After a lifetime of trusting old-fashioned remedies to ward off illnesses, aches and pains, Audrey Parcell thought her body had the healing power to cope with almost any disease.

When she started to lose her appetite and feel exhausted all the time she thought she would again fight off whatever infection was making her feel run down.

But as the months went by and she got worse and worse, Audrey realised she was dealing with something more serious than she had ever coped with before.

When the mother-of-five finally found out she had an inoperable tumour, her belief in her own body almost failed.

Audrey was diagnosed as having non-Hodgkins lymphoma and told she had only a few weeks to live.

Her consultant said the tumour was so advanced, there was no way she could survive.

As far as the medical establishment was concerned, the former counsellor's only option was to prolong her life by a few weeks by blasting her body with toxic chemotherapy.

Audrey said: "I told the doctor I wasn't going to have conventional treatment. He was very nice about it and said Good luck to you, we don't have all the answers'.

When I left the consulting room, I thought that was it. "I was going home to die."

Part of her couldn't believe her body had let her down.

She said: "I was surprised at myself. I had always treated my children and myself with natural methods and they had always worked.

"The children never had an antiobiotic and I didn't immunise them against anything.

They had all the childhood diseases, from mumps to measles, and they recovered well from all of them."

Audrey's mother had followed the same philosophy.

She said: "She was considered cranky. In those days, anything that wasn't orthodox was thought to be very odd.

"I suppose I inherited my belief in the body's power to heal itself from her.

In many ways, she was actually ahead of her time."

By the time Audrey was diagnosed with the cancer, she looked skeletal and haggard.

When she went to make a will, the solicitor dealt with the legal papers in record time for fear her client wouldn't live long enough to see the process through.

She said: "I crawled into the office and was hanging on the table because I couldn't sit up.

Within two weeks, I had the final copy of the will. She must have taken one look at me and thought if she didn't do it right away it would be too late."

But Audrey wasn't ready to give up and die.

She said: "Someone suggested I go to the homeopathic hospital in London.

"I had a week there and I was given something called Iscador. Homeopathy is based on the idea that like cures like.

The Iscador was a diluted form of extract of mistletoe and mistletoe is a kind of parasite, like cancer.

It seemed to make sense to me.

"I was taught to inject myself with it every day. I hate injections but the fact I was doing something for myself instead of having things done to me made me feel empowered.

"At first, it didn't seem to affect the way I felt at all. It's very difficult when you are so near death to really see small changes but I did feel it was helping."

Audrey's next breakthrough came when she heard about the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, which specialises in a complementary approach to treatment.

The centre, which offers an in-and out-patient service, uses nutrition, counselling and meditation as its weapons in the battle against cancer.

Audrey, who lives in a cottage in the middle of Ashdown Forest, near Hartfield, already followed an organic, vegetarian diet.

But at the centre, she learnt something she believes was the key to beating the disease.

She said: "The thing that did more for me than almost anything else was visualisation.

Anyone can try visualisation but for it to work properly I think it is better if people have their own personal picture to visualise.

"The picture that came to me was of a tropical island. I am standing on a sand dune looking at this beautiful stretch of blue sea and I see a colourful, silken rug between two palm trees.

I run across the sand and my feet would actually get hot as I was imagining this and lie down on the rug.

"The rays of sun coming through the palm trees are hot and in my mind I direct them toward my tumour.

The sun melts the tumour away, just melts it away."

Every day for several years, Audrey willed her tumour to melt away.

At first, she still felt ill and couldn't tell if it was working. But gradually, she grew stronger. It seemed her body had defied medical science.

She said: "What really threw the medical profession was the way the tumour did actually melt away.

I would go for these scans in big London hospitals and each time it would have shrunk a bit.

You should have seen some of the doctors' faces. I can still see them now with their mouths open in amazement."

It is 15 years since Audrey first found out she had cancer. It took a while but in time the tumour disappeared.

Audrey doesn't believe her methods would be right for everyone.

She sees the homeopathy and the visualisation as complementary rather than alternative treatments, to go hand-inhand with conventional medicine.

She said: "If the tumour had not been inoperable, I probably would have had it removed. It isn't that I think all hospital medicine is ineffective or bad, just that it doesn't have all the answers."

Now her four sons and daughter are grown up, they don't always stick to the methods their mother taught them.

But they never tried to persuade her to accept conventional treatment because they respected her views.

She said: "I said to my daughter, Weren't you terrified?' but she said no, because she knew I was a survivor.

"None of my children asked me to have conventional treatment, although one or two of my friends said they thought I had done the wrong thing. I told them it doesn't help to be negative.

We have to make our own choices." Audrey has helped other cancer patients take a complementary approach to their treatment.

She produced tapes to help people create their own visualisation scenarios and for several years ran a cancer support group.

Now in her seventies and a grandmother, she still believes in the body's power to heal itself.

She said: "We must accept there is a lot we can do for ourselves and a lot of healing power within us, if only we would believe in it."

*People who have been diagnosed with cancer face a much more hopeful situation than they would have done 20 years ago.

Screening methods have slashed deathrates from cervical cancer, while new drugs have improved survival rates from breast cancer and forms of leukaemia.

Few people would recommend shunning conventional medicine in the battle against cancer but there are ways to give your body a helping hand.

*Watch what you eat.

The Bristol Cancer Help Centre recommends eating an organic vegan or vegetarian diet with no dairy products and no refined sugar.

According to a spokesman, eating healthily gives the body an advantage when it comes to tackling the disease.With maple syrup or honey it is still possible to enjoy cakes and flapjacks, while herbs and spices can be used to add flavour to vegetables.

*Try homeopathy.

The theory involves combating the illness with a treatment that is related to the original cause. Homeopathy is one of the complementary approaches most respected by the conventional medical establishment with some treatment even available on the NHS.

Try to stay positive.

Believing in yourself is an important part of facing disease. According to the spokesman at the Bristol centre "the best message anyone can take away from here is to be positive about the future."

Give visualisation a go.

Visualisation goes hand-in-hand with meditation. It is important to be completely relaxed and concentrate fully on the picture you are visualising. Audrey saw her cancer melting away other people use more aggressive techniques. They may, for example, see arrows being shot into the cancer.

Take a holistic approach.

All complementary practitioners believe it is important to see disease as something that affects the whole rather than just a part of a person. Look after yourself, don't follow an unhealthy, stressful lifestyle and have faith in your body to get well.