Unexpected Natural Remedies That Are Blowing My Mind, Part 2


The Artist Formerly Known as “Chuck”

He’s Joined The “Dark Side”

When we last left our saga, my skeptical Jeep-driving, gun-toting, Wrangler jean-wearing, red-blooded American husband had donned colorful silk clothing, joined my essential oil cult and taken the name “River”. What happened?

When I brought my starter kit of Young Living Essential oils home, I told my husband he would henceforth be my guinea pig. He has enough ailments for me to get plenty of practice and really give these a college try.


We decided to start with the knee, which has been through 4 arthroscopic surgeries, several bucking horses in the rodeo, and a life of general rough and tumble “real man” stuff. I applied the PanAway oil, which was suggested for joint pain, arthritis and muscle aches.

Most days my husband’s poor knees sound like machine gun fire when he stands up, and he describes his pain like a “headache in your knees”. It’s a constant, dull ache. He’s my weather forecaster; his joints know when the pressure is changing outside.

So we put about 2 drops on each knee, rubbed it in, and went back to watching “The Bachelor”. Ok, I went back to watching it, and he sat next to me and hated it the whole time. After 10 minutes, he stood up to try and escape  get a drink, and he turned and just stared at me.

“What”, I teased “are you afraid you’ll miss the Fantasy Suite? Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in.”

“No”, he bounced up and down. “My knees….don’t hurt. Really, I can still feel the grinding and popping, but the ache is gone.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I thought maybe he was just trying to make me feel better to get into his own “fantasy suite”.

“Seriously! I don’t know what the heck is in this stuff, but it feels better than the last cortisone shot I got”.

I was beyond pleased. That was quite a testimony for 10 minutes of being oiled up. The proof in the pudding would be what happened next. Maybe it was just like the “Ben-Gay effect” and the pain would come back in a few minutes.

That didn’t happen. We went to bed, and in the morning I asked cautiously about the knees, one eye closed.

“It still doesn’t hurt. That’s the easiest time I’ve had getting out of bed in months.”

My poor husband will sometimes wake up in excruciating pain from having slept with his knees in the wrong position. And inevitably, he looks like the tin man trying to straighten up in the morning. We were both now seriously impressed.

He went to work, and I could hardly wait for him to come back for the evening oil report. By about 6 that night, after being on his feet all day, the pain had started creeping back in a little bit.

We applied “the oil”, as we affectionately called it. Same result. Nearly instant pain relief. The more we’ve done this, the longer the effect has lasted. He can now go 2 days between oilings, and that seems to be where we’ll stay.

He actually said to me the other day: “Did you order ‘the oil’? I don’t ever want to be without it.” Um, ok River, I think the drum circle is missing your karma.

Essential Oils And the “C” Word?

After that first amazing week, I’ve gotten much more familiar with all of the 11 oils in my kit. I’ve done my research on their benefit, with particular interest in how they can be used in a cancer survivor’s prevention toolkit. The research is astonishing, both in volume and content. (I’m looking at you, my favorite Australian scientist) 🙂

screenshot pubmed eo cancer - Copy

Check Out How Many Results There Are!

I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you in the coming posts. I’ll go over how essential oils work and how you can use them for common health concerns, including the “C” word.

So do I think the hubby can completely avoid the knee replacement staring him in the face? These are oils, not magic beans. But if we can keep him comfortable enough to enjoy life for a few more years, I say that’s worth the investment.

Here’s to you, River. I think I’ll call you by your Sioux name, Dances With Oils.


Unexpected Natural Remedies That Are Revolutionizing My Family’s Health

lavender plant

We Love Chemicals Around Here

Um, no thanks, we don’t really like to use natural products in our home when there’s a chemical alternative. The flu, yes please, we’ll take it! Builds character. The baby prefers parabens and blue #46 in his diaper cream, you freak! These are a few phrases often said by…no…one…ever.

These words are laughable, but so many of us live this way on autopilot without ever stopping to think what we are putting into our bodies or our environments.

As a holistic physician and a breast cancer survivor, I really should know better, but I ‘m just as guilty as the next guy. I do try to eat healthy and exercise, but I’ve got my fair share of Ibuprofen and Lysol in my house, and….Egads! I use tap water!

In my endless search to shore up my immune system and make myself healthier in general to prevent a recurrence, I have started taking a long, hard look at the medicines and household products we use. Don’t be lulled into thinking that only the things you physically put into your body can harm you. Everything from make-up to hand lotion, to cleaning solutions, to shampoo contain ingredients that are toxic and can lead to debilitating health issues.

Think I’m exaggerating? Grab one of your skin or beauty products, go here, and type in some of the ingredients. Be ready to drop jaw. Now some of you might be thinking, “Ok, so there are a few things I use that aren’t so healthy. They won’t kill me, and I’ll look really cute”. No, one or two might not hurt you because your amazing liver is plugging away to detox for you. But take all the products you use, day in and day out, and that toxicity builds up and can overwhelm your precious liver. And, let me tell you, a bum liver makes for a bad day.

What I’m About To Tell You I Discovered By Accident

My kids make fun of me and call me a hippie because of my arsenal of vitamins, juices, and health foods. But then I see them, when they think I’m not looking, and they’re eating some kale. Score!

I’ve always been interested in essential oils. I wasn’t sure why; they just appealed to my nature on some level. I would go to Whole Foods or Earth Fare and smell all the little bottles, but I never bought any. I guess I didn’t really know what to do with them.

About a month ago, I attended an Essential Oils 101 class given by a good friend of mine who is also a holistic physician. Something about the class and my level of trust in her persuaded me to buy my “starter kit” of oils and really figure out if they could help me and my family in any way.

Here’s a picture of what I got:

starter kit pi

My kit had 11 of the most popular essential oils, a special cool diffuser that atomizes the oil particles, some sample oil packets, a roller attachment for the bottles, and 2 packets of a super-antioxidant, low sugar drink. Anti-oxidants…can we say good for keeping your cells healthy and multiplying properly?

I’m a Huge Scientific Nerdy Skeptic

Well, I don’t just take anything at face value. I research it ad nauseum (usually way too long) before I make up my mind. I took my little kit home and started diffusing away, half expecting it to just make my house smell good but little else. Hey, even that’s a bonus with 3 kids, a dog, and 2 cats. That combo doesn’t always make for the most pleasing aroma, if you know what I mean.

What Happened Next Shocked the Heck Out of Me

My husband is not exactly what you’d call “metro” or “New Age”. He’s more like a Fred Flintstone kind of guy when it comes to doing anything out of the mainstream. So he looked at me like he always does when I came home with my oils. “Tolerant Disbelief” describes it best, I suppose. He knows me by now. No words are necessary.

Let me tell you…my husband was the first Berlin Wall of oil to tumble down. Now he’s with me, running through a field of tulips….ok, not quite.

fred flintstoneyanni

Stay tuned tomorrow, and I’ll tell you what turned Fred Flintstone into Yanni.

How Being Sour May Just Save Your Breasts…And Your Life


I knew there was a benefit to my attitude! Instinct wins again.

Many people reading my blog have either had breast cancer, are in the middle of treatment, or are trying desperately to figure out how to keep it from coming back.  At the very least, you probably love someone you don’t want to lose.

That’s where my passion lies. I decided after my own bout with advanced breast cancer two years ago that it was my calling and my mission to educate myself and other women about natural prevention, nutrition, and treatment support.

When something easy yet powerful comes along, I listen…

I scour tons of literature looking for ways to protect myself in my quest to stay healthy and to be there for my kids. For cancer survivors, nothing is taken for granted and each day is a gift.  Although the fear dims with the passing of time, the possibility of recurrence lurks in the background like a constant companion.

So What’s The Latest Scoop?

The simply elegant, unceremonious little LEMON. More specifically, a recent study at the Arizona Cancer Center showed that the peel of the lemon is the hero in our story. The peel contains a natural substance called d-limonene, which has shown promise against a wide variety of cancers. In this study, a small group of women were given 2 grams of limonene each day for 6 weeks before lumpectomy surgery.

In these women, d-limonene supplementation reduced expression of the breast tumor marker cyclin D1 by 22%!

Cyclin D1 rears its ugly head in over half of invasive breast cancers and can cause Tamoxifen treatment failure.

D-limonene is known as a terpene. Other sources include:

  • citrus fruits
  • berries
  • cherries
  • peppermint
  • basi
  • thyme
  • rosemary

So How Are You Gonna Get Your Terpenes?

my juice glass

A delicious and easy way to get several in one shot would be to make a daily green juice. I just bought a Breville juicer and have tried out the following recipe:

4 lactinato kale leaves rolled into a bundle

3 carrots

half a lemon with peel on

half a grapefruit

1 inch of ginger

With juicing, it is very important not to overload with sweet fruits. Remember, sugar feeds cancer, and whenever you juice it’s like mainlining produce.

You can also whip up a smoothie in a Vitamix or a Ninja. This will retain the fiber of the veggies, and you’ll get more yield from your greens.

Whichever way you go, please use organic produce. We don’t want to flood you with a pesticide cocktail!

Be creative in your cooking. Find some recipes that use lemon zest. Click here for an easy one that I use often. (I substitute pesto for the mustard).

I’ll be writing a series of posts about how to use natural substances in your health toolkit. Until someone can improve on nature, that’s where my focus will be.

For now, pucker Up And Get Your Lemon On!

Hormone Update


It’s been almost a month since I saw the integrative MD and received the forbidden hormone prescription, hands trembling. I felt such mixed emotions that day. On one hand, I knew from experience how wonderful estrogen makes me feel…enthusiastic, outgoing, sexual, and just happy. On the other hand, I was acutely aware that I could be signing my own death warrant.

My first prescription (yes, there have been several) was for a vaginal cream containing mostly estriol along with smaller amounts of estradiol, testosterone and progesterone. Ironically, the day before I started it, I felt fantabulous! I was in a great mood, full of energy. Then I used the cream. At night it gave me hot flashes, and when I woke up I felt slightly hung over, tired, and generally blah.

I recognized my symptoms instantly as the “progesterone doldrums”. I’ve tried progesterone several times before, and I just don’t tolerate it well. I called the doctor’s office to get the prescription tweaked. The second attempt had no estriol (it gives me hot flashes), half the progesterone, and testosterone. No dice. My libido was definitely improved by the testosterone, but the progesterone was still too much.

After another call to the doctor, he decided to separate out the progesterone so I could adjust the dose as needed. The estradiol and testosterone are still combined. I’m supposed to use the cream once at night, but I’ve had to experiment because it seems that I need a dose in the daytime as well. I’ve tried splitting it in half and using it twice, but that makes each dose too small to be effective.

Meanwhile, taking hormones has been causing a lot of stress. I’m so torn about the risks vs the benefits. There are several studies showing that breast cancer survivors who take hormones are at no greater risk of recurrence and actually have better survival than those who don’t. But I can hear my oncologist’s voice in my head, telling me that I’m making a really bad decision.

So what are we to do, the breast cancer brigade? Do we fade quietly into the background with painful joints, weakened hearts, mushy brains and zero sexuality? Or do we forge an unpopular path less traveled and hope for the best, armed with our own research? Yet again, the choices are impossible.

As for my hormonal foray, it has proved to be much more difficult than I was hoping. As I write this, I’m in the middle of a hot flash, perhaps caused by the Arimidex I took an hour ago per my new doctor’s instructions. He’s willing to give me hormones, but he doesn’t want my body producing any extra or the wrong kinds.

And truthfully, I can’t say that I feel better emotionally, which was my main goal in starting this journey. I’m up and down. Saturday I felt on top of the world, but the past two days I’ve been quiet and withdrawn. And my chin is breaking out just a little, maybe from the testosterone.

So, let’s review. I was willing to take a huge risk with hormones for the trade-off of having brighter moods, less fatigue, a sex drive, a clearer mind and protection for my bones, joints and heart. And what have I accomplished? Sex drive…check.  Clearer mind…check.  Less fatigue..sometimes. Brighter mood…still quite unpredictable and fleeting. And that last one was at the top of my wish list. I’m just tired of feeling blah.

Wednesday I go to get my hormone levels checked. I started to cancel since I haven’t been on a steady dose over these past few weeks. But then I decided that it might be a good idea to get a snapshot of where I am for future comparisons.

At this point I’m not feeling enough of a benefit to justify the risk, and the thought of taking Arimidex goes against my gut. I’ll give this expensive experiment a little more time before I make a final decision. At $55 per prescription, I’m about “tweaked” out.

Playing Chicken With Cancer, Part 2

There is one thing that those who know me well realize, and you will also come to realize if you stick around for a while. Time is a relative concept for me. When I say that I’ll post the rest of the story “tomorrow”, that means tomorrow”ish”. Just like my daughter’s school start time is 8:15″ish”. I was born with the procrastinator’s curse; it sometimes even annoys me. So here, without further ado, albeit a day or so late, is the rest of the story…

When we last met, I was sitting across the desk from the new integrative MD, soaking in his tons of advice to prevent breast cancer recurrence while simultaneously scanning his entire being for self-doubt or hesitation. I can’t help it; it’s what I do. I have to think that you know more than I do, or at least that you believe you do, before I’ll listen to one iota of what you’re telling me. As I related last time, I saw no chinks in his armor, and I was fairly impressed.

One of my main purposes in making the appointment was to find out if it would be possible in any way, shape, or form to use bioidentical hormones to feel like more alive and womanly. Now, I have it better than many “menopausal” ladies, meaning that I sleep pretty well most nights, I only have a few, minor hot flashes, and my energy level is decent. If the only concern was hot flashes, I’d have this licked.

No, the nagging problem that makes me willing to put myself at great potential risk is a combination of apathy, mood swings, and an overall feeling that I may never be “happy” or fully functional again. I’m not miserable or suicidal; I’m just blah. Blah at work, blah in love, or on bad days, fighting with myself to keep from snapping at my kids. I’ve given up on the chiropractic office idea for now because it feels too overwhelming. I feel very withdrawn from the outside world. And I know from experience that all this is due to low estrogen. I’ve reacted badly to hormone fluctuations my whole life, and this is the mother of all roller coasters!

So, I’ve made the decision to go ahead with the hormones….

I was relieved to see that there was a prescription for hormone cream sitting prominently on the doctor’s desk when I walked in. I talked to him about Dr. Wright’s work, and he said that Dr. Wright was one of his biggest teachers. He told me that the key to hormones is balance and that without even testing me, he could tell me that mine, at this moment, “sucks”.

He said that menopausal women no longer make much estriol, estradiol, or progesterone. What they make from their fat cells is estrone, a potent form of estrogen. Without estriol and progesterone to balance it, it has the potential to cause cancer. So it is actually dangerous, from this perspective, to deny someone in my situation the opportunity to balance her hormones. Not a mainstream opinion, for sure, but one that has merit.


When I got over my initial excitement about the hormone prescription, I saw one next to it for Arimidex, the ugly step-sister of Femara. I’m sure my jaw dropped as I thought “WTF!!??”. After all this expense and gut-wrenching doubt, he wants to put me on an estrogen blocker? I had to object. “I know several ladies who’ve taken this, and I really just don’t want to do it. The side effects are terrible. The joint pain, the brain fog, etc.”

He looked at me with a knowing smile. “The side effects are terrible because they have no estrogen. I’m going to give you estrogen, so I expect you to do fine.”

“Then why are you giving me Arimidex?”

“Because I don’t want you converting any estrogen to estrone. The aromatase inhibitors stop that conversion. So I want you to take the hormones for about a week and then start the Arimidex.”

Ok, well I sure didn’t see that one coming, and I’m not sure I like it. I already vetoed Tamoxifen, and here we go again. Maybe I can bring myself to take it if he’s telling the truth and I can sidestep the bad stuff.

In addition to the hormones, I got a lot of supplement and diet recommendations, B12 shots, and labs including a hair analysis test for heavy metals. I felt pretty good, like I finally had a plan.

And then I started the hormones. Not at all what I was expecting. Stay tuned for the riveting conclusion…

Playing Chicken With Cancer, Part 1


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.