Beth Israel Hospital’s integrative Center serves as a national model for integrative medical care. It is an active department at the hospital and part of a fundamental change in the way health care is delivered. It continues to contribute to this evolution through collaborative clinical care practice, professional education programs and scientific research. The Center works to broaden the meaning of healing and preventive health care by providing the best of Western scientific medicine with the most effective complementary therapies.













Honored as one of Vogue's four power players of the year for her work with integrative medicine. A four page story details Dawn's medical journey. Among a group of cancer survivors such as Kylie Minogue and Sam Taylor-Wood, Dawn discusses what she learned and is now doing because of her cancer experience.


Dawn Russell, a 33-year-old former model who lives in New York and London, and who developed Grade III melanoma that had metastasized to her lymph nodes at the age of 25, is among the cancer survivors who want to spread the message that life is short and special and comes with problems. She now works with a children's charity, going into schools across the US and talking to teenagers about their concerns. 'While I had all the external ornamentation of growing up in New York and the West Coast with periods abroad, private boarding schools and university, the twenty-something life in Manhattan, it is our inside core that must be our identity, not the external dressings,' she says. 'My scars of cancer are a constant reminder that life is about simplicity and grace, not quantity, the race to win in our capitalist society or the abyss of consumerism.'


There were several moments in the course of her treatment when it wasn't clear that she would survive. But looking back, there are things for which she is grateful. 'I met my husband [Lord Jamie Russell, brother of the Duke of Bedford] when I was at my sickest, so I'm grateful for that. When you get to the point where you can't contain your bowel movements on the street, perfection and approval hardly matter. When you get sick, you get a beautiful permission card that lets you revisit life. I spoke to some Lebanese friends who lived through the war, and talked about the warmth, camaraderie and laughter that the horrible periods brought. Look at 9/11? Why is it, that to get somewhere good, you have to have such a negative experience?' Unable to have either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, Russell dived headfirst into integrative medicine. 'It gave me a full experience of how cancer patients are poorly served by many aspects of our current medical system; this knowledge has driven me to the work I am doing now on the board of the Beth Israel Medical Center, and beyond,' she says.

Evening Standard


Dawn vice chaired the week long medical conference and sat on a medical panel with leading doctors and Michael J. Fox discussing the role doctors play in bridging the gap between alternative and traditional forms of medicine.


Lady Dawn Russell- Holistic Heath Educator, Metastatic Melanoma Cancer Survivor


Lady Dawn Russell is healthy, married to British Aristocracy and living a life most young girls dream about; but just six years ago, at age 25, Dawn was making out a will because she had stage III cancer. Cancer was not just a physical disease for her. Due to a dangerous infection she got during her third surgery, Dawn could not undergo chemo or radiation so (she) set out on a three year journey researching and using Eastern medicines to cure herself. She discovered her mind and body were intimately connected by studying methods of observing the mind, yoga, using herbal remedies, etc. Dawn Russell was honored as one of Vogue’s four women of empowerment this year. She has been in Self, Rolling Stone, Tatler, German Glamour, interviewed on “CBS News” sharing her story and is now using the information and tools she learned to help troubled girls with their individual struggles ranging from cutting, divorcing parents, addictions, low self esteem, etc.

Urban Zen


Honored as one of Vogue's four power players of the year for her work with integrative medicine. A four page story details Dawn's medical journey.



Consider the amazing journey of Dawn Russell, a young woman profiled this month by Rebecca Johnson, who was afflicted with stage III cancer at age 25. After almost six years of agonizing medicinal voyages (during which she devised a regimen combining Eastern and Western treatments), Russell finds herself healthy, in control, and newly married to a remarkable man.



Holistic Healing— I just finished reading the moving story of Dawn Russell ["Model Recovery," by Rebecca Johnson, March]. I, too, experienced melanoma. It has been eight years now, but it is still quite frightening every time I go fora checkup. Russell's story was inspiring, and it shows that when you take things into your own hands, no matter how difficult the situation, you always come out smarter and, if you're lucky, in total control of your destiny. I am a devoted VOGUE reader and would love to read more educational articles on heath and women's issues instead of the trendiest blush and the newest facelift. -Nina Friedman, New York, NY





















CBS News

Dawn Russell explains how she had to take the helm of her cancer treatment and find her own formula for health, combining western and eastern medicines.


Like many people, I grew up thinking doctors were all-knowing. You get sick, they know how to make you better. But when I was diagnosed with melanoma five years ago at age 25, I quickly learned that there are limits to what physicians can accomplish. While the lesson was a difficult one, it helped me to discover a way of life that’s healthier than any I’d considered before I became ill.


In 2000, I was living in New York City, modeling and looking into graduate schools for broadcast journalism. About a year before, a mole had popped up on my left buttock; my dermatologist kept an eye on it but wasn’t worried. It was small, reddish and only slightly raised (not black, bumpy and irregularly shaped, the more typical signs of melanoma, the most fatal form of skin cancer). By the late fall, though, the mole had become itchy and irritated, so my doctor decided to remove it.


A couple of days later, she called to tell me that she was sending the tissue to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for further analysis. Of course I knew I might have skin cancer, but I didn’t get overly dramatic; it never occurred to me that it could be life-threatening. Even when I found out it was melanoma a week later, I didn’t panic: The oncologist said there was a good chance my dermatologist had already removed the malignancy. Still, he said I should have a larger area of tissue removed and also undergo a sentinel-node biopsy, which would reveal if any cancer cells had spread. I did not hesitate. I scheduled the surgery for the next week—the day after Christmas—fully expecting to greet the new year cancer-free.


If only. The doctors found cancer in the lymph node they’d tested and said I’d need another, more grueling surgery to see if others were affected. Out of four possible stages of melanoma, I was stage 3. My prognosis? There was only a 65 percent chance I’d live to see my 30th birthday.


The next two weeks were a blur of tests and appointments, but the results of the surgery were exactly what I’d hoped—all of the nodes were clean. Still, about a week later, I suffered a major postoperative infection that required weeks of intravenous and oral antibiotics. By the end of it, my body was ravaged. I was weak, my skin was greenish and I’d lost a lot of weight. I’d been through hell, and the next treatment options I had to consider seemed to promise more of the same: I could do a course of interferon injections, which would likely cause major side effects without offering much protection against recurrence, or I could join a clinical trial for an experimental vaccine.


I was already debilitated, so after consulting with a physician friend, I decided the risks of interferon far outweighed the chance of any benefit. As for the clinical trial, they enrolled patients only at certain times, so I’d have to wait for the next opening. I felt my treatment should address my needs, not the researchers’. Ultimately, I decided to watch and wait, what doctors call observational follow-up. My doctors would check me every three months, and I’d have regular tests.


Still, I had to do something for my feeble body and weakened immune system. That’s when a family friend suggested I explore some alternative remedies. She recommended a healing center in the Pacific Northwest that had saved the life of a friend who’d been declared terminal by his oncologists. After meeting him, I was persuaded to give it a try. I had reached the boundaries of Western medicine.


I sent all of my medical records to the center, and after a few phone consultations with an herbalist, I received a slew of supplements and tonics intended to improve my immunity and halt the spread f any possible leftover cancer cells. Within days of starting the regimen, I was exhausted, vomiting, and experiencing intense vertigo. Yet I somehow convinced myself that the symptoms were simply the result of my body cleansing the “toxins” and kept up with the program for six months before throwing away all the pills and supplements.


A year after my surgery, I still couldn’t get through he day without naps. Working was out of the question. But despite my fatigue and near-constant infections, I couldn’t accept this limited life. So I sought out top alternative practitioners, all of whom claimed success in treating people with cancer—but I tended to rely on word of mouth more than science.


The first person I saw was an energy healer who promised to release the “negative toxins” within me. When he held his hands an inch above my body, I felt a tingling sensation and a sense of calm. The immediate effects were wonderful, but they lasted no longer than an afternoon. A few months later, a naturopath I visited prescribed a liver-detox concoction, the ingredients of which included Epson salts and cider vinegar. All it did was leave me chained to the toilet. The homeopath I saw afterward recommended an incredibly detailed organic diet, a batch of dietary supplements and cooking instructions so regimented, I spent all of my time planning and preparing my meals. But this routine wasn’t the solution either. Following his demands didn’t help me rebuild my life, it became my life. I told him to shove it after six weeks.


I’d had it. I suddenly woke up and realized that there had to be a way to combine the scientific standards of Western medicine with the holistic philosophies of Eastern therapies. Must it be an either/or situation? After extensive research, I discovered the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, a network of top medical centers dedicated to a holistic approach to healing, blending the best of Eastern and Western therapies. The name that kept coming up was Woodson Merrell, M.D., founder of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. I met with him in the spring of 2004 and knew immediately that he could really help me.


The first problem he zeroed in on was my ongoing fatigue and frequent illnesses, which seemed to stem largely from my depressed immune system. He sent me to a meditation teacher and suggested weekly acupuncture treatments. Dr. Merrell also devised a nutritional plan that drew on the Mediterranean diet: lots of cruciferous vegetables, fruit and fish. He recommended several supplements, along with a Chinese mushroom that may help the immune system keep the growth of melanoma cells at bay. He even stepped up my physical therapy to help restore my leg sensation. (During my second surgery, doctors had to sever some nerves to reach my lymph nodes, which left me numb from the knee to groin.) When he told me that one of the supplements I’d taken—high doses of selenium—had been found to promote the growth of skin cancer, I realized just how important it is to have a doctor overseeing all aspects of my care, Eastern and Western alike.


I certainly don’t have all the answers, but this much I know: Nearly fie years after being diagnosed, I’m still cancer-free. Do I have surgery to thank for that? Most definitely. But I now realize that no single approach or person will ever have all the answers. It was only when I combined the best of both worlds that I was able to restore my health.



Yoga Spirit Issue: Russell gave her personal yoga tips.


Dawn Russell, nee Alexander, wrote this article about cancer being her wake up call and now knows how to listen to her body mostly thanks to yoga.


The journey started when I got cancer. Until that moment, I was living my own version of the New York twentysomething circuit, a kind of psychotic, urban life in which car horns and screaming fire engines eased me to sleep. I was almost unable to sleep without them. I was in overdrive and, I thought, in control. I felt fulfilled because I was allegedly setting the foundation for a complete life. I had equated productivity with contentment. The problem was that I was looking at my life in pieces, trying to make each piece as bright as possible, rather than looking at the whole and questioning whether it really was whole.


The cancer was located in the lymph nodes in my groin. For most people, the onset of the disease would be a seriously dark moment; for me, it heralded the start of an important evolution in my life. I was in and out of the hospital for three months and underwent multiple surgeries. A quarter of the lymph nodes in my body were removed.


The doctor ushered me into his office and described the cancer in morose detail. Unexpectedly, instead of fear, I immediately knew that this event was the trigger I needed for a fuller, more balanced way of life. The prospect of death made little sense to me. I had to stop and go inward. I had to edit out all the unquestioned standards and unspoken pressures that society puts on the young, the thriving newcomers in the workforce. I realized that all the pressure was doing was killing me; it was not beneficial, it was not productive, it was not getting me anywhere.


Illness is the language through which the body communicates its needs. At first it whispers; then, failing to be heard, it screams. An eastern healer once told me to look at how I lived yesterday in order to understand how I feel today. Yesterday, I was all brain. I lived an overly masculine existence, relying on logic and crowding out the feminine way of letting life take its own course. With the cancer, the body had spoken. It needed a rest. As my journey got under way, I realized that in order to restore my health I had to remain open to all types of treatment, including happiness.


In the waiting-room, I noticed how easy it is for patients to descend. Some were grey. Some never looked up. Some could barely stand. Some were painfully thin. Some sat alone. Some lashed out at their spouse through fear. Some looked invisible. Some were hollow. Some continued their lives on their mobiles as though nothing was different.


As I spent my days in the hospital, I became friends with the nurses, receptionists, cleaners and doctors. It was amazing to see how they had become immune to emotion and operated on autopilot. I watched my best friend, who is a doctor, harden. I realized it had to happen to her; it is the only way one can survive in such a world. But the moment I smiled or made light of something, everything changed in the room. The others were brought back to life. We would laugh and have conversations about books or movies.


Rather than submit to the relative inflexibility of conventional healthcare, alternative therapy was my preferred path. I worked with a centre that devises a programme for each patient based on analysis of their blood. Most of its patients are on a combination of herbal and conventional medicines.


I was surprised to discover how much I needed to rely on my capacity to heal my self. We often think we should leave everything to the doctors because we are the ill ones and they are they trained ones. Doctors provide statistical analysis and standard medical procedures, and do their best within their professional parameters. But it is up to us, the patients, to examine our eating habits, sleeping patterns and inner dialogue.


The cancer in my body originated from a mole. As part of a research study, my moles are examined every three months by an expensive skin-grafting machine. I have irregular melanoma moles, making my results very intriguing to cancer specialists. One would think a cancer specialist would immediately excise a cancerous mole, but the advice given to e was not to. I took the decision to remove them anyway, against professional advice. Two out of three turned out to be malignant.


The removal of the tumours is the beginning of the healing process. I developed a dangerous infection from a drain that was put in my left leg after surgery, and it will take about seven years for the excess liquid to dissipate so that I can regain sensation in the upper leg. I could not undergo chemo because o the severity of the infection, so I had to find alternative methods.


I turned to yoga, eastern healers and herbal remedies, and they have become part of my daily routine. Each yoga pose helps open certain parts of the body, providing oxygen, stretching muscles, stimulating circulation and detoxing the system. Since the body and mind are intertwined, the more I cleanse my body, the more I cleanse my mind. My practice on the mat mirrors my practice in life—the better I am on the mat, the better I am in life. These methods have helped me regain sensation in my leg, while also bringing my whole body back to long-term health.


During my illness, every external aspect of my life began to remould itself in more positive form. I met my fiancé while I was ill; I walked away from an unstimulating career in the fashion industry; many of my relationships with my family and friends matured and deepened. The experience brings clarity to how you live your life, and also to every relationship. Without word or action, all your relationships come into focus. Some disappear, some become part of your being. An aunt I rarely used to see slept on the cold tiled hospital floor next to my bed for 11 days; a friend in the film industry kept sending me movies; another friend, a musician, would sing on my voicemail daily; another called hourly, as though I was going to keel over any moment. All reactions were unique and unexpected. What was clear was who was in it for the long haul.


As I look back on the journey that I am now, at 28, a few years into, I feel blessed to have had an experience that most of us dread. Each of us experiences this journey indifferent forms, but the destination is the same. The destination is freedom. Freedom to let go, freedom to be imperfect, freedom to walk away, freedom to say no, freedom to risk, freedom to dare, freedom to feel or say anything. Just as the old wisely become children again, we start and end at the same destination. The body communicates with us through health and illness; if we listen to it and follow our intuition, we remain free.