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

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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.

An Afternoon With the Great White Hope

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

Last week, in my sepsis-induced stupor, I dragged myself to an afternoon appointment with a new doctor, an integrative MD. Although my temperature was 102, I wasn’t about to call it off; I’d already put down a $150 deposit on my credit card. As I told you last time, the visit was exorbitantly expensive and not covered by insurance. So was it worth it in the end?

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The short answer- yes and no. Hey, I never said I was good at making a decision. In all fairness, I felt like a pile of dog crap in the middle of the interstate that had been sitting in the sun all day and had been run over hundreds of times, so I probably didn’t get as much out of our talk as I otherwise might have. I think my opening line to the doctor was “I just want you to know that I’m not going to be my usual animated self today. Do you have any ibuprofen? Or…is that a no-no here?” Thank God he wasn’t above ibuprofen. It saved me from lying on the floor during our consultation.

My appointment lasted over 2 hours. Brownie points for him. He asked me what my main concern was in coming to see him. Well, um, let’s see, there’s THE CANCER! Yes, but what did I hope to accomplish? Perhaps strengthening my destroyed immune system, finding a way to deal with the sudden and unwelcome death of my ovaries, and, I don’t know, preventing a recurrence of THE CANCER! Yes, I’m a smartass. It’s kind of my thing.

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My New Purse

First, we went through all the usual review of systems. How’s your diet? Do you drink? What other medical issues do you have? What medications are you taking? What’s your family history? Then he wanted to see my supplements, which I had brought in a grocery bag. I felt like kind of a weirdo or a super-healthy bag lady dragging that in from the car. He laughed, “Oh, that’s nothing. People come in with suitcases full of pills”. Ok, so as supplement junkies go, I don’t qualify for rehab just yet.

He carefully examined each bottle, after which he told me that he approved of the combination I was taking but would add a couple more, namely DIM and quercetin. He also suggested that I change my co-Q10 to a 100mg gel instead of a capsule. I thought he would frown on the Nature’s Valley brand that I use for a few of the more common nutrients, but he didn’t judge. In my opinioin, Vitamin D3 is not going to change much over brands, but something like coQ10 or echinacea can vary widely in quality, so I go for high quality on those.

Next, I asked his opinion about my upcoming radiation. He didn’t outright tell me that he wasn’t a fan. I’d say he hedged his bets. “It works well for some people, but not for others.” Thanks. What a relief! Not. He did say something interesting, though. Keep in mind that this is an MD educated at Cornell, so he has to be careful in his assessment of his colleagues. “I will tell you that the radiation guys tend to sugar coat the side effects more than any other doctor involved in cancer care. Even more than the chemo docs. I would be very aggressive in getting your questions answered so you feel comfortable”. Now we’re getting somewhere.

radiation cartoon

Next, we turned to the evil menopause monster. I say that, but truly the symptoms come and go. The hot flashes at this point are annoying but not unbearable. The worst ones are those that happen in my sleep. I sometimes wake up soaking wet, freezing, and I have to change my shirt. Thank goodness that isn’t every night. My mood is also undpredictable. Some days I feel fine, although a sappy commercial will make me cry. And some days I just want to run away and start a new life somewhere.

Dr. Cornell pleasantly surprised me on this front. He said that he would be very comfortable prescribing estriol, the weakest and most beneficial estrogen. He is familiar with the work of Jonathan Wright, MD, and even produced a copy of his book, “Stay Young and Sexy With Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement”. I was impressed. He told me that he wanted to do a little more research on using it instead of/with Tamoxifen and we would discuss it further at my follow-up visit, which is in mid-October. I may never use it, but it’s so nice to have options and not to be looked at like I have 3 heads.

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Finally, I asked about diet in relation to breast cancer, fully expecting to hear, “You have to go low-fat vegan immediately. No dairy, no meat, no sugar, kale out the wazoo, etc.” I braced myself. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. “I believe that you definitely should be eating as much organic produce as you can, and, of course, grass-fed natural meats.” What? Hold the phone. Meat? Could it be?

“You mean I don’t have to become a vegetarian?” I asked, afraid I had misunderstood. “No. I believe diet is only one piece of this puzzle. Look how many variations of diet there are in different cultures and in different parts of the world. Many of these people live long, healthy lives with very low incidence of disease. If it were that easy, we could all eat one diet to avoid cancer. That isn’t the case.” Finally! Someone has ideas that are in line with my own on the subject. Do I believe I need to seriously increase the amount of vegetables in my diet? You bet! Do I also believe that I can never have a piece of meat or cheese again? No way.

So did I learn a ton of new information from my visit? Not really. I’m still waiting for the practitioner who will blow me away with a wealth of knowledge. Maybe I sell my own knowledge short. I guess I really do know a lot about health. I did, however, find someone whose views resonate well with my own and who doesn’t think I’m completely off my rocker for not wanting to just go along and shut up.

Like that was ever going to happen!

An Unwanted Visitor

This post want have the usual songs and fluff. I’m writing it on my iPad from my bed. Just the facts ma’am.

Yesterday was supposed to be a momentous occasion as cancer goes. My last chemo treatment. Yay! I had been fighting off a mild bug and low fever since last Saturday but had started feeling better.

I went to the oncology office and started the same as any other trip. Insert the carpet tack needle in the port. Draw the blood to check white count. The white count was pretty low at 2.1, but chemo was a go.

I picked a room, and there turned out to be a lovely outgoing lady from Boston in there. We chatted for quite a while, enjoying each other’s company. It was really refreshing not to be sharing a room with someone who was dying or going on in depth about their stage 4 recurrence. She laughed easily and heartily. “This is going to be a good session”, I thought to myself.

I got the first infusion, the Benadryl and Pepcid, and settled in. About 10 minutes into it, I started to feel very cold. I asked my son for one blanket, then two. Then the shaking began. I shook uncontrollably and violently for the next 15 minutes. It wasn’t so much from being cold. I felt almost like I was having a mild seizure.

When the nurse came in, she tried to take my temperature and my blood pressure but couldn’t get my trembling body to cooperate. After a few minutes of valiant effort by the nurses, the doctor came in and decided that chemo was definitely not going to happen. He asked them to draw blood cultures, one set from the port in my chest and one from my arm. This was to make sure no bacteria had made its way to my bloodstream. I also had to give a urine specimen to check for a UTI.

The shaking finally subsided after what seemed like an eternity. I had been feeling intuitively iffy about this treatment all week, as though I were pushing my luck and my body was trying to tell me it was done. Talk about a sign. I decided right then and there that this session would have no rain check. My doctor agreed that the benefit of 12 vs 11 treatments was not significant.

i went home briefly as I had my first appointment yesterday afternoon with the integrative MD (More good stuff on that later). I felt like I was getting warmer, so I took my temperature. 102..uh oh. I struggled to the doctor’s office but was able to get through it with ibuprofen.

Once the drugs wore off, the game was on. I went to bed and stayed there all night. I felt extremely hot at around 10 pm. 104.. Not looking good. I had my husband call the doctor on call who was…you guessed it…the guy I broke up with. His advice was to combine Advil with Tylenol to get the fever down. It probably had something to do with my reaction to the Benadryl earlier. Huh? If I couldn’t control the fever, I was to go to the ER.

I thought he was pretty cavalier about the whole thing, but I made it through the night and woke up drenched. The fever had broken, thanks in large part, I suspect, to the two different antibiotics I started yesterday. You should know that I never take antibiotics. I usually stuff the prescription in the bottom of my purse and handle things my own way. Something told me not to do that this time.

Imagine my surprise when I found out this morning that my blood is growing bacteria, most likely E Coli. What!?! Where the hell did that come from?Usually a person becomes septic with E Coli when she has a perforated  bowel or a raging UTI. No on both counts. The urine culture was negative. My only explanation is that this bacteria had to have been introduced directly into my bloodstream during one of my various treatments, probably last week.

I guess we’ll never know. Anyway, I’m taking the antibiotics and hoping for the best. My fever has cooperated so far today, but the doctor has put me on a “short leash”. If the fever returns I get to take a trip to the hospital.

i’m tired, but I’ll keep you posted.

I Had To Buy New Big Girl Panties….

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Life for the past week or so has been rough. I went on the fabulous, soul-sustaining trip to Florida with my son, and the after-glow lasted for several days once I got back. I felt like a new girl, like I wasn’t in the middle of a grueling 4-month course of chemo. Then the crash came…

Last Tuesday, I woke to the most overwhelming sense of sadness that I’ve had since finding out about the breast cancer back in March. It came out of nowhere and threw me for a real loop. It felt exactly like the neurotic, post-partum funk I always experienced when I brought a baby home from the hospital. I lost my bearings, and I couldn’t control the tears which flowed freely at the drop of a hat.

I chalked the emotional avalanche up to the complete dearth of estrogen in my body caused by the chemo drugs. Interestingly, I have to say that Adriamycin, aka “the red devil”, didn’t feel as inherently toxic to my body as Taxol has. Yes, it made me more physically ill with nausea, heartburn, etc, but I feel intuituvely that Taxol is leaving a more lasting, albeit silent, wake of destruction. For all it’s red rage, Adriamycin did not stop my menstrual cycle. First drop of Taxol = “instant menopause”.

I had an appointment with the oncologist at last Thursday’s treatment. He asked how things were going. I held it together for a few minutes as I described how horribly I was struggling with the emotional aspect of having no estrogen. I asked if he had read the research about using low-dose vaginal estrogen to help with menopausal symptoms in breast cancer patients. He said that he had, but that he didn’t feel comfortable doing that because he wasn’t sure how much estrogen would be released systemically. Game over. I started sobbing.

He went on to tell me that I could get anti-depressants and lubricants, neither of which appeals to me as a long-term solution. I explained that I had been on anti-depressants for post-partum issues and that it took me 6 years and 25lbs to break out of that prison. I finally got to a happy, balanced place with the running and the healthy diet. Then this shit happened. I almost felt sorry for him because he is a genuinely caring person, and I know he felt bad that he couldn’t offer me any real hope. His advice was, “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Just take things one day at a time.” Ok.

Today, I am in a little bit of a better place. Ever the problem-solver, I took the advice of my Gyspsy goddess acupuncturist and made an appointment with an integrative MD that she knows well and respects. She assured me that I would really like him and that he is very open-minded. I hope so…the initial consult is $465 for two hours. And of course, he is not covered by my insurance. I’m a little very leery of spending this much out of pocket since I know there will inevitably be follow-ups and supplements, but I really want to meet a doctor I can fall in love with and who gets me. I will run my hormone hell by him.

I have also been reading more inspirational things on the web lately. I went on the BreastCancer.Org discussion boards yesterday and read about ladies who are 5 and 10-year plus survivors of Stage 3 breast cancer. Some were even 25+ years out with things like triple-negative status and 20 positive nodes. I needed to see that. They are living normal lives and having fun, and they don’t spend every day anymore worrying.

I’m considering doing a 5k to celebrate the final round of Taxol next week. Friends are uging me on, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off two days after chemo. I’ll go with my gut when next Saturday comes. Whenever I get back to racing, I have designed the t-shirt I’ll wear:

5K CANCER SHIRT

5K CANCER SHIRT BACK

I’ll keep you posted…until then I’m pulling up my crisp new pair of big girl panties and reclaiming control.