Now that summer is about to officially be here next week, sunscreen is on all of our shopping lists. While getting a sunburn is certainly dangerous to your health so is a poorly chosen, chemical-laden sunscreen. Thankfully, there are a lot of truly healthy AND protective sunscreens on the market today. Courtesy of the EWG (Environmental Working Group) you can now know just how healthy a sunscreen is before you purchase it. A rating of 1 is the best and healthiest rating while a 10 is you guessed it – the most health hazardous.
Ideally, you should choose a sunscreen that gets a 1, like this natural mineral sunscreen from Block Island Organics. The EWG even named it 2016’s Best Beach & Sport Sunscreen!
My favorite perk: Most importantly, it gets the healthiest score possible (a 1) from the EWG, but I also love how this sunscreen is lightweight and non greasy. Unlike a lot of natural mineral sunscreens, this one rubs in nicely. Of course, make sure not to apply it in excessive amounts because that will make it harder to rub in completely.
DISCOUNT FOR MY READERS: Use the code annie on the Block Island Organics website to receive 20% off your entire purchase from June 15, 2016 through June 24, 2016.*Please note that this code is not combinable with any other codes or discounts.
Hope you all have a sunny, healthy, fun and relaxing summer!
For all these years that I’ve had my blog, I’ve never been that blogger that shares her daily activities or shares much of her personal life and struggles really much at all. My blog has always been more about sharing the best of the best when it comes to natural health and beauty. But in recent months, the past 20 months to be exact, my absence in the blogosphere has been due to my dad’s health struggles and my own resulting struggle with relentless anxiety and stress.
In August 2014, my dad got diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer that had spread to his liver. The past year and a half I thought about blogging about my experience with my dad’s cancer diagnosis, but it just never happened. Now that he has passed (December 24, 2015), I hope it might be helpful to share his experience and my experience with the ever evolving world of cancer treatment.
As a holistic health counselor, I was my dad’s “Doctor Annie” or “Nurse Annie” on a daily basis whether it was via several phone calls per day or monthly trips to take care of him in Florida. It came natural to me to try to help him, but trying to guide him on his health choices when it came to cancer was extremely overwhelming and intimidating. From the start, he opted for radiation and chemo. Both scared me immensely, but the tumor in his esophagus was so bad that he was literally not able to eat or even drink water, EVERYTHING was coming up. He had to get a feeding tube put in within days of his cancer diagnosis. Giving him multiple feedings per day through the feeding tube was thankfully not as scary or weird as I had expected, but he was in very, very bad shape. When he started chemo (at first it was 6 hours per day weekly), it was one of the hardest and saddest days of my life. I didn’t let myself cry in front of him somehow and he was stoic as usual. Thirty four years as a detective, he had seen and experienced so much, but I could tell by the look on his face that day that it also was one of his hardest days in 78 years.
On top of the weekly chemo, he added on 21 treatments of radiation (21 days in a row) in November – December 2015. If chemo wasn’t enough and radiation wasn’t enough on top of that, he also had developed an infection in his feeding tube. For over 45 days (in a row), he had to go to a center for disease control where they gave him a drip of antibiotics for 3-4 hours at a time. Some days he was doing hours of a chemo drip, hours of an antibiotic drip PLUS radiation all in the same day! It was insane. He would be completely wiped out and would sleep as much as he could and keep on fighting… In retrospect, it’s truly incredible we had him here for another year after that.
To make things even worse and scarier, the infection in the feeding tube wasn’t improving and he was going in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis. FINALLY, they realized they weren’t giving him the right antibiotic (SERIOUSLY?!) and eventually he got the right one. The infection did eventually get better and the feeding tube came out after a month plus. Such a relief.
Thankfully he was able to eat again, but of course had to be careful with his food choices. A lot of common foods still weren’t going down easily. Plus, he was also trying to fight his cancer with his diet. From the start of his diagnosis, he was listening to me quite impressively on how he needed to change his diet and he did a lot of great anti-cancer protocols (like juicing fresh vegetables, turmeric, no sugar, etc). I was doing as much research as I could. The thing was that it was often such a catch-22 for me because I wanted to help him in every way possible, but I reasonably and spiritually knew from the start that his fight against cancer would so much have to do with his own thoughts, his faith, his daily choices from doctors to medicine to supplements to snacks to meals. I knew I could not save him, but I truly tried to do all I could possibly do to help him on a daily basis.
To make a really long story somewhat less long, the tumor in his esophagus shrunk by December 2015 and was COMPLETELY gone by February of 2015. Awesome. So, so, so awesome. But not according to his cancer/chemo doctor. I happened to be in Florida and at that appointment when we got the great news. I was in the room as the doctor showed the images and reports that showed my dad no longer had a tumor in his esophagus – the most major and deadly health problem he had been dealing with for months. To my and my husband’s complete dismay, the doctor told my dad that the tumor was gone like it had been a hang nail. What the doctor did make a big deal about and emphasize to the upmost degree was that there were more “cancerous” spots in my dad’s liver. I say “cancerous” because they never did a biopsy. AND Mayo Clinic as well as many other respectable, mainstream health experts even says that PET scans must be interpreted carefully because noncancerous conditions can look like cancer, and many types of cancer do not appear on PET scans. There is also a list of the cancers that are most likely to show up on PET scans. The liver is not on the list. I wasn’t and I’m still not trying to be in denial about his liver. Maybe it was cancer. But MAYBE it wasn’t? I so wish he had gotten a biopsy to be absolutely sure. If those were cancerous spots in his liver then on the very positive side, during those 16 months from when my dad got diagnosed to when he passed, the cancer never came back in his esophagus and there was never cancer found anywhere else in his body. That was SO huge and prayers answered.
Back to this doctor and the results. It gets better – and by better, I mean worse – my dad asked the doctor “what should I do now?” The doctor’s response: my dad could have a break from chemo. Ok. He added… “Go get a margarita! Go get some hookers and cocaine!” I’m not joking. This “doctor” (so not deserving of the title by any stretch) was telling my father who had just beat esophageal cancer and supposedly still had some cancerous spots in his liver that he should go drink alcohol and get some prostitutes. We’re from New York, we joke a lot, but this just wasn’t funny on so many levels. 1. My dad was completely discouraged by the way the doctor had presented the results. Like getting rid of an esophageal cancerous tumor was no big deal. 2. My dad had his young daughter in the room who was clearly beyond concerned for her dad’s health. This doctor was just being a weirdo and totally disrespectful. 3. We were completely surrounded by framed pictures of this doctor’s young children. If they could have only heard how daddy talks to his patients. 4. This doctor looked like the cheshire cat as he talked about booze and babes, but barely grinned when he delivered the best possible news. 5. On a serious health note, alcohol and sugar are two of the last things you want to have when you’re fighting cancer.
Hands down, one of the worst doctor experiences of my life. I found my dad a new doctor pretty much the next day. Of course at the time I’m thinking “how am I not blogging about this and letting people know what goes on?” I just couldn’t then. Plus, I would say then and I’ll say now, that of course, there are doctors out there that treat cancer conventionally, but also have a much better emotional IQ and hopefully also have real knowledge of cancer’s roots and are also very knowledgable of the scientifically proven natural treatments. I said “of course” in that sentence because I assume cancer doctors like this must exist. Unfortunately, we never came across any of them.
The thing about chemo is that there is currently a lot of guess work going on in this country. Multiple oncologists told my dad multiple times that they didn’t know if it was the right chemo for him aka if it would even work. Chemo is no joke. Doing chemo when you don’t even know if it will have any positive effects – you’re REALLY rolling the dice. Like with my dad, who ended up opting for more chemo for those liver spots. He went through months and months of additional chemo only to have the scans keep coming back with more and more bad spots. Sooo if those spots were cancer then the chemo treatments were making them worse. Yep. If the spots weren’t cancer and were damage, then again, the chemo was only doing more damage. Either way, what a shitty way to treat a serious and possibly deadly illness – by guessing.
The thing with chemo (and I just can’t stomach getting into all of the side effects right now, but you can easily google and find them) is that even when it does kill the cancer cells, it also kills all the good bacteria (think probiotics) in your body too. The chemo was absolutely devastating to my dad’s entire system. He had side effect after side effect and it went on and on and on and on…even 6 months plus after stopping chemo, they just kept going on…until he passed.
Rewind a bit. My husband and I (and our golden lab puppy, Mable) moved in with my dad on November 3, 2015. He wasn’t doing well at all, but were hopeful that all of our prayers, healthy cooking, love, help and attention IN PERSON would really help. Plus, Mable’s animal therapy. He met her and loved her just as expected. Day after day, we were doing everything and anything we could think of to help dad get out of his funk – to reboot himself both physically and mentally. But nothing seemed to have a lasting effect.
After a week or two of being in Florida with him, we found out that he had randomly gotten a call from his radiation doctor (who he hadn’t seen in a year) and he went to see him. I’m sure my dad complained to him – justifiably he had a lot to complain about – but this doctor hadn’t seen my dad in over a year, hadn’t been following my dad’s case, didn’t know my dad as the larger than life resilient character that he was, and he certainly wasn’t God. But apparently this guy knew that my dad had 3 months left, tops. Thanks grim reaper.
A few weeks later, my dad had a check up with his heart doctor. I definitely just said heart doctor, not oncologist. Well this doctor immediately jumped on the grim reaper band wagon. My dad said how he felt so crummy. The doctor tapped my dad’s liver area and said there was nothing my dad could do to feel better, it was just the cancer taking its course. Fuming inside is beyond an understatement. I can only imagine how I glared at this doctor from two feet away. I told my dad in the car afterwards that this doctor couldn’t possibly KNOW how bad my dad was doing. Just like the radiation doctor didn’t know. They weren’t treating him currently for cancer and they by no means had the full picture.
Of course, my dad’s spirits were low and these doctors probably played off of that. And it was up to my dad to buy what they were selling, or not. But when my dad passed on December 24th one of the main contributing factors was not the cancer per se, but a rapid and extreme downhill spiral that began with that same heart doctor prescribing a blood thinner to my dad that resulted in his blood being so thin when we brought him to the hospital December 5th that the doctors said he would have bled out and died if he had taken the slightest fall! And a fall was not unlikely with how weak he was.
My dad had been sharp as a tack his entire life. He remembered the license plates of bad guys up until he started taking that blood thinner. Even through the chemo, I was so grateful that his mind had stayed in tact. But after those blood thinners – suddenly he didn’t know who his family was, what was going on, or anything. I so feel for anyone dealing with a loved one who has dementia. Just 3 weeks of that experience was so incredibly devastating and hard.
So that blood thinner his heart doctor had put him on… One doctor at the hospital said aspirin was a much smarter choice with a lot less scary side effects….Another doctor said that “no one with half a brain” would have put my dad on that blood thinner when he was in such weak cheap. Oh, I almost forgot – when my dad first started taking the blood thinner (around December 1st) and seeming not himself, I called the heart doctor’s office and got one of the nurses. I told her nicely that I was concerned at my dad’s changes and that we were worried about the side effects of the blood thinner. Not only was the tone of her voice unpleasant, but she actually screamed at me “that’s why we don’t tell people to read the side effects!!! They would never take the prescriptions.” (My mind: WHAT?!!?!?) I replied to her “EXACTLY. Because the side effects are TERRIFYING!” That was the end of that call.
I wrote letters to all of these doctors I’ve mentioned since my dad passed. I don’t hold them responsible for my dad’s death because none of them are God and it was always up to my dad to make his own decisions. I try to remember what my dad always said “when it’s your time, it’s your time.” However, I do hold them accountable for their terrible misguidance and disgusting discouragement. I really hope they don’t continue to treat patients the way they treated my dad.
In addition to having bad experiences with modern medicine, my dad also had an unpleasant experience with an alternative cancer doctor. (Sidenote: my point in writing this is not just to bash conventional cancer treatment) This doctor sounded great – classically trained, but with expertise in all the best, natural cancer treatments. He wasn’t nearly as bad as the other doctors, but he was still so disappointing. After one pleasant first visit, my dad would go in the office for his vitamin C drips and the doctor wouldn’t even come out to say hi. On top of that, he had sold my dad hundreds of dollars of supplements, a lot of which were in horse pill form. One of the things that likely contributed to my dad’s esophageal issues and that really bothered him once the tumor got really bad was taking supplements in capsule or tablet form, especially the huge, hard tablets. So this doctor really didn’t listen my dad’s concerns or think about what he was doing and just insisted on selling him all of these supplements. He also never offered him any additional support or advice after the first appointment. He sure did make a lot of money though.
So yeah, that guy wasn’t so great either, but thankfully the last doctor that my dad was seeing for natural cancer treatment was awesome. The first day I had a chance to go with my dad to one of these appointments was this past November and I cried with happiness afterwards. This doctor’s office was sunny and bright just like his personality. The staff treated my dad like family and were so genuinely uplifting. The doctor would chat with my dad about his health (and a few police stories) for 30 minutes or more, like there was no shortage of time. It was SUCH a beautiful thing, especially after all he had been through. I’m so grateful to that doctor and his staff.
My dad had also been a diabetic since his 50s and had a massive heart attack 6 years earlier (a day after getting hip surgery) where he literally came back from being dead. Somehow even with all the pretests they hadn’t caught all the blockages in his heart. It turned out he was only working on 50% of a heart! I had never thought his health situation was going to get scarier than that experience in 2009. I was definitely wrong. It was definitely going to get even scarier and more complicated. But for me, the bright spots throughout my dad’s health issues were and will always be his incredible spirit and resiliency, his faith, how close him and I were during those experiences and for my entire life. And of course, all the love and prayers of friends, family, neighbors, and strangers. Thank you to all of you so, so, so much.
Thankfully, he died really peacefully while doing physical therapy. The nurse said that his heart just stopped. His last week or so, he was still pretty out of it, but he came back around enough to know who we were, make a few jokes and recall some old memories. He actually looked pretty great too. Nurses were guessing he was 60, not 79. He loved that.
My main purpose in writing this post is that I hope if you or someone you love is ever diagnosed with cancer, you might be able to learn something from my dad’s experience. On the negative side, that doctors won’t always be helpful and you shouldn’t just automatically trust and listen to every person in a white coat. Don’t be afraid to switch doctors or even treatment plans as needed! Remember that there are so, so, so many options for treatment when it comes to cancer. Don’t assume you MUST do anything before you do your research and give it some good thought. As hard as it is, try not to base your decisions on fear. Many people die from cancer, but many people also survive. My dad was able to get rid of his tumor with a mix of conventional and alternative treatments, but the after effects combined with his other ongoing health issues were too much for him. But he did not die of cancer per se.
On the positive side, I think that being there with love, hope and faith for yourself or someone you care about is by far, the most important thing when it comes to any and every health issue. It’s so easy to feel alone when you’re dealing with a serious health issue like cancer. It’s even easy to feel alone when you’re trying to support someone who is dealing with cancer. But we are never alone in our struggles and there is always, always much to gain from even the worst times and losses of our lives.
Anyone who knew my dad knows how memorable he was, what a character he was, what a force he was, how loving and giving he was, how much he tried to help those he loved and strangers, a legendary detective for 34 years… I could go on and on. He was truly larger than life. This post is also to honor him and remember all that he overcame in his 79 years. I miss him more than I could ever explain, but he will live on in so many ways.
Combine the following in 8 oz of hot water (boiled water cooled down to a drinkable temp):
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground rosemary
(Photo Credit: Branch + Vine)
This mix is excellent for the liver and overall health (including cold and flu prevention)! I use fresh lime juice when I have it, but this organic lime juice I picked up at the health store the other day is great to have around, especially if you want to have this drink on a regular basis. It’s not easy to find rosemary powder so I just grind up organic whole dried rosemary in a spice grinder. For the turmeric, you can use dried or liquid. For the honey, any good quality version is great. I splurged on Manuka recently, but usually I use a local raw honey. For the apple cider vinegar, you definitely want to make sure it’s a raw and unfiltered one. For the cayenne powder, I use an organic brand, but if you don’t have organic on hand then that’s fine. I honestly think it tastes pretty good and better than I expected!
So happy to announce that my Etsy shop is now officially open: ShopBranchandVine. This has been a goal of mine for a while so I’m really excited to have my products available to you for purchase!
More to come soon, but the three products below are currently ready for you to enjoy:
Ultra Healing All Purpose Balm ($7) ~ an all purpose balm that is ultra healing for the driest of skin and an array of other common skin ailments. It contains some of nature’s best healers including beeswax, olive oil, and coconut oil.
A Winter’s Eve Aromatherapy Room + Body Spray ($11) ~ all the best scents of winter combined: balsam fir needle, cinnamon leaf, and clove brightened by tangerine and orange. Friends and family have been obsessed with this uplifting blend.
Branch + Vine Botanical Perfume Oils ($29) are handmade in small batches with the intention of creating fragrances that not only smell good, but encourage good health and a positive state of being. I have spent over two years testing, researching, and pouring a ton of thought and love into these botanical perfume oils. I wanted to create scents that do not have negative health effects (like synthetic scents), but actually have positive effects on your health and mood. I hope you’ll smell good + feel good when you wear them :) The scent currently available for purchase (Saint Remy de Provence) is one of many to come!
Now that the bugs are biting again, it’s a good idea to have a natural bug repellent on hand, but there are also 2 things you can add to your diet to hopefully prevent the bugs from biting:
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR: Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar to your daily diet (buy a good quality one like BRAGG). You can add the ACV to a glass of hot or cold water (quick but not the tastiest option), to homemade salad dressings in place of other vinegars, or to homemade soups (I do this for almost every soup I make).
GARLIC: Eat more garlic each day. The list of meals you can add cooked or raw garlic to goes on and on, but some of my favorites include sauteed vegetables, pasta dishes, and baked fish.
photo credit: branchandvinebeauty.com
I actually made a delicious homemade salad dressing last night that includes both of these mosquito-deterrents. Simply combine the following, mix well, and enjoy it on your next salad:
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Makes about 8 servings and will last in the fridge up to 4 days. You can add more or less of any of the ingredients depending on your taste buds. I always adjust it a few times before I get it just right.
Hope the bugs leave you alone this 4th of July weekend!
INSTEAD OF IBUPROFEN: Bromelain (naturally found in pineapple) and Curcumin (naturally found in turmeric) have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and are most helpful for chronic conditions. If you need pain relief from an acute condition, like a sore throat or headache, white willow bark can help.
INSTEAD OF COUGH MEDICINE: Try a teaspoon of honey before bed. Honey has been shown in studies to be as effective as the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. My favorite cough and cold remedy from my mom is mixing the juice of a large lemon with about 2 tablespoons of honey and a splash of hot water and sipping on it slowly. Works like a charm.
Hope these suggestions help you end 2013 and start 2014 on a naturally healthier note! :)
When you’re in pain – physically or mentally – there is something very simple you can do to help yourself and you can do it anywhere at anytime – SMILE! Why is this helpful? Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are the body’s natural form of pain relief while serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter that can positively affect your mood.
I know it might sound too simple or too easy, but usually the easiest and simplest remedies are some of the best. So don’t forget to smile more :)
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”― Leo F. Buscaglia
It always seems that the DC area gets its worst storm of the season right when we think winter is over. Our “worst storm” turned out to be a lot more bark (large snowflakes & wind) than bite (zero accumulation). I’m not complaining at all though. It gave me good reason to stay inside and cozy in my pajamas all day. It also lead to the creation of two firsts: (1) a matcha green tea face mask and (2) a matcha green tea latte. For those of you not familiar, matcha is a Japanese finely-milled green tea.
Matcha Face Mask:
1 tsp matcha powder
2 tsp rose water or good quality water (I used rose water)
How to: Mix ingredients until you have a nice smooth paste. Apply to clean skin. Leave on for 10 minutes . Wash off gently with warm water. Pat (never rub!) skin dry.
I noticed my skin was brighter and smoother right away. Such an antioxidant overload (in a good way) for your face! This mask is beneficial for all skin types.
12 – 16 oz unsweetened vanilla almond milk (I use Trader Joe’s) + a splash of organic whole milk (milk amount based on mug size)
honey to taste – I used 1 heaping teaspoon (I’m currently using Trader Joe’s Organic Wild Collected Raw Honey, which has a very interesting nutty flavor)
How to: Heat milk in a small pot on medium heat until nearly boiled. Add matcha and honey. Whisk vigorously until tea is frothy.
I know I didn’t do this the 100% proper way (read here), but it turned out really great. Although, I think sifting the matcha first would have helped with not having left over matcha at bottom of the latte or maybe I just didn’t put enough elbow grease into the whisking :)
Healthy benefits: Matcha is believed to boost metabolism and lower cholesterol levels when consumed on a regular basis. Matcha’s powerful punch can largely be attributed to the fact that the whole tea leaf is ingested. This means that it delivers a much higher potency of chlorophyll, catechins, and antioxidants.
Next time you have a headache and want to reach for pain killers, try out some of these natural remedies instead:
1. REMOVE ANY “HEADGEAR” – Take off your hat, headband, helmet, ponytail holder, goggles, glasses, or anything else you might have on your head. These items can cause external compression headaches and often the headache will go away shortly after removing the offending item. I find this to be true quite often when I have my hair up too tightly.
2. TRY ACUPRESSURE – Apply pressure to the acupressure point in the webbing between your thumb and index finger to help ease the pain of a headache (*this is not an acupressure point that pregnant women should press*). Also, gently pressing the back of your neck with three fingers on each side can also help relieve muscle tension in your neck that might be causing the headache (it’s very common for neck tension to cause headaches). I also love using an acupressure mat as both a preventative and treatment tool for headaches
3. APPLY A COLD COMPRESS – to your forehead and/or the back of your neck. Any cold compress will be helpful, but if you add 3-5 drops of peppermint oil to a damp washcloth and put it in the freezer for a few minutes, you’ll get the benefits of the cold plus the relaxing and uplifting aromatherapy benefits of the peppermint. The scent of peppermint is well known for providing headache relief. Leave the compress on for about ten minutes while lying down. At $6-$8 per bottle, peppermint oil is a non expensive natural remedy to keep on hand.
4. DRINK SOME H20 – A very common cause of headaches is dehydration. Drink water throughout the day and make sure to go to bed well hydrated so you don’t wake up with a headache. Also, I have found it very helpful to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning to start the day off in a good hydrated state.
5. RELAX – We often hold a lot of tension in our jaws so unclench your jaw and relax your face… Now relax the rest of your body while you’re at it and take some nice deep breaths. Let the tension melt away.
It’s best to avoid wearing perfume or cologne when you’re going to be in the sun for a prolonged period of time. Perfumes and colognes, especially those that contain oils from musk, sandalwood, citrus, bergamot, and vanilla, can actually be chemically changed by the sun. This chemical change can trigger an allergic reaction in the skin and increase the chance of hyper-pigmentation (age spots). Yikes! But prevention is easy – the next time you’re headed to the beach don’t forget to use a healthy, natural sunscreen and skip the fragrance!
If you’re a lover of avocados then you’ll appreciate learning (or being reminded) that cold water can help keep avocados from turning brown!
So whether you’re making guacamole or just slicing up the delicious fruit to eat by itself, once you cut the avocado in half either immediately immerse it in ice cold water or run it under the faucet. This method keeps oxygen out and hence prevents that yucky browning that naturally occurs.
I’m loving this Soft Touch Pong Case my husband just got last week. This case protects both your phone and your health — it’s been proven by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certified laboratories to protect users from cell phone radiation while optimizing phone performance. It reduces cell phone radiation (SAR) up to 95% below FCC limits.
This case is compatible with AT&T, Sprint and Verizon iPhone 4/4S’s as well as iPhone 4/4S’s operating on international carrier networks.
Here are 10 reasons why you might want to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet. My favorite use for ACV is in homemade salad dressings. It’s actually the only vinegar I keep in the house these days. Are you a fan?