How Breast Cancer Changed My Life—and How Essential Oils Helped

How Breast Cancer Changed My Life—and How Essential Oils Helped

There’s long been a discussion as to whether alternative medicine or Western/conventional medicine is the most beneficial. When I was diagnosed with Stage 1, non-aggressive breast cancer in 1998, I experienced both—and they both had a hand in making this time in my life one of deep reflection and profound change.

I found the lump myself and underwent a lumpectomy to have it removed, and the doctor also did a lymph node removal to see if the cancer had spread. Thankfully it hadn’t, and so I went through daily radiation treatments for six weeks.

The actual process of radiation treatment is painless and only takes about a minute. The side effects come slowly, built up over time in the skin tissue. Redness and irritation are common, and they aren’t so bad in comparison to some other side effects of cancer treatments. But they do take a toll, and since the effect is cumulative, they grow with every treatment. Fatigue is also a major side effect of radiation treatment, and I used aromatherapy blends to help combat it. I also used topical treatments on my scars to help with healing.

Now, before I describe how I used aromatherapy, essential oils and aloe throughout this process, I want to point out that doctors ask you not to apply anything to the irradiated area. That’s not because it has any effect on the treatment—it doesn’t. Instead, it’s because the radiotherapists put little marks on you to show where the radiation beams should be directed. I opted to have the tiny pin marks tattooed on, because they rubbed off anyway throughout the day, even when I wasn’t applying anything.

Both my oncologist and radiologist were aware of my profession, and they approved my use of complementary and self-administered treatment.

The irritation and the incisions

First, I applied aloe (Aloe barbadensis) straight from the plant. The doctors warned me against applying anything with alcohol, and I wanted to stay away from preservatives found in many commercially prepared aloe lotions, so the plant was the best way to go. This alone was very soothing and helpful to the area.

I also used a water spray on the irradiated breast, and this is where the essential oils came into play. I used a four-ounce spray bottle filled with distilled water and added equal amounts of Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Blue Tansy (Tanacetum annuum). I sprayed this onto the skin after radiation and after my morning shower, and I upped the amount as the skin became increasingly tender. I used this every day during treatment and continued for a month after the radiation had ended.

The redness persisted but the severe irritation ended two weeks after the treatment.  Though skeptical of my brand of medicine, the radiologist admitted that my skin faired better than most, and that he was amazed by the lack of burn.

As for the incisions, I had both a 1-inch and 3-inch incision from each of the removal procedures. I applied Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Artemisia (Artemisia arborescens, high chamazulene, Pacific Northwest variety) using a 50:50 ratio and diluted at 10% in fractionated coconut oil. I believe this helped with healing and preventing any inflammation or infection. Thanks to my topical treatment and an excellent plastic surgeon (see—complementary!) I barely have scarring now.

Fatigue and mood

I also used aromatherapy to help with the fatigue and emotional side effects of a 6-week radiation treatment. My afternoon blend included stimulatory oils like Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, camphor variety), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), and Basil (Ocimum basilicum), which I put in an air diffuser.

When I wanted to rest, I used blends containing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis), Neroli (Citrus aurantium), Rose (Rosa damascena), and Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). Out of those, my favorite was Geranium, and that was most often in the diffuser. I also put 5-10 drops of this oil in my bath, and these practices really helped with my moods. Cancer and cancer treatment are very difficult on a person’s well-being, and having my favorite oils there to help me was an immense comfort.

I used Rose in times of depression and confusion, as well. To demonstrate how much psychology plays a part in this, I’ll tell you that I used Rose after my mother passed away. So I had developed a cognitive association with using rose when I needed to work through grief, which helped the oil stimulate that response in me again.

What I learned

While I was finding my own treatment and following the advice of my doctors, I was also receiving an immense outpouring of love and support from the aromatherapy community. I could feel them out there, sending healing vibes and providing unseen but much felt protection. I learned how important that network is, and how healing it can be to have a friendly and open support system.

I also learned how to rest, because it was medically required of me. I’m sure anyone who is active can understand this, but sometimes I didn’t know how to stop and allow my body to recover and recuperate. Once the fatigue set in, I had to or risk prolonging recovery. I also learned that sometimes I physically can’t do everything I want to do, and asking for help isn’t shameful. That was a fantastic life lesson for me, and one I wish upon everyone.

I’ve also become much more active in volunteer work since then, and I participate in several cancer groups and speak about my experiences with aromatherapy as complementary treatment.

I truly believe both medicines can combine and be powerful tools for those suffering from cancer and undergoing cancer treatment.

Positive Benefits Of Essential Oils

Positive Benefits Of Essential Oils

Do you have a positive aromatherapy experience? Share it with us!

We will soon be asking everyone to submit their beneficial experiences with aromatherapy along with their adverse reactions. We’re calling this the Positive Benefits Form, which will be added to our website shortly, and we’re doing this to provide a more balanced look at the use of essential oils.

It was recently called to our attention that our attempt to educate on the dangers of aromatherapy might be dissuading new aromatherapy users. That’s the last thing we want–we at the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy are just passionate about encouraging safe essential oil use, especially with the meteoric rise in unsafe practices.

But, as an educational institute with nearly a century of combined experience in aromatherapy, we also love essential oils! And we want you to love them, and to experience the benefits in a safe and healthy way. We will continue to run our Injury Reports, but by listing all of the wonderful success stories, as well, we can find balance. Yin and Yang!

So until we’ve added the Positive Benefits Form to our website, let’s list some good things about oils in the comments section. What are some of your best stories?

My best story is using aromatherapy and essential oils during surgical treatment when my doctors removed a breast cancer tumor and lymph gland tissue. I also used oils afterward for radiation treatments that lasted six weeks. According to my doctor, I had the best kind of cancer; enough to change my life but not enough to kill me. I used oils and natural products during my two surgeries, and more so during the radiation when I was experiencing burn and irritation. Then I continued my use afterwards to counter the lingering mental effects!

I’ll soon be posting a blog that goes more in-depth into my experiences with breast cancer and aromatherapy, but now let’s talk about your experiences. What is your best aromatherapy or essential oil success story?

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be sensitized

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be sensitized

Photo by Kalle Gustafsson via Creative Commons. Photo by Kalle Gustafsson via Creative Commons.

Remember this song by Waylon Jennings: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks. Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such.”

Well, right now, the problem isn’t your children growing up to be cowboys. The real issue is that they will be doctors and lawyers with severe sensitization to essential oils. And the doctors can treat the others from the same generation, and lawyers can get a class action lawsuit suing the sales reps and companies promoting dangerous use to the moms who did this to their children. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Then why haven’t you heard about this issue before? It is well documented in the industry that certain oils are not to be used on the skin without risk. In addition one can develop an allergy from overuse of any essential oil. It is an allergic reaction set up by overuse. See here and here for references on sensitization; and here for more safe use info including an Injury Report first summary with details of cases in the download.

Unfortunately, so many well-meaning moms go onto the internet and find blogs that instruct them to apply all sorts of aromatic undiluted formulas to kids for everything from the sniffles to ADD, ADHD, and more. The scary part is, these blog writers and groups often have no training or safety data information, and yet they’re giving harmful advice about essential oils to anyone who reads.

I know now what drives moms to take advice and medicate children without seeing if it is safe. It is possible they were told to do so because they were looking for alternative ways to help children, and oils can help in some cases.  Essential oils are potent and even “pure and natural” can harm; it is dose dependant as the links above state. If you were to keep putting undiluted essential oils on your children’s feet (like many mommy blogs instruct), besides lifelong sensitization, your children can develop an aversion to smells like peppermint and clove. One mom reported her child said “No more feet, mommy!”  which made her stop. Please listen and stop hurting your own child on a sale rep’s advice. Before doing something recommended, ask is it safe, look at the sites above or send me an email! Here is a condensed page for quick reference on safety.

And what will this do to our next generation? Besides hurting the children instead of helping them, this practice also strips aromatherapy of its healing properties. By putting undiluted essential oils repeatedly on your children, or allowing medical professionals like chiropractors to do so, is there being creating a generation of children who are overly sensitized to essential oils as gentle as lavender? As an aromatherapy expert who has repeatedly seen the healing power of these oils, it’s tragic to me that so many will not be able to benefit from its effects.

So, where does this push to use undiluted oils for every type of ailment come from? You might be dismayed to know that it comes from essential oil companies who hope to sell products by making claims of every kind. In reality diluted oils are more efficacious and way more cost effective in home use, which is the point of using natural products. By saying the oils are “natural and pure” and can be used undiluted daily for health effects, these companies are selling tons of oils while actually increasing sensitization in their customers.

And as someone who has put so much time and effort into practicing safe, healing aromatherapy, this makes me very sad.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

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