Hair…Part Two (get it?!?) Or How My Gray Hair Went Away

I'm gray

TOO YOUNG TO BE THIS DAMN OLD

So it began. The tender sprouts of gray began to emerge in September of 2013, barely a shimmer of sparkling light as the sun passed over my bare scalp. I was on a trip with my son, just the two of us, when I shouted out in the hotel room one morning. “Come look. I think my hair is growing back!!” Sure enough, he confirmed that he too could see the tiniest spikes of hair emerging from the barren desert under my bandanna.

Now at first I was thrilled. I swore that those new locks were coming in a lovely silvery blonde. And I managed to keep deluding myself in this way for a few more weeks. But the reality dawned on me fast and furious. I was not going to be a Marilyn Monroe bombshell blonde, but a Meryl Streep “The Devil Wears Prada” grey. Yes, all those lovely blonde strands were silver!

I’M GONNA WASH THAT GREY RIGHT OUTTA MY HAIR..

At first, I toyed with the idea of keeping my new hair. I got a lot of compliments. But, as you know if you’ve ever endured cancer, you just want things to go back to how they were before you were a patient. Back to ignorant bliss, and some sense of normalcy. So…I mentioned to my mom that I had decided to color my hair. She found me a great stylist on a visit to Florida, and I was tickled pink with the result. There I was! Blonde and looking like my former self at last.

Now, I’m not known for being the most practical person in the world. It dawned on me after the glow wore off that it is next to impossible to find someone who does good color, especially over all grey. So, what did I do? You got it. I trekked back and forth to Florida from Asheville about every three months to maintain my new look. I joked with Mr. Gary that he was the most expensive stylist in the country!

Fast forward to September of 2014, which was the last time I was able to get to Sarasota to the salon. I’ve been meaning to do it, but my practice has picked up and there just hasn’t been time. I kept checking my hairline, just knowing that I would inevitably start to see the solid wall of grey appear.

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Meanwhile, I started using Young Living essential oils at the beginning of this year, both personally and in my practice, with phenomenal results. One of my absolute favorite products is the Ningxia Red super-antioxidant, essential oil infused drink that Young Living makes. Two samples came in my Premium Starter Kit, so I drank them and didn’t really give it much thought.

C’MON I KNOW THE GREY IS IN THERE SOMEWHERE!

If you’ve been following my essential oil series here on the blog, you know that my hair began to come in fuller and grow faster, especially around that front part area where so many “mature” women become follicularly challenged. In the past few weeks, it has occurred to me that it has been 7 months since I last colored my hair, and that wall of grey…well, it has yet to show up.

Growing in light auburn

Now I can still see some silvery strands woven throughout, but the most lovely shade of light auburn has started to appear at the roots. And that shade, my friends, has not been seen on this head since high school! What?

The longer I use these oils, the more I am blown away. The effects with me are more subtle than for some because I am in pretty good health to begin with. Oh yeah, except the whole cancer thing. But when I do get a sign, it shows up in a powerful way.

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What’s the mystery behind erasing the grey? I don’t believe it’s anything mystical or other worldly. It’s a matter of nutrition. Ningxia Red is made from wolfberry puree with berries sourced from the Ningxia province in China, which boasts the largest per capita population of 100 year-olds anywhere on the planet. It has the highest antioxidant score of any food or supplement you can buy.

compare antioxidants ningxia

Ningxia Red also boasts a combination of Grape Seed Extract, blueberry, plum, cherry, aronia and pomegranate juices, along with orange, yuzu, tangerine, and lemon essential oils. These ingredients work synergistically to support:

  • normal digestive health
  • healthy immune function
  • normal brain function
  • healthy cardiovascular function
  • healthy joint support
  • sleep enhancement
  • improved insulin function

ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CANCER PREVENTION (SORRY, CHIPS WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE HERE)!

In addition, this powerful combination of ingredients works together to quench free radicals and prevent the cell damage that leads to mutations. And, it boasts a full and natural complement of key enzymes, vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed.

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The best part? Well, other than the giant dose of nutrition and the great hair. This is better than juicing! You heard me. I have a brand new juicer that has sat untouched since I started drinking this stuff. Why? Because I don’t like juice unless it has some fruit, and even though it’s healthy, it delivers a whopping dose of sugar straight to the bloodstream. This is exactly what I’m trying to avoid as a cancer survivor, feeding the cancer cells their favorite food, sugar. Ningxia Red is sweetened with stevia and has only 2 grams of sugar per serving!

If you’re ready to feel stronger, sleep better, and give yourself a brand new lease on life without eating 12 heads of broccoli (don’t yell, vegans, I love broccoli), click here to get started on your own journey. Warning, feeling good is addictive!

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I Can’t Get This Peppermint Monkey Off My Back!

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Ahhh, the smell of it! As I lean over the thick plume of fragrant water particles streaming from my diffuser, I feel a little silly. I draw it in slowly, deliberately, and I feel the familiar rush of exhilaration and endorphins hitting my brain, waking me up and energizing me. I can’t deny it any longer. I’m a Peppermint junkie!

In my last post, I talked about the powerful healing potential of Frankincense. Peppermint is another oil that comes as part of the Premium Starter Kit from Young Living. From everyone I’ve talked to on this journey, it seems to be the favorite. One whiff and you’re hooked!

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Some peppermint oils have an artificially sweet, or “candy cane” scent. While this may appeal to kids, if you’ve ever had an herb garden you know that peppermint shouldn’t smell like candy. If you pull a sprig off the plant and rub it between your fingers, it has a fresh, woodsy herbal smell with the hint of menthol. If you purchase essential oil with the “candy cane” aroma, you can be sure that it has been adulterated with synthetic fragrance.

So why does peppermint have this hypnotic pull? It turns out that there really is science behind it. Any time you inhale a volatile substance (pretty much anything that has a smell), it enters your body via the blood vessels in your lungs. At the same time, it affects the olfactory receptors in your nose, sending immediate messages to the brain about what you’re smelling. It has recently been discovered that humans can process one trillion scents. In the case of peppermint, it travels to the areas of the brain responsible for mood, cognitive function, and alertness. Voila! You just feel good when it hits you.

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I use peppermint in a couple of different ways. I diffuse it each morning with other “uplifting” oils when I need a boost to get going. I immediately feel brighter and more focused. I also rub a drop or two on my temples, forehead and the back of my neck for the invigorating skin sensation and for better absorption. Then I cup my hands over my noise and inhale deeply for a powerful “brain hit”. BONUS: It has a great cooling effect for the “hot” ladies out there!

What are some other uses for Peppermint?

  • Research has shown promise in using peppermint oil for IBS.
  • It can be used to relieve nausea and stomach discomfort. Are you going through something that causes a lot of nausea? Thus could be a great ally.
  • It helps to relieve muscular tension and discomfort.
  • Some studies have shown it to be excellent for hair regrowth.
  • It may repel ants and other pests, as they detest the scent of peppermint.
  • It can be used in recipes and teas.

See 21 Benefits of Peppermint Oil with links to scientific research.

When I had an Essential Oils 101 class in my home recently, I made several items to raffle off so people could experience how to use their oils. One of the favorite items is Bath Salts, for everything from relaxation to detoxification during illness. Peppermint is an invigorating addition to the bath which will stimulate the senses, clear your sinuses, and get you moving. Want to TRY SOME? Here’s the RECIPE:

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DETOX BATH SALTS

1/2 cup Epsom salts

1/4 cup baking soda

3 drops Young Living Peppermint essential oil

3 drops Young Living Lemon essential oil

This makes enough for a half pint jar or one bath. Shake well to distribute oils, dump in bath, ENJOY!

Go ahead, you know you want some! Besides, it’ll make me look better if you’re huffing Peppermint beside me.

Next Up: get ready for Thieves

It Puts The Oil On Its Skin And….It’s Hair Grows Thicker?!?

3 Years Ago

3 Years Ago. Notice That Sexy Bald Spot Up Front

Mother Nature Wants You Dead!

Perhaps some of you out there can relate. As a woman ages becomes wiser, Mother Nature starts to play these cruel little jokes on her just for fun. You see, after 40, you’re washed up! So sad, too bad. Once you’ve birthed them babies, you have no purpose left in the strictly biological sense. You’ve seductively flipped your long, luxurious locks for the last time, sister!

One day, you look in the mirror, and you start to notice just a tiny bit less hair up front than you used to have. It’s subtle at first. You can do a comb-over and keep things in your denial box, for a while. A couple years pass, and there ain’t a comb big enough to cover up that mess! You’re…offcially…old.

Well, that was happening to me at a fairly rapid pace. I would take a shower and have to hold hairs aside so they wouldn’t go down the drain and clog it when they came out. I’m not talking about a handful; just enough to be depressing.

 I Only Thought I Had Bad Hair Until Chemo

Wanna complain to the Universe about your misfortune? Whammo! It can most definitely get worse. After the top picture, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent a year of treatment including double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, followed by reconstruction. All in all, it could have been a far more devastating experience. I took care of myself with food, supplements and exercise to get through it relatively unscathed. One of the worst parts? Losing my hair.

I know, I know, that sounds really shallow. But, not only is a woman’s hair one of her most powerful outward signs of femininity, it’s loss also reminds her daily that she is sick. As long as you have hair on your head, you can be undergoing the most rigourous treatments and still feel normal. When you lose it, you suddenly become a “patient”, someone to be pitied.

Once chemo was over, my hair started to grow back, very curly I might add. At first, it looked like I would end up with better hair than before. No loose locks in the shower, no thin spot up front. I was secretly tickled.

Then, over the past several months, as my hair has gotten longer (and been colored enhanced), I started noticing that my part was getting wider again. And I was getting some hair on my hands when I washed it. “Oh no! Not Again.”

Oil To The Rescue

ningxia red

I figured it was just my destiny as a menopausal crone to be follicularly challenged. Well, over the last few weeks, I have noticed those little baby hairs coming in fast and furious at my hairline. And…my part is filling in. At first I thought it was just my imagination, but now it’s unmistakable. The only thing I have done differently is diffuse and apply my Young Living Oils daily and drink the super-antioxidant, essential-oil infused Ningxia Red drink by the same company.

You can hear life-changing testimonials from other people, but until you start to experience your own health shifts, they’re just that…stories. I’ve only been using these oils for about a month and a half, and I feel better on the inside, but I’ve been waiting for a sign, an “Aha!” moment. Well today, the outward signs of health are mirroring the changes going on inside. “Aha!”

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I’m putting the cart before the horse a little bit (again, I know!) with this post. We had really just begun our oily education. But I felt compelled to share this with you today.

Coming up..The what, why and how of essential oils. Then we’ll move on to individual oils and their unique uses and health/beauty benefits, including cancer prevention and possibly…adjunct treatment!

If at any point you feel like you’re excited and want to give these a try, e-mail me and I’ll tell you the best and most economical way get started with the company I use for my family and my patients.

Well, I’ll Be Damned, She’s Back!

female warrior

I never thought I’d say that. The doctors seemed so certain, case closed, seen it a million times before. But that just goes to show, my body doesn’t fit  neatly into a mold created by modern medicine. She plays by her own rules, always has. And just when I get used to the idea of “what is supposed to happen now”, the agenda changes. But I should have known better. My body is a fighter.

One of the perils (or perks, depending on your point of view) of getting invasive breast cancer in your forties is the near certainty that menopause will follow chemotherapy. As my oncologist told me, “Don’t worry, your ovaries will be dead soon.” I fired him not long after that comment, oh, and the sepsis that he thought could wait until morning.

For a while, he was right. My last cycle was in June of 2013, before my lovely tango with Taxol began in July. My ovaries went into hiding like two frightened puppies under a blanket during a fierce thunderstorm. Except for a brief period earlier this year that I chalked up to experimenting with some hormones (bad girl!), I have been effectively menopausal for nearly a year. Hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, weight gain, you name it, I’ve experienced it.

So, imagine my surprise when my monthly visitor came last Saturday. I had been in a horrible mood the week before, and I felt very crampy and bloated, but I just thought I was receiving yet more exciting menopause bonus gifts. Then I worried. One thing that breast cancer steals is your ability to just brush things off. Once active treatment ends, every pain, every headache, and every symptom that once would have been “normal” creates a small sense of panic.

Added to my fear was the fact that I’ve been using Estriol cream to offset the unpleasant sexual side effects of low estrogen (which works very well, by the way). This is not exactly sanctioned by my oncologist. Ok, not at all. I’ve done a lot of research, and Estriol doesn’t seem to cause growth of the uterine lining the way estradiol does, but there are always exceptions. So, as the spotting lingered on, my mind went to the possibility of uterine cancer. I called my gynecologist.

I had my appointment this morning with Dr. M, another wonderful doctor that I’ve been lucky enough to find. Just to let you know how unusual she is, she once called me from her cell phone on vacation to warn me against seeing the breast surgeon that I had originally chosen. It turned out that she had done her residency under him and saw him cut corners that put patients lives in jeopardy. No one would ever have known this because he is incredibly charming and prays with his patients, and they adore him. I can’t tell you what that meant to me.

Dr. M wasn’t particularly worried. She smiled at me and said, “I think you’re just menstruating.”

“But the oncologist told me I was done.”

“They say that all the time, but I see women get their periods back at your age. Now you really need to think about contraception.”

“Huh?” In the space of five minutes, I went from a menopausal crone to a woman with a cycle who needs to worry about getting pregnant. It must be the hair. When I went to Florida last month, I saw a fabulous hairstylist who erased my silver locks and made me a bithcin’ blonde. My body must have just taken notice of this turn of events and decided that we’re younger now.

Dr. M didn’t flinch when I told her about the Estriol. She said that she didn’t think that would cause bleeding using it only twice per week, but we’re waiting to see what happens. She told me that if the cycles didn’t have a pattern, or the spotting didn’t stop soon, to give her a call and she would order an ultrasound.

I guess I’ll have to take back all of the feminine products I moved to my daughter’s bathroom months ago. I know I should be freaking out that I have enough estrogen to restart a menstrual cycle, but in a strange way, I’m kind of tickled. My body is rebelling against the months of insults that have been hurled at it and trying to regain balance. In my opinion, that’s pretty awesome.

Hair’s To A Better Year

20140216_163504Here I am in all my 2014 glory. Post-chemo, post-radiation, post-double mastectomy. My hair has come back in silvery gray with a lot more curl than it used to have. But you’ll never hear me complain. Any hair is good  hair. I’m not sure if I’m going to be staying gray for much longer. I get a lot of compliments on the color, but I’m just feeling a tad too young to be permanently gray.

This picture was taken yesterday after I completed my first race since enduring 9 months of breast cancer treatment. It’s called the Frostbite 5K, and it was also the first race I ever attempted, in 2011. My time in that race was 32:25, and I was very excited, as that was much faster than my practice runs had been.

Yesterday, I had a bad cold and cough and struggled to breathe well. I only found out last week that they had changed the course of this race to include more than a mile up a steep mountain road. I thought about backing out and waiting for the next 5K to come around, but I wouldn’t let myself give up that easily. I felt the absurdity of the situation and did it anyway. If worse came to worse, I could walk part of the way.

So how did my great adventure turn out? I’m proud to say that I beat that original time by 8 seconds, 32:17, in spite of the steep climb and the snot rags in my waistband. I placed 4th in my age group. Not bad for a puny, post-cancer girl! So am I satisfied now to hang up my running shoes and be happy in the knowledge that I can still run a race after all that’s happened? Really? You know me better than that. I left the venue thinking, “Now all I have to do is shave 90 seconds off that time and I can win a medal.” Game on.

Playing Chicken With Cancer, Part 1

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

I’ve been reminded of this, my favorite poem, several times over the past few days as I wrestle with the decision of whether or not to take bioidentical hormones. I know, you’re thinking at this point that I’ve finally lost my mind. After all, I just finished treatment in December for a cancer that was 95% positive for both estrogen and progesterone receptors. Do I have a death wish?

Quite the contrary. I have a life wish, a desire for a full, vibrant life. For those who have been down the path of being suddenly and completely thrown into a premature hormonal black hole from the effects of chemotherapy, you can attest to the fact that it takes away something of your essence. You may not be a raving lunatic, but the light in your soul is dimmed.

Of course, some will fare better than others, but it nevertheless leaves you forever changed from the person you were before. Last June, I was a young woman with a regular (albeit overzealous) menstrual cycle; fertility was a stretch, but still within sight. Boom! In July, I was menopausal, my ovaries poisoned and relegated to the role of dusty internal decorations.

Now, if you are diagnosed with cancer in your 60’s, as most women are, hopefully you have been allowed to gracefully cross over the threshold of menopause, and perhaps some of the hormonal side effects of chemo are less pronounced. But at 45, or God forbid 30, like some of my blogging sisters, you are asked to live like a woman 20 or 30 years your senior and just be grateful to be alive at all.

To add insult to injury, the final step in breast cancer treatment is often Tamoxifen, Femara, or one of their ugly step-sisters. These drugs eliminate whatever poor, lonely molecule of estrogen that might remain in your body, trying desperately to hang on. The side effects of these drugs can include: joint pain (post-menopausal arthritis), mood swings, weight gain, cognitive impairment, depression, uterine cancer, osteoporosis, heart problems, etc. If you complain to your doctor, you’re likely to get a pat on the shoulder and a prescription for pain meds and anti-depressants.

I understand the thinking in the medical community that IF estrogen drives breast cancer, the best course of treatment is to eliminate the offending substance, thereby creating a “cure”. What puzzles me is that there are a few chinks in this hypothesis. First, the times in a woman’s life where she has the highest level of hormones, i.e. pregnancy and in her late teens/early 20’s, also happen to be the times with the lowest incidence of breast cancer. You are much more likely to be diagnosed in your 60’s or 70’s, when estrogen levels have been low for some time.

Also, I see all around me women on these blogs who have towed the party line, done the chemo, radiation, and estrogen-blocking drugs, only to see the cancer recur in a more aggressive, or metastatic form. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, which would lead me to believe that cancer is a multi-factorial disease which can’t be watered down to a simple “kill the estrogen” approach.

I wrote about the work of Dr. Jonathan Wright, the doctor for Suzanne Somers, in this post. Dr. Wright is the pioneer of bioidentical hormones in this country, and he has had Suzanne on them since her breast cancer diagnosis over 10 years ago. He believes that estrogen (in it’s natural form and when properly balanced) does not cause breast cancer and may help prevent it.

He uses a formula made of a small fraction of estradiol (the aggressive estrogen), and a large fraction of estriol (a weaker protective estrogen). He believes that the estriol acts as a sort of Tamoxifen, attaching to beta receptors on the cell, which actually discourages cell growth and proliferation. He then balances the formula with progesterone and other hormones as needed.

I’ve read his book, and it makes a lot of sense. But, being me, I feel more comfortable consulting with someone who is knowledgeable and respected in his field, so I had an appointment this week with an integrative MD. Yes, I’ve been down this road before, but the previous guy I saw, while a lovely person, didn’t project the confidence that I need to see in such a serious matter. I don’t mean this to sound arrogant, but most of the time I leave a doctor’s office feeling like I know more than he does about nutrition, supplements, and the relevant research that’s out there. I want to be wowed.

I spent 3 hours at the new doctor’s office on Tuesday. Good start. For the first hour, I sat with the nurse as she took a detailed history and listened to my issues. She then gave the doc a synopsis while I had vitals taken. The next hour was spent with the doctor, going over his thoughts on my case and his recommendations. He told me right off the bat that he is not an oncologist and he wants me to be monitored by my own doctor. He also said that while he is an MD, he would be offering things that no mainstream doctor is willing to do, often at the risk of being attacked by the medical board.

I appreciated his honesty and his willingness to step “out of line” in spite of the repercussions. It was clear that he must have tangled with oncologists before, as he included in my packet a “Dear Medical Oncologist” letter that he had written in response to an angry doctor who challenged his use of hormones in a breast cancer patient.

He wasn’t the kind of warm and fuzzy that I prefer, and I actually put off going to him because I had heard that he is very arrogant. In truth, he is not so much arrogant as confident and efficient. He stared at me intently as he laid out his plans in a no-nonsense fashion. I scanned his eyes for signs of hesitation or self-doubt as he spoke. I saw none. I asked tough questions. He answered them, sometimes in a surprising way.

So what did the doctor suggest as the next move in this high-stakes chess game? Stay tuned tomorrow for the results of my visit and my decision.

An Angel With A Scalpel

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

Well, I’m back. Full of crap and mean as ever. I did get the award for the “coolest germ name of the week”, Enterobacter sakazakii. That’s the little guy that took up residence in my port and infected my blood last week. It sounds like a ninja or a motorcycle gang member. I probably got it because I wear bandanas all the time like I’m waiting for Peter Fonda to cruise up and strap me on the back of his hog.

by Amy Merrick

by Amy Merrick

Anyway, I started feeling much better on Saturday after the antibiotics kicked in. I even got out of the house and walked around the mall for a while. But..my doctor left a message telling me that he would extend my antibiotics to 2 weeks (yuck!) and that I needed to get that nasty little port out ASAP.

You know what 2 weeks of antibiotics usually means? Hellooo, yeast! I’ve done well controlling it to this point with big-gun probiotics, but 2 weeks is a lot to ask. I’m hoping I’ll wake up soon and find out this whole year was a dream, just like that episode on Dallas with Bobby in the shower.

bobby ewing

 

As for the port, that presented a rather awkward situation. After I had my mastectomy, I discovered to my horror that my breast surgeon was not in network with my insurance company. I have no out-of-network benefits. This left me responsible for $4000. Since he was due to insert my port two weeks later, I drove frantically to the office to explain what had happened. The office manager couldn’t have been nicer. She told me not to worry about the upcoming surgery and to let her deal with the insurance company. I also heard that my surgeon was informed about the situation by the girls at the office. His reply? “Tell her not to worry about that.”

I had the port inserted back in May and waited to hear what the final tally would be for services rendered. I expected that the surgeon’s office might work out a payment plan or a reduced fee. As it turned out, I’d be waiting a long time. I never received a single bill.

Fast forward to today. My breast surgeon works in the hospital on Mondays and Tuesdays, upstairs from me. I gathered my courage and went to talk to him, still feeling more than a little sheepish about the fact that he has done nearly $10,000 worth of work on my behalf for no charge. I fully intended to ask him for a recommendation of another surgeon who would be covered by insurance. When I explained what had happened with the port infection and sepsis, he excused himself for a minute. When he came back, he said “How’s 4 o’clock?”

I thought “Surely he’s forgotten about my whole insurance fiasco.” I reminded him gently. “As much as I’d love to have you for my personal surgeon forever, I have that pesky out-of-network insurance. Remember?” He nodded. “Not a problem.” I have been continually blown away by this man and his kindness and generosity in a field full of greed and arrogance. I’m trying desperately to think of something I can do to show my appreciation, but nothing seems worthy.

As for the huge honking port that has been jutting awkwardly out of my chest all these months, it died a quick death at about 4:45pm. So long, sayonara, adios. Don’t let the subclavian vein hit you on the way out.

There are angels walking among us.