure and things were starting to elevate and I turned 50 and said no more and did a complete lifestyle change.”

Because of the knowledge she gained from her own health journey, Reno now has the ability to be a great aide to her brother—something she believes was all part of God’s plan.

“Two years ago I never would have dreamed I’d be a personal trainer and here I am. God had his hand in everything,” Reno said.

Vollhardt said it is all this and more that makes her believe this treatment is going to cure Stashuk.

“God has put so many people into our lives with so much knowledge that has pushed us in this direction,” Vollhardt said. “I thank God we’re hopeful instead of dreadful for what might be coming because we have hope and we have faith.”

For the past few years Stashuk, who has been a Clovis boy all his life and graduated from Clovis West High School, has struggled with his health and a lack of work due to the recession.

For most of his life he worked as a car salesman at various Fresno and Clovis dealerships. His last job at Future Ford of Clovis ended in 2008. Since then, he has sold items on eBay to try and make ends meat and with his health declining, even though he wanted to go back into the car business he knew he couldn’t physically stand out on the lot for long time periods.

For some time, Stashuk has been at a loss for what to do next. Now, he said when he gets better he knows what he’ll do with his second chance.

“If I beat this thing, which I believe I will, then my mission will be to spread the word about Gerson therapy because most people, in fact no one really, has heard of it,” Stashuk said. “Doctors only give you three options, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and people need to know there is another alternative out there.”

Reno said she also plans to make it her mission to “pay it forward,” and let people she trains know the health benefits of juicing.

Stashuk and his family have set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds for his treatment in Arizona. To donate, visit