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The world of natural and alternative health can be complicated. We, as a people, have forgotten so much about the benefits of using the plants around us to heal our bodies. Not only that, but we have forgotten how to use them. Salves, tinctures, extracts, essential oils, teas, syrups, glycerites…what’s the difference? Well, there is quite a bit of difference, actually, but today we are going to talk about a relatively new form of herbal medicine.

Hydrosols.

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White pine hydrosol

Haven’t heard of them? Don’t know what to do with them? Then, read on, my friend!

First, though, let me tell you what a hydrosol is NOT.

Hydrosols are not floral water, which is simply the process of infusing water with flowers by letting them sit over a period of time to absorb the essence of the flowers. Floral waters have their own limited range of healing properties, but they are not the same as a hydrosol

Hydrosols are not water with essential oil added to them, which can be dangerous when ingested.

True hydrosols are created using a steam distillation process to extract the beneficial properties of the herbs that cannot be obtained any other method. This is the same process used to obtain the essential oils from plants, but renders a completely different finished product. Instead of writing out the entire process, let me direct you to this website, HydrosolWorld, that has a wonderful explanation of the whole process.

To simplify for those of you who don’t want to read all the details, here’s a breakdown:

  • Hydrosols are the perfect balance between herbal teas and essential oils. They are safe to use internally and externally, unlike essential oils which should NEVER be used internally. Because they contain many of the same elements as the essential oils, they offer a wider range of benefits than a simple herbal tea.
  • Unlike herbal teas, hydrosols have a long shelf life. Depending on the herb, the shelf life can range anywhere from 6 months to several years, so they are much easier to keep on hand for a quick-fix when you don’t have the time or energy to whip up a batch of tea.
  • Hydrosols can be used topically for instant relief from many issues.
  • Hydrosols can be used safely on most animals and children
  • Hydrosols can be used to replace the water portion of your skincare recipes in things like soaps and lotions.
  • Hydrosols can be added to your cleaning routine to add a gentle fragrance, or to kill bacteria and viruses.

So, why aren’t you hearing more about hydrosols? Because they have only recently been studied for their medicinal benefits. In the past, hydrosols have been nothing more than the byproduct of essential oil making, rather then the main goal of the distillation process. The remaining water (hydrosol) was simply pitched out as being useless. It was a bit surprising to many when they realized that hydrosols were actually quite potent and effective in their own right. The multitude of benefits they provide is still being studied and experimented with, as is the range of plants that produce the best hydrosols.

Of course, being the enterprising soul that I am, I had to jump on the bandwagon.

The first step was obtaining a distiller. Thanks to a wonderful friend and business associate, I finally got my distiller. I admit, I was a bit scared of the whole process at first. It seemed so technical and science-y. What if I screwed it up?

distiller

My beautiful distiller!

Turns out, it wasn’t so scary or difficult after all. Now, I am a bit addicted to creating new hydrosols. I am distilling all of my favorite herbs….red clover, wild plum blossoms, yarrow, elder flowers, spearmint, white pine….and I have so many more on my list. If only there was more time in a day!

Now, I have a refrigerator full of fabulous hydrosols and I have been experimenting like crazy! The time has finally arrived to share them with you all.

Choosing where to start with hydrosols is the first step to forming a glorious addiction. My next few posts will cover the hydrosols that I personally have created and worked with. I will give a detailed list of all the things each of them is good for, how to use them, when not to use them, and which ones are good to keep on hand for emergencies.

Let’s start with one of my personal favorites, elder flower hydrosol.

The hydrosol has a mildly green, floral fragrance that blends well with many essential oils, making it perfect for creating spritzers, room and fabric deodorizers, and surface cleansers that provide antibacterial and anti-viral action.

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Elder flowers in bloom

Most people are familiar with the healing power of elderberries. High levels of Vitamin C make it a must-have for cold and flu season, but there is much more to the elder plant than just the berries. Elder is known as the medicine chest of the country folk’ because of the many health-enhancing benefits it contains. Besides being a potent antibacterial and antiviral, elder flowers are also antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, diuretic, styptic, analgesic, and a mild laxative. These qualities make it useful for a variety of issues, including:

  • Kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • To fight colds and flu
  • Sinus infections
  • Soothes respiratory disturbances by dispelling mucous and congestion
  • Boost function of the immune system
  • Applied topically, helps reduce pain and swelling in joints due to arthritis
  • Stops bleeding
  • As an oral rinse for dental issues and toothaches
  • Soothes the symptoms of allergies
  • Regulates blood glucose levels
  • Soothes inflammation of the eyes
  • Circulatory stimulant
  • Encourages perspiration
  • Treats viral infections like measles, chicken pox, shingles, and Epstein Barr.
  • Purifies the blood
  • Cleanses the lymphatic system of toxins and debris
  • A natural diuretic useful for eliminating water retention, bloating, gout, and edema
  • Beneficial for liver disorders
  • Heals urinary tract infections
  • Eases headaches
  • Applied topically, it helps heal cuts, wounds, and burns
  • Helps fade blemishes and age spots

When using it internally, we take 1-2 teaspoons in a glass of water. It has a pleasant flavor that blends well with fruit juices, too.

Elder flower hydrosol is handy when your pets are in need. A spritz or two on hot spots works wonders to heal the flesh and soothe the itch, and will help soothe anxiety. Adding a spoonful to their water is helpful in many conditions, including kennel cough and other respiratory issues, or to boost the immune system. It also works well for reducing pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in the joints.

For the more spiritual among us, the essence of the elder plant can add an extra bit of power to rituals and ceremonies. They are considered sacred to the angelic realm and Druids, who call it the ‘Tree of Life’, as well as anyone seeking to work with the Fae. It is known as the medicine chest of the country folk’ because of the many health-enhancing benefits it contains.

The Elder plant represents the 13th month as part of the Ogham, the calendar tree of the Celts. This is the month of the Winter Solstice which is a time of transition between light and dark ~ death and rebirth. Elder helps ease the transition between these two periods.

Elder has long been associated with the fairy world, and is considered to be a plant of the faerie land where wood spirits and elves make their home in her roots.

Elder’s spiritual essence is believed to open the psyche, and is associated with the heart chakra, helping to cool anger and ground the spirit.

I’m sure I haven’t covered all of its uses, but this is an excellent starting point.

As always, I must remind you all that, no, I am not a licensed physician, and all of the alphabet government agencies insist that herbal medicine has little or no healing properties, so this could all just be a big old mess of snake oil. I am not qualified to diagnose you, and I most certainly am not allowed to heal you or offer you any ‘medical’ advice. No government agency has approved any of these statements or claims. If you are taking any herbal medicines, you do so at your own risk. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal products, especially if you are currently taking any prescription medications.

If you are feeling brave or rebellious and want to see what all the hype is about when it comes to hydrosols, check out my Etsy store, Tamara’s Herbes, where you can find all of my hydrosols, as well as other natural health and beauty products created to help soothe the body, mind and spirit!

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It’s Christmas time again. This time last year we were just getting through my whole breast cancer fiasco, feeling quite jubilant that things were looking good. We thought that we had survived the worst that could happen to us. What is it they say about pride going before the fall?  Yeah. That.

So, here we are again. This time around, though, it isn’t me. Instead, it is my child. Like some horrible, nightmarish monster that crept up on us while we weren’t looking, this brain tumor of hers has thrown us all for a loop. Oh, I have no doubt we will beat it into submission. Not really. Maybe because I simply refuse to accept losing as an option. Maybe because I am that arrogant. Maybe…maybe…maybe… I really hate that word. But, still, every now and then the fear wriggles it’s way into my thoughts and makes my breath catch in my chest. It paralyzes me for a few minutes. It makes me wonder if I have completely lost my mind, for the course we have chosen to defeat this tumor is not the easy choice, or the normal choice. But, we do still believe it is the RIGHT choice. It is the choice that gives my daughter the best chance of coming through this without brain damage, or loss of speech, motor skills or sight. It is the best chance of her actually healing from this thing, and not just coping for a few years until it kills her.

So, we keep going. Every day, we wake up and do it all again, praying that with each dose, each treatment, each sacrifice, that we are one day closer to winning this horrible, awful battle. I watch my beautiful girl struggle to accept the things she cannot change. Things like having some private time with her boys because she can’t be left alone with them in case she has a seizure. Things like not being able to drive her boys to the doctor or the store or the park. I see her frustration when she feels like a child who can’t be left unattended and my heart breaks for her. I watch as she chokes down another dose of whatever concoction she needs to take to make this thing go away.  I see her strength and determination, her spirit, her bravery, and I am so very proud of her.

This post isn’t really about all of the wonderful things that my daughter is, though. When I sat down and started writing, it was with the intention of sharing our planned journey so that someone else might benefit from our choices. I have been amazed at the many people who have contacted me asking what we are doing about her brain tumor. Not out of morbid curiosity, but because they (or someone they know) has the same issue, and the standard medical choices given to them are killing them financially, physically and emotionally.

As with my own treatments for breast cancer, I am hesitant to share all that we are doing. Not because I am a horrible person who wants to keep it all to myself, but because some of what we are choosing is frowned upon. Because, if the very worst happens and this doesn’t work, the repercussions could be catastrophic. But, maybe (there’s that word again), it is time to share. Maybe, someone else out there needs to see for themselves if there is another way to beat this thing.

So, here goes. The good, the bad and the ugly.

First, I have to tell you all once more that I am NOT a medical doctor. I don’t have a license to practice medicine. I am a Certified Herbalist. Nothing more. I cannot recommend that you take a single word of what is to follow as anything other than my  opinion, which I have come to after many, many years of studying, researching, investigation, questioning and experimenting. I do not suggest you try any of this at home. You have been formally warned, right?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, we are in regular contact with Summer’s primary care physician, and we have scheduled her next MRI at the Siteman Cancer Center in March, where we hope to hear that the tumor has shown significant improvement.

The first thing you must understand is that a brain tumor, whether benign or malignant, is a very different thing than cancer. The brain is this unbelievably magnificent structure that has complicated, built-in protective mechanisms that man is still working on trying to penetrate. While this is normally a really good thing, it also makes it much more difficult to treat anything that happens to go wrong within the brain. Finding a course of treatment that will actually penetrate the blood-brain barrier without inflicting further damage is a challenge, to say the very least. Then, you have to find things that will kill off the tumor without causing any kind of inflammation, and will not damage or endanger the surrounding tissue. Next, you want to dissolve the tumor, or cause the ‘bad’ cells to heal and turn back into ‘good’ cells. There is quite a bit of science behind it all, and I really don’t have the time, space or brain capacity to break it all down for you, but if you reading this right now I am going to assume that you have already done most of that research on your own. If that is a wrong assumption, then I suggest you take the time to do so. Treating a brain tumor kinda makes treating ‘normal’ cancer seem easy.

After countless days of research, we believe that we have come up with a multi-faceted approach to getting rid of this thing. The medically educated among you may, by the end of this post, be shaking your head and calling me foolish. Since many of you quietly believe I am peddling snake-oil to the unsuspecting on a regular basis anyway, all I can say is…bite me. I’m on a mission to prove you wrong. Some of you will be wondering why we didn’t just choose surgery, radiation or chemo. The answer is, we studied all the options. All of them. Not one of them offered any more hope than the course we have chosen. Some of you will be cheering for us from the sidelines. You are the ones that I adore. Thank you!

And, I am finally to the point. What are we doing to treat this brain tumor? Maybe, the easiest way to do this is to simply lay out Summer’s daily schedule for you.

As soon as she wakes up in the morning, she takes her first of three daily rounds of ‘treatments’. She rubs a salve into her scalp that is made with coconut oil, lemon grass essential oil, clove oil, and cannabis extract. The massage helps stimulate the scalp. The coconut oil is believed to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to carry the lemon grass, cannabis and clove oils to the tumor, where they can begin to break down the tumor. Here is the first point of contention. The medical machine is reluctant to admit that any natural options will help destroy cancer cells and tumors. The natural community swears they can. There is plenty of research results to be found on both sides, some quite slanted in one direction or the other. So, I will leave it at this: My research has led me to believe that these three oils offer very real possibilities in helping to break down the tumor.

The scalp massage is followed by two honey-based herbal syrups, fresh juice and/or smoothies, and a mushroom extract. The honey-based syrups were a little tricky because she is also nursing a 4-month-old. We don’t want to use anything that could possibly harm the baby through the breastmilk, and many of the herbs commonly used to treat tumors can be bad for infants and children. We used a raw honey-base for both syrups because honey is a fantastic option for penetrating the blood-brain barrier.

The herbs we chose for her immune-enhancing syrup are red clover, burdock, dandelion, pau d’arco, ginseng, astragalus, slippery elm, echinacea, amla, and milk thistle. Many of these serve more than one purpose, which is a bonus, but most of them were chosen for their ability to strengthen the immune system. A healthy, strong immune system is essential for helping the body to heal itself. Some of the added benefits of this blend include mild cleansing effects, improved brain function, protection of critical organs and a general tonic effect on the entire body.

The herbs in her second syrup were chosen for their ability to help cleans the eliminative system. These herbs include red raspberry leaf, dandelion root, burdock root, parsley, plantain, self-heal, yellow dock and yarrow. Again, these herbs all have more than one benefit, so…yay!

Because some of these herbs can decrease the milk supply, she also takes a lactation supplement to keep up a steady supply.

For her mushroom extract, we decided on a dual-extract blend of Turkey Tail, Lion’s Beard and Chaga mushrooms. I cannot even begin to tell you all the benefits of these three beyond their ability to kill cancer cells and tumors, but there is plenty of info to be had by doing a simple search. I have started taking this extract myself, and I highly recommend it for everyone as a general brain and overall health supplement.

Summer also takes a product called LipH. It helps balance the body’s pH levels which is believed to help kill things like cancer cells and tumors.

Throughout the day, we also have to incorporate other herbs into her diet. Green tea, ginger root, turmeric root, aloe vera, onions, garlic, Himilayan pink salt, Vitamin C, omega-3’s, B vitamins, as well as a wide variety of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

We have cut out any and all toxic chemicals. Things like shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, lotion and food have to be completely chemical free.

Daily detox baths with Epsom salts are required. Daily exposure to fresh air and sunshine to boost her Vitamin D and fresh oxygen supply. Daily castor oil packs. A daily drop of poke root extract to cleanse her lymph system. Three times a week she takes a dose of activated charcoal to help pull out toxins from her body.

Maybe the most difficult part, though, is the things she cannot have. Sugar, flour, dairy and meat. Try going a day without any of those things and you will understand how much of a struggle it is to accomplish such a feat! Each of those things will feed a tumor, so I guess the incentive is there, but still….it sucks! All of this after spending a week doing a juice fast to flush out as many toxins as we possibly could and reset her immune system and other organs.

Because of the risk of seizures, we also do our best to make sure she is getting plenty of rest, and we keep the stress levels as low as we possibly can with three small children and two families living in the same house. She keeps a bottle of anti-seizure extract on her always. Just in case.

Of course, everyone’s first question is, “have you considered CBD oil?”  We absolutely have considered it. What we determined is that cannabis oil, not CBD oil, is a valuable tool in this fight. One of the most valuable, in fact. It is my sincere hope that my state makes it legal very soon. The fact that  any government entity would try to stand in the way of allowing such a potent, effective medicinal substance to be available to anyone who needs it is abhorrent. Sadly, many people will remain silent until it becomes a personal issue for them.

So, there you have it. This is how we are hoping to save our daughter.  This is what we are putting our faith in.

The other question I keep getting is, “How much does this form of treatment cost?” My first instinct is to ask, “Does it matter?” The answer, of course, is yes. It does matter. Considering the fact that most people choose the treatments presented by their doctor because their astronomically-high insurance will cover those options, the cost of natural treatments can seem like too much to handle. I get it. I was blessed to have a friend set up a Gofundme account, and a whole list of angels that were willing to help us out,  that allowed us to pull this off. A realistic cost expectation for 3 months of ‘treatments’ is between $2,000-$3,000. That isn’t including things you don’t expect like chemical-free personal care products and organic foods. Expect to spend an extra $150-$250 on these per week.

We have lots of support and many people asking how Summer is doing. She is doing great. She hasn’t had a seizure since the one that sent her to the hospital in the first place. She stays on top of her treatments. She has to be careful to not overdo it, and sometimes even simple things like grocery shopping can cause her to have a rough day, but she is staying strong. She isn’t any different than she was a month ago, personality-wise. She is still Summer.

Finally, is it worth it? Absolutely. Is it risky? No more risky than surgery, chemo or radiation. Is it difficult? At times. Will it really work? We are betting my daughter’s life on it, so I sure hope so!

 

Detoxin

As last year fades into a bad memory (thank the Goddess!), and this new year is hurtling forward, I am spending more time thinking of how important it is to get myself in order. What do I want out of life over the course of the next year?

I want to be happy. I want to be so happy that everyone around me gets bombarded with happiness cooties and is forced to feel happy, too.

I want to be productive. I want to use the gifts granted to me in the most productive way possible. I want to watch my business grow like never before. Not an entirely altruistic wish, I will admit, but in my line of work, my success rests on my ability to create a customer that doesn’t need to return because they are no longer in need of healing. Kind of a sticky situation, huh?

I want to be known for my honesty. My generosity. My loyalty.

But, most of all, I want to be healthy. I didn’t see much of that in 2016. For a while there, I wondered if I would even get to see 2017.  I spent a lot of time contemplating life, death and all of the in-betweens. Not just mine, either. This year seems to have been a do-or-die kind of year for me on a couple different levels. I acquired many clients this past year because the medical industry finally released them with the phrase, “There is nothing more we can do at this point”.  Liver failure. Cancer. Diabetes. Heart disease. Lukemia. I have dealt with them all this year, and quite successfully, I might add!

In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that I have slacked off a bit on my own health regime. A fairly frequent question is, ‘How are things going…you know…with the breast thing…?” The standard answer is, ‘Things are going great.”

The real answer is a bit more complicated. The truth is, things were going great. I did all the things I was supposed to do. I changed a few things that needed changing in my diet and lifestyle. I took all my herbs and tinctures. I did all my detox and immune builders. I eat healthier than anyone I know. I rest when I can. I stay positive. I do yoga…sometimes.

But, as time passes and I get further from the fear that motivated me to get healthy, I find myself drifting back into old habits. I eat more chocolate and drink more coffee than I should. I have those few pieces of bread or cheese that I know I shouldn’t. I stop in for a piece of pie at Slice of Pie. I skip a yoga class when I’m too busy. I forget to take my pills and tinctures. I choose a burger over a salad.

Here’s the thing that I ALWAYS tell my clients. This whole natural approach only works if you do what you are supposed to do. If you slack off, the sick comes back around. This is an issue your body is already prone to develop. It will come back if you fall into old habits. And, so it has.

I see those warning signs that I didn’t know were warning signs the first time around. I feel those strange twinges of discomfort that I didn’t pay attention to the first time around. I hear that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I had best get myself back on track.

It occurs to me, though, that there may be others out there who might be in the same predicament and they just don’t know where to start. Maybe you keep finding yourself getting sick. Nothing big or bad. A recurring cold or stomach bug. Allergies. Headaches. Tired all the time. Something just doesn’t FEEL right. I’m with you. It’s time to set things right.

Ready?

Let’s do a cleanse! Let’s flush out all that nasty crap that has built up in our bodies!

Oh, quit groaning. You know, every time I say ‘cleanse’, someone  groans and complains. They have visions of being stuck in the bathroom for hours, or feeling sick as the cleanse moves the nasties out of your system. It doesn’t have to be like that, though.  Truth is, a really thorough cleanse might have you in the bathroom a little more frequently than usual, but it shouldn’t be a traumatic ordeal. A good cleanse will likely cause some minimal stomach discomfort as the body passes toxins out via the digestive system, and you may sweat a bit more than usual for the same reason. You may even experience a ‘healing crisis’, especially if you have been sick a lot in the last year. A good cleanse will gently pull toxins and old ‘bugs’ from your bloodstream and your organs into the eliminative organs so the body can dispose of them, so you might feel bits of old illnesses passing briefly through your system. You might run a mild fever as your body kicks in the immune response. You might be a bit tired for a day or two as your body deals with healing itself.

In exchange for this day or two of discomfort, you get a huge payoff! Your body finally starts to feel like it is operating in peak condition. Headaches disappear. Belly aches don’t plague you. Those little aches and pains are suddenly gone. Your hair and skin look better. Your mind is clearer. You are less likely to catch every bug floating around there.

So, are you with me??  Oh, good! Here’s what we need to do:

First, decide what kind of juice you like best. Keep a couple things in mind when choosing;

  • You are only going to have this one juice for 2-3 days, so make sure you really like the one you choose.
  • Choose a fruit that produces a lot of juice. This cuts both your time and costs. I prefer organic grapes, apples and grapefruits.

Second, prepare yourself and your space. This doesn’t have to be a difficult experience. Here are some things you will need:

  • Distilled water. Not bottled, tap or well water. Distilled.  Why is this so important?  Because distilled water is ’empty’ water. That means that everything has been removed from it. All the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, as well as any toxins or bacteria. This leaves more room in the water molecules, allowing them to pull more of the toxins from your system as it passes through. This is a much-simplified explanation, but you get the point, right?
  • Prune juice
  • Castor oil
  • Cotton cloths
  • A good blend of detoxifying herbs. Of course, I suggest my formula, Heavy Metal Detox, but there are plenty of others out there to choose from that will work almost as well.
  • Activated charcoal (see all the benefits and ways to use activated charcoal here)

Finally, a few things to keep in mind:

  • You are going to be tired, hungry and pretty crabby for at least a day or two. Expect it, warn your loved ones, and get ready to just deal with it.
  • You may feel pretty crappy for a day or two.
  • Plan to start your cleanse a day before your weekend starts. Usually the first day is easy, the second day is pretty rough, and the third day is a breeze.
  • The plan I am laying out will only work if you are willing to give it 100%. There is no compromising on any of the steps if you want to see real results. I promise you, though, that it is completely worth it!
  • This is the protocol that I always recommend to anyone who is having chronic health issues. It doesn’t matter what the issues are. This is simply the first step to cleaning up a body that is functioning improperly. It is designed to cleanse the entire system without depriving the body of much-needed vitamins and nutrients.

Now, we can get started. Here’s how it needs to go down:

Day 1-2:

  • Drink one 8 oz glass of prune juice first thing in the morning. Yes, I know it is disgusting. Drink it anyway. Just hold your breath and chug. It’s only one small glass.
  • Drink one 8 oz glass of distilled water.
  • Throughout the day, drink at least four 8 oz glasses of fresh fruit juice. Whichever fruit you choose is fine, but remember to only have ONE variety per day. If you start with grape, keep it to grape only.
  • Drink at least 90 oz of distilled water throughout the day.
  • If you get so hungry that you just can’t cope, eat some of the fruit that you are using for juice. Don’t go crazy. Eat only enough to get you through.
  • Take at least one hot bath or shower per day, as hot as you can tolerate. Baths are preferable. Add 1/2 cup epsom salt to your bath to help speed up the detox process and reduce any withdrawl symptoms.

Day 3-4:

  • Continue as you have been on days 1-2. Gradually start reintroducing solid foods into your diet. Stick to fresh fruits/veggies. Raw is best, but lightly steamed or baked is acceptable. Veggie broth is a great option, too.
  • Begin taking the natural detox that you have chosen.
  • Up your water intake to a minimum of 128 oz (one gallon) per day.
  • Take 1 tsp activated charcoal in the morning. The most effective way to take activated charcoal is to mix 1 tsp of charcoal with 8 oz of distilled water. Drink it quickly, then follow immediately with 20 oz of water. Do this on an empty stomach, at least one hour before/after eating. Capsules are the second best way to consume the charcoal. Water requirements are the same.

Day 5-6:

  • Begin eating small, regular meals.
  • Continue taking the detox herb blend you have chosen.
  • Continue drinking at least 128 oz of water per day.

Once you have completed your cleanse, you should notice that your cravings for ‘junk’ foods has decreased, if not disappeared altogether. You will notice that your hair and skin look more vibrant, your energy level will be higher, and your mind will be clearer.

Now that you have gone to all this effort, how do we hang on to all these benefits? Keep your body clean, of course! Avoid processed foods, dairy (except raw milk), refined sugar, and white flour products (bread, crackers, etc.). If you like your meat, limit it to organic, grass-fed portions no more than 3-4 times per week. If fish is your favorite, stick to wild-caught, not farmed, and avoid any seafood coming from the West Coast or the Gulf. Drink plenty of water. Eat lots of raw, fresh fruits and veggies. Get a bit of exercise, fresh air and sunshine every day. Meditate. Get plenty of sleep. Laugh a lot. It really is that simple to begin the healing process. Happy cleansing!

 

 

Activated Charcoal

Charcoal seems to be the trendy new health product, if the sudden influx of questions, news articles, and Facebook posts about it are any indication. However, the benefits of charcoal have been known for millennium among many . Used for everything from embalming to ship repair, charcoal has proven itself exceptionally valuable. Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), and the ancient Egyptians employed the use of charcoal for a variety of ailments. Most notably, for it’s ability to rid the body of toxins and impurities.There is a great article on the history of charcoal, complete with ancient uses and other interesting bits of info, HERE.  There is really no sense in me repeating  what they have already stated so thoroughly, especially when we are only focusing on the medicinal aspects of activated charcoal. It’s a good read, though, for those who enjoy that kind of thing.

What is activated charcoal? This is not the same charcoal you throw on your grill, so don’t go grinding up charcoal briquets and eating them. Activated charcoal is made using coconut shells or select types of wood. Coconut shells are the preferred option due to their renewability, and because charcoal made from wood has the potential to cause an allergic reaction in those with sensitivity to certain types of nuts and woods. The charcoal is created through a process of steam, heat and washing. The result is a substance that can adsorb up to 350 times its weight in gases, liquids and toxins.

That is adsorb, not absorb. The difference? When something is absorbed it is taken in and disappears, as with a sponge. When something is adsorbed it works like a magnet, drawing substances to its surface and holding onto them tightly.

Charcoal’s uniqueness lies in the range of substances that it is capable of adsorbing. It has been shown to adsorb toxic gases and chemicals, especially those from opiates, cocain, morphine, nicotine, salicylates, strychnine, antidepressants, venom, poison, and toxic metals. This ability makes it exceptionally valuable in helping cleanse the system from addiction, and helping those with intestinal issues like excessive gas, diarrhea, heartburn and ulcers.  It has been used throughout history for treating gangrenous and cancerous lesions, to lower cholesterol, to cleanse the bowels and bloodstream, and as an antidote to many poisons. It is commonly found in emergency rooms around the world, and is an absolute must-have for every home medicine cabinet. If something a little more scientific and…well, medical-slanted is what it takes to convince you of charcoal’s value, you might check out the National Library of Medicine‘s website. If both the medical and natural world are in agreement on ANY subject, you might wanna take notice!

Take note, though, charcoal will not help with alkaline poisoning from things like lye, alcohol, mineral acids or cyanide. Those require a neutralizer like vinegar or baking soda, and that is an entirely different protocol.

The newest trend for activated charcoal is in the beauty arena, though. Little wonder, since the benefits of charcoal are often seen after a single use. Charcoal draws impurities from the skin, whitens teeth, freshens breath, and reduces blackheads and acne. It can be found in soap, toothpaste, face masques and shampoo. I’ll admit, even I have jumped on the bandwagon. Look at this beautiful charcoal soap I made!

charcoal soap

When purchasing activated charcoal, look for a source that specifies what the charcoal is derived from. Always choose organic, as this ensures it is free from chemical processing which can cause many adverse reactions.

Charcoal is available in three forms: tablets, capsules and powder.

Tablets should be crushed or chewed before swallowing, and are the least effective.

Capsules take time to break down in the digestive system, but are still highly effective.

Powder is the least expensive, most versatile, and most effective way to use charcoal.

A word of caution; it is not selective in the substances it adsorbs. This means that it pulls out the good with the bad. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and digestive enzymes are pulled from the body, along with the poisons and toxins. Charcoal should not be taken long-term.

Ways to use activated charcoal vary.

  • To use as an aid for gastrointestinal issues, 90 minutes before eating, you can either take 1 capsule of charcoal with 20 oz of water, or you can mix 1 tsp of charcoal with 2-4 oz of water and drink it. Don’t worry, it isn’t gritty and there is no taste at all. It is a bit like drinking thick water. Make sure you drink plenty of water over the next few hours. Charcoal will draw moisture for body as it passes through. If you fail to drink enough water, this can lead to constipation. That’s no fun at all. Drink water.
  • In the home, setting a small bowl in your fridge or pantry will eliminate odors.
  • To whiten teeth and help eliminate tooth or gum issues, use charcoal twice a week in place of your normal toothpaste. You can either use the dry powder, or you can mix 1 Tbsp powder with 1/4 cup coconut oil and 1 oz of cocoa butter to make your own paste. Dip your toothbrush in the powder, or place a small bit of paste on your toothbrush.  Brush as usual, allowing the charcoal to remain on the teeth for 3-5 minutes. Rinse until the water is clear. Charcoal won’t stain your sink, skin or teeth, but it will stain fabrics.
  • For bites and stings, mix charcoal powder and ground flax seed with enough boiling water to create a semi-thick paste. Apply the paste, extending it out past the affected area. Cover the paste with plastic. Cover the plastic with a natural-fiber cloth like cotton or wool. Secure it with an ace bandage and leave on 8-10 hours. Wash with lukewarm salt water after removing the poultice. Repeat daily until the area has healed.

So, there you have it. Charcoal is a pretty amazing substance that I suggest keeping on hand. It is easy to find at any drug or health food store. It’s cheap, it’s safe for all ages and, well,  it is kinda fun to play with….if you like that kind of thing….

Pain happens. Headaches, backaches, wounds, broken bones, bumps and bruises. It is almost second nature for us to grab an aspirin, acetaminophen, an ibuprofen, or, for some, something a bit stronger. Unfortunately, even the safest of these options come with serious negative side effects. Liver and kidney damage, stomach or digestive issues, neurological damage. In extreme cases, even death.

The last few decades have conditioned us to believe that our options are not just limited, but non-existent. We either take the options on the market (or at the pharmacy), or we deal with the pain. Under no circumstances should we consider taking natural alternatives. Not only are they extremely dangerous, but they are quite ineffective. I’m still trying to work out the incompatibility of that last statement.

I gotta wonder, though…if natural alternatives are so ineffective, why did the medical world develop some of their best medicines from them? Aspirin from willow bark. Opium, morphine, codeine and laudanum from poppies. Digitalis from foxglove. The list is long and impressive, and pretty interesting, if you are into that kind of thing.

The point is, there is an abundance of exceptionally effective, natural alternatives for dealing with pain of all types. In truth, some of them work faster, more effectively and, well…better. These are a few of my favorites:

Castor oil packs

Most of us have heard horror stories of grandmothers forcing a spoonful of castor oil on reluctant children when they had belly aches. I simply cannot condone that level of torture, but castor oil is not without powerful medicinal benefits.

Of course, the above scenario is not without it’s benefit, either. Castor oil is a highly effective, exceptionally safe laxative for all ages. The biggest problem with this method is actually choking it down. The good news is, it only takes 4-6 hours in most cases for a dose of castor oil to completely cleanse the bowels. A little more good news, a single dose is only 1-2 tablespoons for adults, and 1 tsp for children. Mix it with a bit of fresh fruit juice and it really isn’t so bad.

Castor oil is a strong fungicidal due to its high content of undecylenic acid. Ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch…castor oil applied topically daily for a week will help tremendously in any of these situations.

Castor oil is exceptionally moisturizing. It attracts and holds in moisture, so it is the perfect addition to any beauty routine. Acne, dry hair, dry scalp, age spots, warts, and skin tags are just a few of the issues that can be improved with regular use of castor oil.

However, one of the very best ways to administer castor oil is through the use of a castor oil pack. I don’t know all the science behind castor oil and how it does what it does. What I do know is that I have seen it work over and over again to help the body heal, to provide relief from pain of every kind, in every part of the body. I have seen it help people who were in liver failure to detox. I have seen it help shrink cysts and tumors. I have seen it perform nearly miraculous things. But, that’s just MY experience with it. Sore muscles? Use a castor oil pack on them. Arthritis? Try a castor oil pack. Painful period? Use a castor oil pack. Seriously. You gotta try this!

Castor oil packs can be a bit messy, but are relatively simple to use.  All you need is:

  • a bottle of castor oil
  • 2 pieces of natural cloth like wool or cotton. One should be large enough to completely cover the area you intend to apply it to. The second piece should be larger by about 4 inches in both directions.
  • a piece of plastic
  • a towel that you don’t mind getting stained
  • a hot pack or heating pad

Here’s what you do with all of that:

  • Thoroughly coat the smaller piece of the cloth with castor oil. You want it wet, but not dripping. The piece of cloth should be large enough to completely cover whatever area of the body you are treating.
  • Cover the castor oil soaked cloth with a piece of plastic.
  • Cover the plastic with the larger piece of dry cloth. This piece is going to help hold in the warmth so it should be something heavy and natural like wool, cotton or flannel.
  • Place a heating pad on top of your cloth. That’s it. Now just kick back and relax for a spell. Leave the pack on for at least 20 minutes, but I like to leave it on overnight. You will want to put an old towel or sheet under you, because castor oil will stain whatever it touches.

You can use an ace bandage or strip of fabric to secure the castor oil pack in place.

Don’t throw out your castor oil pack after one use, either. The same castor oil pack can be used 10-15 times. Just store it in the fridge between uses and add a bit more castor oil if it begins to dry out.

This is one of those great treatments that work immediately. By the time you remove the castor oil pack you will be feeling better. When dealing with long-term and/or chronic conditions,  I have used this treatment daily for two weeks with absolutely no negative effects. For things like menstrual cramps, arthritis flare-ups, and muscle aches/spasms, we use it as often as we need to. In most cases, we are back up and moving comfortably after an hour or so.

Sometimes we need something that works a bit faster, right? And,  maybe more convenient? After all, I doubt the boss is going to approve of you taking a break to apply a castor oil pack that you will need to wear around the office for a while.

It’s cool. I have this one covered. Herbs. The answer is herbs.

Quit rolling your eyes. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Let me try to impress upon you the unbelievable power of herbs to help control pain when used properly.

I live on a farm. I do yoga. I garden. I paint. I write. I bead and sew and crochet and knit. I spend HOURS in the kitchen. I make soap. I build fires. I play with grandsons. I spend unfathomable amounts of time staring at a computer screen.  None of these activities seem especially dangerous, right? Look a little deeper.

Yoga and gardening are the source of many muscle aches, strains and sprains. Crafting, writing and gardening require the use of my hands, which are prone to attacks of arthritis, small cuts, big cuts, cuts from stems and tools (because, you know, why wear gloves like any rational person?). Hours in the kitchen can occasionally produce burns, cuts and other injuries that we need not name, as can building and maintaining fires in the wood stove. Computer screens give me massive headaches. Living on a farm covers everything from shins bashed into trailer hitches to broken limbs. Playing with grandsons…well…the danger potential there is unlimited. So, you see all of the levels of pain that my family may experience at any given moment. Keep that in mind when I make my next statement.

We have not needed a ‘conventional’ pain reliever since we started using herbal pain-relieving options. No aspirin. No acetaminophen. No prescription pain killers.

What is this miracle herbal pain-reliever, you ask? Well, it isn’t one herb. Or even two. It is a combination of herbs. While each of the herbs we are about to discuss work reasonably well for minor pain all by themselves, combining some of them can be far more effective than many of the dangerous synthetic pain pills flooding the market and killing people by the millions. Unlike prescription or OTC pain relievers, there is no risk of organ failure, heart issues, digestive issues, neurological issues…no negative side effects for a normal, healthy person. Did you catch that? These alternatives should not be used if you have some pre-existing conditions. Some of these herbs can interfere with medications, which can cause big problems. Some of these herbs should not be taken long-term. If you are not trained in the use of herbs, don’t just go taking these herbs willy-nilly. Consult a Certified Herbalist. Really. Don’t be stupid.

Okay, you’ve been warned. Now, let’s move on. I have found a beautiful blend of herbs that works fast (it has never taken more than 10 minutes to feel relief) on every kind of pain we have thrown at it. I’m going to tell you the herbs. Not the formula. The formula, Nerve-Ease, took me a long time to perfect, and is easy for an amateur to mess up.

  • Black cohosh – this root is most often used for female complaints related to the menstrual cycle, menopause, and female organs. This is because of the fact that it has many natural estrogens. What many don’t realize is that is also has a mild sedative effect, is anti-inflammatory, and acts as a mild anti-depressant, just to name a few of its benefits.
  • Catnip – yeah, the same herb your cat flips out over. Catnip is a fabulous pain reliever, and one of the safest option available for all ages, including small children. It is a mild relaxant, it settles the stomach, it calms the nerves, it reduces pain, and it promotes relaxation and sleep without any drowsiness.
  • Cayenne – there is a lot of science behind this herb, and how it works is a whole lesson in itself. We will just leave it at this: cayenne is a powerful pain reliever, and it boost the ability of any herb it is working with. One of the many additional benefits of cayenne is its ability to stop bleeding. There are very few of my formulas that don’t contain a bit of cayenne for very good reason. It is safe for all ages and requires only a small amount to be effective.
  • Chamomile – this is a wonderful sedative herb that works powerfully, but mildly, on the body and mind. It, like catnip, promotes relaxation without making  you drowsy, so you can go to sleep easier without waking up feeling foggy or disoriented. It soothes the nerves, so it is good for anxiety and depression. It is anti-inflammatory. It soothes muscles and joints. Chamomile is safe for any age and can help control just about any type of pain or discomfort you may be having. It is pretty tasty, too!
  • Hops – while best known for its use in beer making, hops has a long history of medicinal use. As with many herbs, hops has a variety of uses. Herbalists often use it for its ability to calm the nerves and promote sleep without causing drowsiness or brain fog. It is an anti-inflammatory, so it also helps with nerve pain, or pain caused from internal inflammation.
  • Mistletoe – the same plant that we stand under for a chance at a free smooch is a most excellent nervine. That means that it helps soothe frazzled nerves and helps rebuild damaged nerves. It is an anti-inflammatory, as well as an immune system builder.  Mistletoe has so many healing benefits that we can’t cover even a fraction of them here, but it also has some warnings attached to it. It is a fantastic pain reliever, but must be properly prepared and used only under the supervision of a Certified Herbalist or natural health practitioner.
  • Mullein – one of my all time favorite herbs, I could spend hours extolling it’s many virtues, not the least of which is it’s pain-relieving capabilities. It doesn’t matter what the pain stems from; Mullein will help soothe it. This is an especially useful herb for dealing with pain from broken bones, sprains and strains, as well as pain from inflamed, irritated mucous membranes in the lungs and respiratory system.
  • Skullcap – if you are looking for power and performance, this is the herb to go to. It’s pain-relieving properties are well known among herbalists, and this is one of the first choices for helping promote sleep, calm anxiety, reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being. It is not an easy herb to work with, though, and is best used fresh, as it loses much of it’s ability with drying.
  • Turmeric – If you have been on the internet in the last couple of years, you have heard of turmeric and all of it’s health benefits. It is used for everything from cancer treatment to dental care. More than 6,000 peer-reviewed studies have been done on this herb, and more are being done daily in an effort to understand it’s range of healing. Even among standard medical groups, turmeric is gaining popularity because they are finding that it is more effective than many prescription drugs for treating a variety of health issues. Pain, depression, heart issues, inflammation, stomach issues, cancer, diabetes and cholesterol are just some of the issues that turmeric is having a profound effect on, all without a single negative side effect.
  • Valerian root – this is easily one of the smelliest herbs known to mankind. Fortunately, it is also one of the best pain-relievers ever. It is a mild, but highly effective nervine that helps calm anxiety, promotes relaxation and sleep, soothes pain and promotes a general sense of well-being.
  • Willow – this is where aspirin comes from, in case you didn’t know. A long time ago, some scientist got the bright idea to extract what they believed was the active pain-relieving constituent in willow bark, then called it medicine. If they would have just left the herb alone they would have gotten much farther. Willow bark has all the phenomenal characteristics of aspirin, but it also has built-in protectors that keep it from harming the liver and other organs. It is not without dangers of its own, though, and should only be used under the supervision of a Certified Herbalist or alternative medical practitioner.

The world of herbal medicine contains a vast array of other effective pain-relievers, but these are the ones I prefer. When used together, they have the ability to fight pain stemming from nearly every source imaginable. They can replace anti-depressants, sleeping pills, nerve pills, stomach pills….pills, pills, pills. They can even help you wean off many of those pills without suffering the symptoms often seen from withdrawals.

This is by no means a complete list of the many ways natural health practitioners approach pain management, especially long-term. However, reaching for a more natural option for every day aches and pains seems like a no-lose situation. If it doesn’t work for you, there is always the option of running to the drug store for a bottle of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but why start there if you don’t have to? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doctor Said…

I know you all are ready for a story, right? Well, my friends, grab yourself a drink and settle yourself in, ’cause I have a humdinger of a story for you!

First, though, let me fill in a few things that led up to the rest of the story.  Through some family connections, a doctor at the Breast Health division of the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis was told about what was happening with me. They were told about my unwillingness to have a mammogram. They were given my ultrasound images.  Like all of the other medical personnel involved in this thing, the doctor was highly concerned  and wanted to get me in as soon as possible. We encountered a few twists and turns, and the doctor I was originally supposed to see ended up being out of the country, so I ended up seeing someone else. Not really a big deal, simply a part of the bigger picture. After many scheduling conflicts, on Tuesday of last week I was finally given an appointment for today (Monday).

While everyone around me was incredibly relieved, I had a lot of mixed feelings about the whole thing. Of course, I was eager to have an actual diagnosis. I didn’t want a diagnosis because I had any intention of changing how I treated it. I wanted a diagnosis, mostly, because without one there would always be room for questions. Do I have cancer? Is it the type of cancer that we were originally afraid it was?  I wanted more images to see if anything had changed. It all looked better on the outside. In fact, over the last three days it has completely cleared up. No tenderness, no heaviness. No bruises or itching. No discomfort. Nothing.

But…this was a cancer research center that is part of Mallinckrodt. That means that their main interest is in studying new drugs and treatments. None of those include anything natural. Also, Mallinckrodt has a vested interest in mammography. They are the makers of mammogram equipment, including the newest fad…3-D mammograms. I was fairly certain they were going to push hard on me to have a mammogram. So, on Friday when they called to verify my appointment, I made it a point to ask them about it. I asked if they were aware that I was not coming in for a mammogram. I asked them to please save me the time and the trip if that was going to be a factor in whether or not things could move forward. The girl of the phone seemed rather uncomfortable and said I would just have to wait and talk to the doctor.

Jim and I debated canceling the appointment. We both knew how this was going to go. We both knew that it was most likely going to be a wasted trip. However, I know how many strings had been pulled and how many people were holding their breath waiting for me to make it to this appointment. Mostly, it was sense of obligation that had us up and on our way to St. Louis this morning.

Okay, here’s where it starts getting good. So, they call me back and Jim starts to follow me, but the girl stops him and says he has to wait until after they are done with the imaging part of the appointment. I assure him that I’ll be okay and they will come and get him as soon as I am done. The girl leads me to an exam room and tells me to undress and put on the robe, then she will be right back to get me. I stopped her as she was leaving to ask her where, exactly, she was taking me. Her answer? Come on…play along! Guess!  That’s right, friends. We were on our way to the mammogram machine! Go ahead and laugh. I did!

I think she was taken a bit aback when I said, “No.” She had the oddest look on her face, as if she was uncertain what the word meant, so I felt it necessary to help her out. “I made you all aware a week ago that I was not coming in for a mammogram. I am willing to do either an ultrasound or an MRI, both of which I know you offer, but we are not doing a mammogram.”

The poor child turned white. Then red. Her mouth kinda flopped about soundlessly. “I have to talk to the doctor,” she finally got out. “Just…don’t do anything. I’ll be right back!” and she was gone. I did nothing. I waited.

A few minutes passed and the doctor knocked on the door. She stepped in the room, introduced herself, then said, “You haven’t put on the gown yet. You aren’t undressed! Get changed into the gown and I’ll be right back.” Poof! She was gone. I think this doctor’s office must give courses in how to disappear quick.

She comes back in to the office and the visit begins. She wants to know the whole story. I start back at the beginning. She checked her notes and asked me a few questions, then wanted to know what I had been doing (antibiotics? any meds?) I explained briefly that I had made some dietary changes, used a lot of herbs and salves, did some other natural stuff. I skipped over the less-than-legal stuff. She laughed and waived a hand dismissively, “None of those would have made a difference with cancer. Cancer doesn’t go away like that. Did you do anything medical?”

And, there it was. “Nope,” I replied. “Not a thing.” I explained to her that, over the last few days, the rest of my symptoms had gone away. I didn’t go into details because I knew she didn’t want them. I didn’t explain that the last several weeks of my life had consisted of nothing beyond making teas and poultices and herbal concoctions, applying salves and oils, doing lymph massages, making and taking natural medicines every few hours, taking baths, eating nothing but organic foods, doing yoga, and sleeping more than I ever thought I could. It didn’t matter, in her mind, so why waste my breath?

After 8 long weeks, there was nothing left of what was there before. She assured me that she had seen the ultrasound and knew what we were dealing with. She was ready to examine me. You know how when your car makes that terrible noise and you schedule an appointment with the mechanic, but when you get there the car isn’t making that noise anymore? Yeah, it was pretty much just like that.

She looked at my breast and seemed a little confused. “There is nothing there,” she said.

“Um, yeah. I know. That’s what I just told you. It all cleared up a few days ago.”

“How long ago did the symptoms start?”

“A couple months ago,” I told her.

She pushed around on the places that had showed up the worst in the ultrasound. Then, she pushed a little harder. She felt around the lymph nodes that had been swollen and sore a few days ago, but there was nothing there anymore. So she pushed harder. She raised my arms and felt, then lowered my arms and felt.

“Can you show me exactly where the hard spots were?” she asked.

I did. She pushed and poked some more.

“There is nothing there,” she told me.

“Um…yeah.” I said. Hadn’t we just had this conversation?

“Well, uh, you had this ultrasound just a few weeks ago, right?”

“Yes.”

“And, when was your mammogram?”

Shit.

“Never.”

“Of course you have. They did a mammogram the day they did the ultrasound.”

“Nope.”

“No? But, you had a mammogram.”

I was starting to feel like I was in a bad adaptation of ‘Who’s on First’.

“No. No mammogram.”

“Ever?”

“Ever.”

“But, they did take this ultrasound?”

“Yes.”

She was silent for a minute.

“Are you sure you don’t want a mammogram?”

I swear, that is what she asked me.

“I’m sure.”

“Well, there is nothing there to ultrasound. I mean, I don’t have anything to tell them to ultrasound. There’s nothing there. Are you sure you don’t want a mammogram?”

I laughed. “Well,” I said, “can you tell me of anything else, anything at all, that could have caused the skin thickening and the layering that is in that ultrasound?”

She mumbled something that I didn’t hear, then shrugged and said, “It was possibly just something odd or unusual that went away on it’s own.”  Then she changed the subject. To mammograms.

“If we do a mammogram maybe we would see something that needs to be looked at a little closer by ultrasound. Do you want to get a mammogram?”

“Nope.”

She was quiet again. Then, she said, “Do you want an ultrasound? We could just consider it a follow-up ultrasound maybe, since you’ve already had this one to compare it to.”

“Sure. I would love to have something to compare to the first one.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a mammogram?”

“Yep.”

She sighed. “Okay. Let me set up the ultrasound.” And, she was gone.

So, I was led down the halls to the imaging waiting room. I was suddenly a member of the pink-robes club. There were 4 of us in the waiting room, each one waiting to find out if we were about to given an expiration date or a reprieve. I was the last one left.

A new girl showed up, called my name and said, “I need to speak to you for a minute.”

She led me to a little exam room and closed the door. “Here’s the thing,” she said. “The doctors here won’t do an ultrasound unless you have a mammogram first. It’s policy.”

Wait, wasn’t it a doctor that had just suggested it? Hmmm.

I shrugged. “No problem. Let’s just skip it, then,” I said.

She looked very uncomfortable. “Um, so, you don’t want a mammogram?”

At this point I was seriously beginning to wonder if anyone in this office was firing all their cylinders. I was beginning to get the impression that they really wanted me to have a mammogram, too.

I took a really deep breath. Then another. “No, I do not want a mammogram. Can I put my clothes back on now?”

She left pretty fast, too. I’m telling you guys, they train them….

She was back just a minute later to tell me that the doctor wanted to see me before I left. She led me to another exam room and they finally let Jim come back.

I was almost finished catching him up on everything when the doctor opened the door and stuck her head in. “I just wanted to make it clear to you,” she said, “cancer does not just go away on its own.”  She closed the door. Our visit was, apparently, finished.

As we left the cancer center, Jim started to laugh. “I knew it had to have been you,” he said.  I raised an eyebrow at him. He says the oddest things sometimes…

“One of those girls came up to the front desk just before they came out to get me,” he told me.  “She looked pretty upset. She was waving her arms around and looking mad while she told the girls behind the counter something. I recognized that look and I just knew it had to be you!”

I’m pretty sure he thinks he is funny.

So, there you have it. No more imaging was done because they couldn’t find anything to image. I suppose we will never have an answer, but I’m good with that. I intend to continue my course of treatment for a bit longer, and I intend to continue to focus more on prevention of a recurrence. I intend to keep my thermographic imaging appointment, just to be sure everything is really gone. I intend to never see a doctor again, mostly because this whole experience has reminded me that most of them aren’t too bright and they are incapable of hearing any voice but their own. I intend to actively encourage women to forgo mammograms and insist on less dangerous, more reliable options like ultrasound and thermography. I am going to actively campaign to legalize marijuana in Missouri so that anyone diagnosed with an illness doesn’t have to turn their friends and family into drug dealers in order to cure said illness. Yeah, that’s a whole other story that I won’t be able to tell for a while…

I have learned so much during this whole ordeal. I have learned to appreciate all the little things. I have learned that I need to tell people what they mean to me while I can. I have learned to trust myself. I have learned that there are a lot of people around me who love me and support me, no matter what.

I know that many of you are full of questions about what I have been doing to treat this thing. I have debated over and over whether or not to put it out there. What I have decided is that, while I am more than willing to tell anyone who wants to know what I have done, I am not willing to do it here. The internet, while being a highly useful tool, is also full of people who are less-than-wise. Some of the things I used to treat this can be dangerous if used in the wrong way, and many of the things I did were specifically formulated for breast cancer, not cancer in general. As with anything else, even natural medicine can be dangerous in the wrong circumstances, and what works for me may not work for you because there are so many factors that go into coming up with a treatment plan that works as quickly and safely as possible.

Maybe this wasn’t cancer. Maybe this was, really, just some odd, unusual thing that is not yet in any medical text. Maybe it was all the prayers and healing thoughts sent my way. Maybe it was the herbs, or the food, or any one of the other things I have been doing. Maybe it was just the Gods smiling down on me. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I’m very alive, and that is really all that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Journey

I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of the most difficult posts I have ever written. It doesn’t bode well that I have had to scrap it and start over several times.  I’m not really even certain that I want to write it. I wonder if this is one that I will regret writing somewhere down the line.  But, what I have finally decided is that I have to write it. No matter how this whole thing turns out, maybe someone else will benefit and be inspired. Maybe this will answer the questions that everyone keeps asking. Maybe this will make the future a bit easier. So, here goes.

There is some speculation that I might have breast cancer. It is merely speculation at this point. While the simple answer would seem to be, ‘go have that shit checked out’, there is no such thing as simple in my world. Here’s how this whole thing happened…

I had this really bad issue with my right breast. It got all sore and red, and there were these big hard spots along the bottom and side that were tender and wouldn’t go away, no matter what I did. I pumped up my immune system from the inside out. I applied poultices and oils and drank herbal teas. After a few days, I started feeling much better. Great, in fact, but my breast wouldn’t clear up. It didn’t hurt anymore, but it didn’t look very good. Okay, it looked really bad. After a couple of weeks, it was still tender, especially those hard spots, but there wasn’t any real pain. It just didn’t make sense and it wasn’t like any infection that I have ever dealt with in either myself or my clients. So, I started researching and digging a little deeper into some of the medical possibilities.  No matter how I twisted it, everything seemed to be pointing toward a possibility that I didn’t want to face. Inflammatory breast cancer.  I was getting kinda scared.

While I know that everyone is very clear on how I feel about most doctors, the truth is, I have many associates in the medical community that are open-minded enough to recognize the value of natural therapies and are willing to discuss many medical issues with me. I often consult with them and we have wonderful information exchanges. I figured now was a good time to start calling them.

Let me just say right now…if someone had told me that I would be texting pictures of my boob to friends and family, I would have called them a liar.  I’ve sent more boob texts in the last couple of weeks than any cheap floozy out there!  Anyway…I did it. I sent them the pics and told them the story and waited for just one of them to say, it is most likely just an infection…nothing to worry about.  Instead, they all kinda freaked out. Without exception, they all voiced my own fear. Inflammatory breast cancer was a serious possibility.

Still, I didn’t want to overreact. I took a day (or 4) reading everything I could find about Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). I read legitimate medical info, I read personal stories, I read treatment options, I read symptoms, I read case studies and prognosis outlooks. I talked to anyone who I thought might have something to offer that I hadn’t found.  Sadly, there isn’t a lot of info out there because there isn’t a lot to be had. During this four days of intense research, my phone was blowing up with friends and family begging me to just go get a diagnosis. Despite the fact that I was treating it as if it were, in fact, cancer, I was caving under the pressure to visit a ‘real’ doctor.  I knew I was going to have to eventually, but again, I didn’t want to overreact. Finally, I caved.

Here was what I knew going in:

IBC is a relatively rare form of breast cancer.

IBC won’t be detected by mammogram, PET, MRI or any of the normal breast screening options. Abnormal areas can be seen on an ultrasound (which will also show infection, if it is present) or thermo imaging. Mammograms can make this type of cancer worse, too, according to some of the research.

IBC is highly aggressive, often showing up within a week or so, and moving quickly through the body.

IBC has a very low survival rate using standard cancer treatments like chemo, radiation and mastectomy.

IBC is often misdiagnosed as mastitis, especially in women past childbearing or in/after menopause. Valuable time is often lost treating it with several rounds of antibiotics before they are willing to do a biopsy.

Things weren’t looking good, my friends.

Through a series of fortunate events and tons of help from family, I was able to get an appointment with a surgeon at DePaul who deals with breast cancer, as well as an ultrasound on the breast. The ultrasound came back completely clear, except for a few areas of ‘skin thickening’.  I was told that my breast looked very healthy, with no signs of lumps or infections. Still, the skin thickening was concerning and she would send the images to the surgeon with me. While this seems to be good news, the truth is, it is pretty in line with IBC.  IBC does not form lumps like most breast cancer. It forms layers, or areas of thickened skin that are actually cancer.  Understandably, this news didn’t make me feel any better.

My meeting with the doctor was rather…awkward. I did not want to let the words ‘mastitis’ or ‘cancer’ come out of my mouth. I did not want to pass any preconceived notions on to him. I didn’t want him to know the conclusions I had come to, or that I had done any research on it at all.  If that was an issue, I wanted him to be one that  put that card on the table, not me. I especially didn’t want to mention IBC, mostly because I didn’t want him to brush me off as a hypochondriac who runs to the doctor all the time over nothing (if he only knew!) So, I told him how it all had happened – the tooth infection, the sore breast…all of it.

He laughed at the notion that the dental issue could have had anything to do with an infection anywhere else in my body. That was my first sign. I should have just left then. I didn’t though. I stayed and heard him out.

The ‘specialist’ told me several things during that visit. He told me that his gut told him this was just a very bad case of mastitis, despite the ultrasound showing no sign of infection. He told me that he wanted to prescribe me a round of the ‘most powerful antibiotics available’. He also insisted that I get a mammogram. You all know how that shit went over, right? No need to explain? He refused to do a biopsy until after I did those two things. I tried to discuss the issue with him, but he laughed. Again. What kind of doctor does that?  He told me that the only other option with my symptoms would be what is called Inflammatory Breast Cancer, but he didn’t want to jump straight to that conclusion, so we were going to assume that it was not until after the antibiotics. I asked him to verify the info that I had concerning mammograms not being able to detect IBC and he clearly said, ‘You are correct, but let’s give it a shot, anyway’. I knew it was time to go, so I left.

Walking out of his office, all I could do was play the conversation over and over in my head. I was pissed, but not surprised. It played out exactly as I had expected. Exactly as it has played out for nearly every woman who shared their story of IBC. I also knew, without a doubt, what I needed to do. I needed to assume the worst and treat it as such until I could figure out if I wanted to try and fight for another option at diagnosis. I knew that chemo, radiation and mastectomy were not options. I knew what that decision would entail. I knew what I NEEDED to do. I knew how to treat cancer. I knew the options -both legal and not-so-clearly-legal. I had the info I needed to start.

That was last week. I’ve spent my time searching for other answers. I am trying desperately to prove it all a lie. Something else could be causing this, right? The thing is, I can’t find it. I can’t disprove it. The more I learn, the more the answer seems pretty obvious. Still, though…

I have found a local ND who offers breast thermography, but only every 3 months. I have an appointment set up for the next time it is available. September 23. Three days before my 18th wedding anniversary. The day before Paige’s baby shower. Answer day.

In the meantime, I will keep treating it as I have been. It is looking better. A little, anyway. It feels better. I have to trust that what I am doing, what I have always said I would do, what I have spent the last twenty years telling everyone else will work, is actually working.

To my friends and family, most of you understand where I am at and where I am going. You support me in these decisions I am making, in spite of your fears for me. I am overwhelmed at the amount of love and support that you have all shown so far, and I thank you for it from every corner of my heart. I can only ask that you all continue to trust me. Trust that I have every intention of getting back to the healthiest version of me. Whether this really is cancer, or just the bad infection from hell that won’t disappear, I will treat it in the way that I believe gives me the very best chance of surviving for as long as I can. Understand that I intend to live to a very old age, annoying everyone that I possibly can with my hippy, witchy ways.

To those who have questioned me in the past about the strength of my belief in natural medicine, know this: I will prove it if I must. This path that I have chosen, while maybe not easy, is the path that I believe offers me the best chance of surviving. The fact that it is happening to me does not change my belief. My fear will not make me change my mind.

To those who want to scream at me to get the chemo/radiation/mastectomy should it come to that, just don’t. You don’t have to agree with my decision. You don’t have to like it. This path is mine, not yours. I ask that you either respect my choices in spite of your doubts, or simply keep them to yourself. I do not have the energy to fight your biases and my own body at the same time.

As for the waiting…well, we wait. I tell myself that the symptoms will go away before I make it to the thermography appointment.  I tell myself that I’m only tired because of stress. I tell myself that the discomfort and other oddities in my breast are just some freak thing, but not cancer. I tell myself that I’m only staying sick with this chest cold and sinus infection because my system is tired. It is all getting better, though! I feel a little better every day. Things look a little better every day.

I wonder how many women before me have sat where I am and waited, wondered.  Is it REALLY cancer? Do I REALLY want to know if it is? What if it is? What then? Were they as scared as I am as they waited? Did they play out the million different versions of a future they may not have? Did they play the same head games with themselves? Did they hope that when it all played out they would look a little silly for assuming the worst, because that option is so much better than the alternative? Did they wonder how they were going to afford the simple act of being diagnosed, let alone the treatments? What will I have to sell? What will I have to borrow? What will I have to DO?

I don’t know what September 23 will bring for me and my family. Maybe a chance to celebrate, maybe something far less happy. I’ll let you all know how things turn out, but I don’t know that I will write much more about this issue, unless it is share the successes or failures. I do know that, in the meantime, I am taking the time to focus on me. I am looking very closely at every aspect of my life and my health in a way that I never have before. I am concentrating on the things that really matter. My husband. My children. My grandbabies. My family. My friends. I am finally understanding things in a way that I never knew I didn’t understand in the first place. This life is short. Take every opportunity to tell people how much you love them. Let go of the little things that don’t really matter. Hang on to the little things that matter more than anything. Accomplish something every single day, even if it is only something small. Make someone’s life a little bit better every chance you get. Smile. Be strong. Hold on to hope. Offer hope to others. Be a friend. Let others be a friend to you. Live authentically and stand for something. Make sure that, if today is your last day on Earth, you left behind a piece of yourself that will bring someone comfort, joy, hope and a smile when you are gone. And, should things go as hoped, make sure you have surrounded yourself with people who will sit around the campfire with you, laughing at the close call while doing shots of tequila.