One of the masterminds behind NBC’s Saturday Night Live’s Emmy-winning “D**k in a Box” skit starring Justin Timberlake, Katreese Barnes was living her dreams working on the popular late-night television show.  But in 2000, somewhere between writing side-cracking jingles and rubbing elbows with the likes of Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack, Barnes, in her early thirties, received a diagnosis: ductal carcinoma, a mild form of breast cancer. After weighing all her treatment options, she decided to take an unconventional route.

Real Health: You were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 but only started talking about it recently. What made you keep your diagnosis under wraps from your friends and Saturday Night Live (SNL)?
Barnes: I think there was a level of denial. I was such a purist when it came to health and my diet that I didn’t want to tell. When I was diagnosed, I was into organic foods, cleansing and fasting. I was the type of person who would tell you that you should not be eating [something] because it’s bad for you, and then here I am with cancer. So I didn’t really broadcast it.

Although you had a lumpectomy and the doctors wanted you to do chemotherapy and radiation, you opted for alternative medicine. Do you think part of your secretiveness about your diagnosis had to do with your choice of unconventional treatment?
I honestly did not think my body could handle chemotherapy—I was anemic and hypoglycemic. My radiologist called my mother and told her that even on chemo, I could die. At that point, no one could explain better than me that what I was feeling was right for myself. Some of those decisions are so big and being in tune to what you need is such a tough path as it is.

Because of my choices, I think my family was scared for me, so I actually didn’t tell them a lot. I kept it to myself; I didn’t want to be influenced negatively. I didn’t give them a chance to talk me out of it.

Can you explain what type of treatment you received?
In the beginning, I was kind of jumping on a lot of different bandwagons in the alternative field. As soon as I would start one, I would start feeling insecure about it and jump into another routine. At first, I was doing this infrared heat therapy treatment, but it didn’t work, because my lump came back after eight months.  

After doing six hours of research everyday, I decided to take an herbal treatment for two weeks called escharotics—a paste or a salve that you apply—which extracts the tumor. It was very painful. But I knew that something was working when you have this 101˚ [stuff] coming out of your breast.  In that same two weeks, I was also taking pancreatic enzymes. But it wasn’t a quick fix.  It took me about eight months to heal.

Did you ever doubt that it was going to work?
I told myself if anything went wrong, I would take the walk of shame and do what the doctors wanted me to do, which was remove my breast, do the chemo, do the radiation. But after my final alternative treatments of escharotics and enzymes, I went to the doctor and they told me my mammogram was perfectly clear, and it’s been [that way] for five years.

When you’re a creative person you’re open to new ideas, as long as it makes sense. But since I’ve gone through this whole thing myself and was fortunate enough to survive the treatments I chose, I don’t look down upon conventional medicine anymore.

What about your work at SNL helped get you through the trying times?
In comedy you need people to feel vulnerable to do their best work. People learn not to create bad vibes with each other; it’s hard to do comedy and have bad vibes. I find that in bands, it’s better when there’s harmony, when there’s love among the players, than when there’s friction. There is a difference at SNL—you’re trying to make people laugh.

Real Health understands that although alternative therapies are widely used, they are not for everyone, especially when treating aggressive forms of cancer.  If you suspect you have breast cancer or are diagnosed with breast cancer, speak with your doctor about treatment options.

To read about conventional breast cancer therapies, read our feature “Battling Breast Cancer.”