Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 5: Nails

By Jeanne Romano

My whole life I bit my nails. I tried everything: icky tasting gunk, miracle cure creams, gelatin vitamins and even hypnosis. Oooh. Of course nothing worked. Finally in my 30s I turned to falsies. No not those. I had plenty of that –I’m talking about acrylics. I was so captivated by my fake nails that I changed my polish every day. Having beautiful nails opened a whole new world to me, not to mention a pop-top or two.

Fast forward 15 or so years: “Jeanne, you have breast cancer.” The terrible news was followed by all the gory little details. Blah… blah… blah… then, “And you’ll need to avoid manicures, pedicures and the use of artificial nails! No, not my nails!

I know what you’re thinking. How can nails be such sore spot in the grand scheme of cancer? To me it just felt like yet another assault on my body, on my femininity. I knew that my immune system would be compromised and apparently any little nick or cut especially on my fingers could actually create a serious infection requiring antibiotics and possibly hospitalization. So not only were manicures and my glorious fake nails out, I had to stop picking at the dry skin around my cuticles – extremely dry skin because of the chemo – oh the irony of it all.

The fix: I used a pair of sterile nail clippers. Never peeled or tore off any skin. Not that I had to be told that biting my nails or picking at my cuticles was bad habit (not just a matter of aesthetics). It had to stop. It was particularly important on the hand of the arm that had lymph node dissections. Remember, your skin and your fingernails protect your hand and arm from infection.

But wait, there’s more… Nail discoloration, nail detachment, and the less than groovy grooves. The medical experts writing for DermNet NZ lists onycholysis and onchomadesis as possible side effects of chemotherapy.

Big words and science alert:

“Onycholysis is the detachment of the nail from the nail bed, or the skin below the nail. The nail begins to detach at the top of the nail and progresses back to the cuticle. This side effect occurs specifically with the group of chemotherapy drugs containing taxane. Onchomadesis is the loss of the entire fingernail.

The development of “Beau’s lines” is also on the list of chemotherapy side effects. Beau’s lines are horizontal grooves that appear on the nails. They result from an interruption in the production of keratin. Fingernails and toenails, which you most likely know, consist of keratin, which is a fibrous protein.

Now that I was forced to go au natural I minimized these effects on my nails by soaking my hands and feet in ice water. It was cold but worth the discomfort.

I also messaged my hands and fingers everyday to increase the blood flow.  Because I used natural or organic products before my cancer I looked for the same (if not more intense) ingredients to help with my hands, cuticles and nails.

My three favorite brands were and continue to be:

Burt’s Bees Lemon-Butter Cuticle Creme offers calming combinations of natural ingredients, including vitamin E – which was wonderful for the intensive care of my chemo-dry cuticles, brittle nails and chapped, cracked fingertips.

de~luxe has a fabulous line of “healing” products, many using the nut of the African Shea Tree which provides powerful nourishment and healing to severely dry skin. According to their inserts, this particular hand cream is authentic “treatment grade” that is naturally rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins A & E.

Avalon Organics Hand & Body Lotion has a triple dose of rich lipid sources, certified organic Sunflower, Flaxseed and Coconut Oils. It’s long-lasting and easily absorbed. With an important bonus for chemo patients of Beta Glucan for cellular renewal.

It may take weeks to months, once you finish treatment, for your nails to grow out of these chemo effects and resemble your old nails.  I wish I could promise all the knowledge, ice water, creams and messaging will make your nails better – but I can’t. However I will say that I was able to keep my nails as healthy as possible while they were under attack. And while we may not be able to cure cancer, this critical interruption in my bad habit, cured my nail biting.

Natural Bee Removal

By Leah Kaminsky

On a sunny Tuesday morning, I laced up my running shoes, shut the front door behind me and stepped out into the front yard to stretch. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just the chirping of birds and the slight hum of insects in flight. Then I turned back to the house to make sure the door was locked and saw this:

A bee swarm so big, the Terminix guy wouldn’t even touch it. “They’ll kill me!” he cried when he stopped by our house the next day. “I’m calling the man with the bee suit.”

Naturally, being the green advocate I am, I logged onto Facebook and updated my status with a panicked remark about being on pins and needles while the exterminators blasted my Alfred Hitchcok-esque swarm out of existence. (We all have our limits, and mine just happens to be bees).

I expected my friends to empathize with me, but instead I received a steady stream of comments about the colony collapse disorder, along with pleas to call a beekeeper for a humane removal. If you haven’t been keeping up with the honeybee crisis, this is the widespread dying off of honeybees, attributed in part to pesticides and genetically modified crops. This is bad news for the food chain and therefore humanity.

As I soon learned, a much more humane option than extermination is bee removal, which can be performed either by a professional service or by any one of many eager beekeeping hobbyists. Many beekeepers will actually do the service for free, as they need bees to sell local honey.

Here’s how it works:

  1. When the beekeeper starts work, you lock yourself safely in your house, especially if you’re in an area with large populations of hyper-aggressive Africanized bees.
  2. The beekeeper lures the bees from their hive or swarm and into a hive box, a container in which the bees can nest.
  3. The beekeeper will then remove any honeycomb or nest from the wall and seal any entrance holes, so it doesn’t rot and attract more bees in the future.
  4. Without a home or a queen to lead them, any remaining worker bees the beekeeper can’t capture will die in three days to a week (kind of sad, I know).

Voila! Bees gone, carried away to make honey in someone else’s yard. In the end, I was happy we did it the humane way and to have done my part to safeguard the ecosystem. And I was really happy not to have a massive swarm of potentially angry bees hanging off the side of my house. Phew!

A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 4: Taking the bite out of cancer

By Jeanne Romano

You may be surprised by this but your dentist should play an important role in your cancer treatment. I happen to love my dentist, however I think it’s safe to say that having someone probe your teeth and gums with all sorts of pokey implements isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Unfortunately it’s probably a good idea to check in with your dentist before starting your cancer treatments.

Cancer and your treatments will affect all parts of the body, including your mouth. Especially if you are on a high doses and simultaneous radiation; when the white blood cell count is lowest, oral tissues are most prone to damage which unfortunately could cause delay or even stopping treatment.

If at all possible prior to your treatments, have your teeth cleaned, have a set of X-rays taken, take care of any mouth problems and have your dentist give your mouth the once over to prevent side effects.

Just like common chemo and radiation “side effects,” mouth issues vary – a lot. You may encounter these common problems during your treatments or even for a short time after your treatment ends:

The weirdest problem during my treatment was a loss or change of taste and smell. Being from a home that started each and every Sunday dinner with a bowl of homemade ravioli (yup, mom made the pasta as well as the sauce).  Suddenly, even the smell of sauce made my lip curl. In fact I craved all sorts of unlikely food combinations like (creamy) peanut butter, avocado and hummus on white bread. I agree it does sound a lot like cliché pregnancy cravings.

Another important issue to watch for is dry mouth. It can hurt. Here are some suggestions I got from my dentist to protect my teeth and gums.  They worked!

I…

  • Drank lots of water
  • Sucked on ice chips – found this particularly helpful during my actual chemo treatment
  • Ate soft, moist food that was easy to chew and swallow; cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, etc…
    • When I did eat foods that required chewing, I made sure to take small bites, chewed slowly (unheard of in my home) and sipped liquids between the bites.
    • If I still had trouble swallowing, I softened my food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt or other liquids.
    • Gargled with a moistening mouthwash – I still use this every night before I go to bed.
    • Used and still use a fluoride toothpaste.
    • Brushed my teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.  Sometime brushing hurt, so I softened the bristles in warm water.
    • Hate not flossing my teeth. I still did it, very gently, every day. Please be extremely careful. Once in a while my gums would bleed and hurt – so it was key to avoid the areas that are ultra sensitive – however keep flossing your other teeth.
    • Did not use mouthwashes with alcohol.

Not all mouth problems can be avoided but the fewer side effects you have, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

What in the World is a CSA?

By Leah Kaminsky

Whether you’re the Queen of Whole Foods or the King of the farmer’s market, there are many ways to stock your kitchen with fresh, local produce these days. Still, too often these resources are a drain on your wallet, and it’s not exactly as if you walk away from the cash register feeling like you have a better sense of the farmer. Enter the CSA: an affordable solution that’s been spreading like wildfire over the past two decades. Here, I’ll break down just what in the world a CSA is, and why it might be a good option for you.

WHAT: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you sign up for a CSA, you’ll pledge your support to a local farm for a certain growing season at a pre-paid rate, generally based on how far in advanced you sign up. You’ll receive a box of the latest harvests on a set day every week throughout the subscription period. Produce is always in-season and local because it’s shipped right from the fields to your door or to the local pick-up site. Some CSA programs also sell other types of add-on options, like meat and dairy.

WHY: CSAs are great for farmers because they put some of the risk on the consumer. If, for instance, there’s a drought and certain crops don’t grow, they still have your guaranteed subscription for that growing period (though they do generally try to make up for lost produce). They’re also better able to cut down on wasted produce by planting according to subscription numbers.

This guarantee allows farmers to keep their prices relatively low, so it’s generally worth it to consumers. Other consumer benefits include (of course) eating locally and organically, as well as learning to cook in-season. In many CSAs there are added community benefits, including shared recipes and the opportunity to work on the farm in lieu of a subscription fee.

WHO:

Families and community-minded singletons who want to share with friends.

The only downside about CSAs: in good years, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with produce. Be ready to give some of your food away, or for long days spent cooking and freezing so none of it goes to waste. That way, you’ll always have “fresh” produce no matter what the time of year.

CSAs are a fun way to get involved and stay healthy. Type your city name and “CSA” into Google and see what you find!

Gift Giving Guide for the Super Natural Relative or Friend

By Leah Kaminsky

Last week, we took a look at several eco-gift giving strategies for your decidedly non-green friends or relatives. But if you’re green-minded, you probably run in a green-minded circle, in which case you likely have a super natural friend for whom gift buying can be just as difficult.

The Profile:

The super natural friend transcends all demographics and locales. He or she could be:

  1. Your flower power father who’s been fighting for Mother Earth since the early sixties. Dad wears Birkenstocks and all-vegan clothing and is the sole reason the word “granola” is a synonym for tree hugger.
  2. Your green architect friend who lives in the Pacific Northwest and won’t hesitate to plunge her hand into the work trash can to fish out a food-stained take-away carton and transfer it to the compost. Where it belongs.

The Gifting Challenge:

If you’re environmentally conscious but not, say, the non-cartoon embodiment of Captain Planet, chances are whatever green gift you choose will be something your super natural friend has already heard of, bought and moved on from. Giving a green gift to a friend or relative who lives and breathes environmental consciousness is a bit like giving the first Harry Potter book to an avid Harry Potter fan; chances are, they’ve read that one.

The Solution:

There are only two options to giving a good green gift to the green god or goddess: buy the newest, most innovative product out there, or let the greenie choose for him or herself. Here are a few ways to go:

  1. Give the gift of giving. Does your recipient have a favorite eco-charity, like the Sierra Club or the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)? Make a donation in his or her name.
  2. Promote eco-tourism. From wild jungles to barren deserts, buy your friend or relative an eco-tourist vacation – or at least a portion thereof. He or she will visit beautiful sites along the way with minimal impact and return with a new cause to fight for.
  3. Plant seeds for tomorrow. Your super natural friend will love a membership at a community garden or a share in a Community Supported Agriculture. Or put together a gardening gift basket, complete with seeds and tools.
  4. Watch your materials. From toys made of organic cotton to soy candles and free-trade chocolate, give a gift sourced from sustainable materials…and let your super natural friend know they’re there.
  5. Empower a green lifestyle with cool technology. Sure, your super natural friend or relative probably bikes to work already. But does he or she use a solar-powered pod to listen to music? Look for new and cool green gadgets, and you’re sure to impress.
  6. Give the gift of…choice. If you’re really at your wit’s end, just buy your friend a gift certificate to his or her favorite organic store or restaurant and call it a day.

It is possible to wow your super natural friend or relative. All you need is a little thought, a little creativity, and willingness to try something new.