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

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

There’s been longstanding discussion on whether alternative medicine or western/conventional medicine is the most beneficial. When I was diagnosed with Stage 1, non-aggressive breast cancer in 1998, they both played a significant role. Together, they made 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. The doctor also did a lymph node removal to see if the cancer had spread. Thankfully, it hadn’t, so I went through daily radiation treatments for six weeks.

Going through the actual process of radiation treatment is painless and only takes about a minute. However, the side effects come slowly and build up over time in the tissues of the skin. Redness and irritation are common. This isn’t so bad in comparison to some of the other side effects of cancer treatments. But this does take a toll, and since the effect is cumulative, it grows 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 indicate where the radiation beams should be directed. I opted to have the tiny pin marks tattooed on. Yhey 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. Moreover, I wanted to stay away from the preservatives found in many commercially-prepared aloe lotions, so the plant itself 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. Using a four-ounce spray bottle filled with distilled water, I 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. When the skin became increasingly tender, I upped the amount. I used this every day during treatment and continued using it 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 fared better than most. He said he was amazed by the lack of burning.

As for the incisions, I had both a one-inch and a three-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 the emotional side effects of a six-week radiation treatment. My afternoon blend included stimulating oils like Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, camphor variety), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), and Basil (Ocimum basilicum). I put this blend 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’s what 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 Rose when I needed to work through grief. This helped the oil stimulate that response in me again.

What I learned

While I was treating myself and following the advice of my doctors, I also received an immense amount 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. It can be incredibly healing to have a friendly and open support system.

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

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

I truly believe both approaches can be used in combination as powerful tools for those suffering from cancer and undergoing cancer treatment.

The Benefits Of Essential Oils

The Benefits Of Essential Oils

Have you had a positive experience with aromatherapy? Share it with us!

Soon, we will be asking everyone to submit any positive experiences they’ve had with aromatherapy, along with any adverse reactions. We’re calling this the Positive Benefits Form, which will be added to our website shortly. We’re doing this to provide a more balanced perspective on the use of essential oils.

Recently, it was called to our attention that our attempt to provide education 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.

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

What’s your best aromatherapy or essential oil success story?

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

One of the best thing I ever did with essential oils is use them during surgical treatment, when my doctors removed a breast cancer tumor and lymph gland tissue. I also used oils after surgery during six weeks of radiation treatments. According to my doctor, I had the best kind of cancer; it was enough to change my life but not enough to kill me. I used oils and natural products during my two surgeries and during radiation, when I was experiencing burning and irritation. Then I continued using them afterwards to counter the lingering mental effects! Read more about this experience here.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Sensitized

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Sensitized

Remember that 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 that your children will grow up to be cowboys. The real issue is that they’ll be doctors and lawyers with severe sensitization to essential oils. The doctors can treat others from the same generation, while the lawyers can start a class action lawsuit suing the sales reps and companies promoting dangerous use. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? And why haven’t you heard about this issue before? It is well documented in the industry that certain oils cannot be used on the skin without risk. Additionally, one can develop an allergy from the overuse of any essential oil. It is an allergic reaction created by overuse. See these references on sensitization here and here; see here for more safe use info, including an Injury Report.

Unfortunately, so many well-meaning moms go onto the Internet and find blogs that instruct them to apply all sorts of undiluted aromatic formulas to their kids. This can be 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, yet they’re giving harmful advice about essential oils to anyone who reads their posts.

Do Your Research

I know now what drives moms to take advice on medicating their children without seeing if it’s safe. It is possible that they were looking for alternative ways to help children, and oils can help in some cases. But essential oils are potent. Just because they’re “pure and natural” doesn’t mean they can’t be harmful. It is dose-dependent, as the links above state. If you were to put 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!” This 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 a quick reference on safety.

What will this do to the next generation? Besides hurting the children instead of helping them, this practice also strips aromatherapy of its healing properties. By repeatedly applying undiluted essential oils to your children, or allowing medical professionals like chiropractors to do so, will you create 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 their effects.

Why is this happening?

So, where does the 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 their products by making every kind of claim possible. In reality, diluted oils are more efficacious and way more cost-effective, which is the point of using natural products. By saying the oils are “natural and pure” and can be used undiluted daily, these companies are selling tons of oils while actually increasing sensitization in their customers.

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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