Why I don’t wear sunscreen.

I’ve had stage 3C melanoma. And I don’t wear sunscreen.

Many of my melahomies are screaming at me through the computer as they read this. I can hear the outcry of “WTF are you THINKING!!” Every dermatologist or oncologist who reads this is rolling their eyes and saying “You DO know that the best way of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays and melanoma is sun safety. I recommend sunscreen with SPF 30.”

I hear you. I hear all of you. And I understand that you have serious concerns. And I know that you all truly believe that what you say is 100% true.

But I completely disagree with your SPF theories. Someone with melanoma avoiding the sun is like a heart attack patient avoiding exercise because it may give them another heart attack. Seriously…think about that. After my dad had a heart attack and bypass surgery, they had him on a resistance bike 3 times a week at full speed. Part of his rehab was to get that heart pumping hard again.

But melanoma patients are supposed to COMPLETELY avoid the sun – something that’s been around for BILLIONS of years and before mankind even existed – because it’s “bad” for us?! How does the thing that gives life to plants and other living things have “harmful UV rays?” Why is sunlight demonized in a way that makes us fear the sun which is NEEDED for life to exist on Earth? How does this even make sense?

So instead of following this completely nonsensical line of thought, I’ll explain to you my own “sun safety” theories.

My previous post on Vitamin D explained a very important part of my sun safety protocol. I try and get a little bit of sunlight every day. According to many sources, including this article from US News, experts suggest 10-30 minutes of sunlight on your arms and legs to get the proper amount of Vitamin D. You could also supplement this with certain foods  like fatty fish (such as salmon) and eggs.

courtesy of http://www.independentnurse.co.uk/clinical-article/is-vitamin-d-important-for-melanoma-patients/154321/

This makes sense – it’s easier for our bodies to process Vitamin D from natural sources rather than a pill formula.

A professor, a pharmacist at my graduate anesthesia program, once said that Americans have the most expensive urine in the world. We take more supplements than any other nation, and $21 BILLION is spent on supplements yearly. Yet, most Americans don’t get enough nutrients from diet alone, and only 9.7% of Americans get the recommended amount of Vitamin D. We try and use supplements to make up for our shortcomings – but rather than making us healthy, this only thins our wallets.

Vitamins when taken in pill form absorb poorly, virtually failing to do what we expect them to do, and only “supplement” as long as you continue to take them. This is similar to a trendy, “shed the weight” diet pill – it kind of works, but it’s not healthy for you long-term and as soon as you stop taking it you’re back to square one. Unless you’re trying to fill the gap for a short period of time (perhaps the winter months) what’s the point of taking a supplement for vitamin D when you can get the same thing from the sun, free of charge? Getting your Vitamin D from a supplement for your entire life in pill form just isn’t logical.

The second part of my “sun safety” thought process is that we Americans spend ENTIRELY too much time indoors. Seriously. According to the EPA, Americans spend somewhere around 93% of their time indoors.

So let me get this straight… Melanoma rates have doubled since 1973 in the US. Yet, with our office cubicle 9 to 5 lifestyles, we now spend more time than ever inside…meaning out of the sun. Meaning…away from the thing that every doctor wants to blame as the cause of melanoma.

Your sunscreen may be blocking your Vitamin D absorption! Courtesy of http://www.simplysunscreen.com/goth-sunblock-clothing.html

To top this all off, many of the ingredients in sunscreen have been proven to be dangerous! No joke! The Environmental Working Group (as quoted here from CNN) has a list of potentially dangerous ingredients used in sunscreen that can potentially CAUSE CANCER! I really wish I was joking here, everyone, but I am not. Read the article for yourself and then go and look at the ingredients in your “safe” sunscreen. You slather this stuff on your skin and then use the sun to bake all those wonderful cancer-causing ingredients right on in.

So WTF are we supposed to do?!?!?!

There are many natural oils which have a small amount of SPF – you can find a great article here on all the SPF abilities of natural oils and make your OWN natural sunscreen! Or you can visit one of my favorites – Dr. Axe – and see how to make your own sunscreen here.

Find a great recipe for sunscreen here: https://draxe.com/homemade-sunscreen/

But what if you’re not prone to becoming a DIY apothecary? What can you do?

Condition your skin.

No, not with conditioner, silly. Get enough sun every day, in slightly larger doses, until your skin is used to the sun. It’s like working out – you don’t just jump right in to a marathon without prepping. You gradually train and prepare for it. Just like your heart, you have to train and condition your skin for optimal health.

If I feel like my skin is turning slightly pink, I immediately find shade. I’m not one to “lounge” by the pool because there’s so many things I want to explore and do. But If I really need that zone-out beach-style “someone bring me a Mai Tai” time in the sun, I only do so until my body has had enough. It’s simple – listen to what your body is saying and don’t burn.

Now one thing I have to say. If you ARE going to be outside for an extended period of time (because, you know, life is fun outside) then please DO prepare. Get enough sun so that your skin is getting more exposure than normal, but DO NOT burn. Just don’t do it. Find shade or cover up when your skin has had enough.

Getting multiple sunburns over time DOES damage your skin and cause skin cancer. So if you’re going into a situation where you know there’s a chance you’ll burn, then please DO seek shade and wear sunscreen. But make sure it doesn’t have any of the nasty cancer-causing ingredients!

Do YOU wear sunscreen? Tell me why in the comments below!

Melanoma Monday

I know that May the 1st (Melanoma Monday) has come and gone. The whole month of May is Melanoma Awareness month, and it brings with it some very strong feelings about my journey. I look back on my diagnosis like many a patient and ask “What did I do wrong? Did I deserve this? How do I prevent a relapse with this horrible disease?”

These are the daily life questions of ANYONE diagnosed with melanoma. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about how far I’ve come since my diagnosis and my goals of life-long remission.

Thankfully, treatment for Melanoma has really come a long way. The odds of surviving my diagnosis of Stage 3C just a few years ago were NOT in my favor – something like 24-29% five year survival rate. That meant that I had a one in 4 chance of making it 5 years before dying of the disease.

5 years!! I was diagnosed at 31 years old – if I reached the ripe old age of 36, I’d be lucky. VERY lucky. To compare this information to another deadly disease, I looked into the prognosis for breast cancer – stage 3 breast cancer has a 72% survival rate. Now, I’m not saying that breast cancer is a walk in the park – quite the contrary. And yet having breast cancer has a better chance of surviving stage 3 cancer than I do according to these statistics.

But with immunotherapy, these numbers have changed dramatically. It’s no longer a “roll of the dice” to see if you make it 5 years with a Melanoma diagnosis. Immunotherapy has changed the landscape of treatment options – and added some much needed flexibility with treatment. The statistics I have listed for melanoma are no longer valid thanks so these amazing new treatments.

However, immunotherapy isn’t a magic bullet. Many patients don’t respond to immunotherapy, and due to the way these drugs work, they can’t be given to everyone. Not to mention that the HUGE list of side effects can make these treatments hard to tolerate for a lot of people.

I have every intention of avoiding these side effects and NOT going back on immunotherapy. So what the heck can I do to prevent a recurrence?

If you’ve ever googled “cancer prevention” there are a MILLION trendy diets and tips and tricks. But if you boil it down to the major proven methods, here’s a small list:

1 – Eat more cancer-fighting super-foods such as berries and cruciferous vegetables

2 – Exercise more

3 – Stress less

4 – Get more sleep

5 – Get enough Vitamin D and DON’T avoid the sun

Whoa, whoa that last one can’t be right…can it? I mean, melanoma is CAUSED by sun exposure! But Vitamin D is created THROUGH your skin’s exposure to sunlight – and it’s a necessary vitamin to fight many cancers, including melanoma.

Map of Melanoma in the US – many northern states have a higher rate of melanoma

Yes, the sun plays a major roll in all skin cancers. But melanoma isn’t like basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, which are directly linked to sun-exposed areas. Some forms of melanoma have been proven to NOT be linked to UV radiation at all!  And there have been plenty of studies all over the world PROVING that people with lower Vitamin D levels (and thus too little sunlight exposure)  have a poorer prognosis at diagnosis (and also written about here and here and here too!).  With all these strange connections between Vitamin D and melanoma, there are now even trials to test Vitamin D as an adjuvant treatment for melanoma.

Yet, every melanoma patient is told to AVOID THE SUN at all costs. Every dermatologist and doctor playing by the ‘rules’ will also say the same thing. Avoid the sun. Wear 30+ SPF. But then many will also say that you need to take Vitamin D supplements in the same sentence. Why avoid the very thing that can help PREVENT melanoma and then take artificial supplements to try and make up for it?

A map of the sun’s UV radiation in the US. Could there be a link between the lower UV rays (and lower Vitamin D levels) of the states with higher rates of melanoma?

We have a billion dollar supplement industry, and this is a prime example. Avoid the sun, and take a supplement to give you the necessary vitamin that the sun provides free of charge.

Now, with all things in life, moderation is key. I’m not telling you to go out there and fry yourself to get your daily Vitamin D intake. Quite the contrary. I’m telling you to think about your skin’s daily intake of UV radiation. Both avoiding the sun entirely and sunbathing for hours are toxic. Why not aim for the moderate middle – daily sunlight, avoiding burns on extended days outside, and if you’re in the winter months, consider vitamin D.

No, I’m not an oncologist. I’m not a dermatologist. I’m just someone who’s been researching these interesting connections since my own diagnosis. Sometimes doctors insist on hard proof for the smallest connections when, really, just using common sense is all that you need.

So during this month of Melanoma Awareness, make sure you’re aware of the things YOU can do to prevent melanoma. Do your own research. Make your own healthcare decisions – they may change your life.

Week 1 of the Elimination Diet

We’re almost through the first week on the elimination diet, and we’ve survived! Using lots of creativity and LOTS of prep, I think I’ve also made this week as easy (and belly-filling) as possible.

I really thought the first week would be filled with random cravings and terrible hunger pangs to make me want to stray. I’ve always found it hard to say ‘NO’ to cheese and bread. And tomatoes. And chocolate. But I’m surprised to say that the only thing I’ve REALLY craved is a glass of wine with dinner. I’m sure my liver could use a little detox, so I’m OK with holding out for another couple weeks. 🙂

So far, the absolute hardest thing about the elimination diet is finding food while traveling. I’ve learned that I can ‘pack’ a breakfast to take with me – a chia seed and powdered coconut milk premixed in a jar that I can carry onto a plane. The night I arrive at my destination, simply add water and refrigerate and voila! Chia seed pudding! Most hotels also have fruit in their breakfast buffet, so add in fruit for a protein and fiber filled breakfast that’s pretty darn tasty.

Chia seed pudding after soaking overnight

But lunch and dinner are difficult to find on the road. I can’t carry food into the OR with me…and most foods on the list need to be refrigerated. So I’m looking into the best options for me while traveling and I’ll report back.

And my husband is happy to report that in the first week, he’s lost 4 pounds! I never even THOUGHT about weight loss with this diet – I was much more concerned with getting his acid reflux under control. His weight tends to fluctuate normally, but he’s never lost 4 pounds that easily in 1 week before. All these good-for-you fruits and veggies apparently are helping his waistline AND his esophagus.

As for the MOST IMPORTANT symptom that we’re hoping to help…his cough…I’m super excited to report that it HAS decreased in number per day and intensity!! When we started the elimination diet, he was on Prilosec twice per day. He’s down to 1 per day in the morning and we will take it to 1 every other day as of tomorrow.

Weaning these medications can actually cause even MORE acid production, so we have to take it slowly in order to let his body adjust. I’m hoping he’s completely weaned from the meds with no cough by the time we start to work foods back into the list.

I want to warn you that I’m not being AS strict as some lists out there. Since we’re doing this for acid reflux rather than a food allergy, I’m allowing some seeds and nuts (specifically chia and flax seeds and almonds) and some vinegars (apple cider and balsamic) as well as maple syrup. I’m also allowing green tea because – really – green tea is nothing but good for you!!! I know that some studies show that caffeine may cause reflux, but really, I just KNOW that no matter WHAT we do, my husband will never give up caffeine. So honestly, cutting the caffeine down to just green tea is practically like cutting it out 😉

Download this cute meal planner here

I’ve attached our meal plan for the week with the shopping list. Most meals take less than 30 minutes to cook (not the roasted chicken, obviously, but the leftovers are well worth it!) I’m hoping to make a meal planner involving less chicken next week because I think we’re both about chickened out this week. And I’m writing up some of my favorite recipes from the week – so stay tuned!

The Elimination Diet

I HATE the word “diet”. Nothing is worse than that word. Saying diet is voicing a symbol of restriction – just the sound of it makes me cringe with yearning for a plateful of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It makes me think of heroin-chick models of the 90s who need to eat a burger STAT. Nothing good can come of a diet….right?!

And yet, I’m doing it. I’m going on a DIET.

OK ok so before I whip myself with a wet noodle, I’ll explain myself.

My husband has been battling acid reflux for the past many years. His only symptom is a chronic cough. His voice sounds like he’d been out partying the night before, but never once has he have the feeling of heartburn. His symptoms never went away…the catch in his throat, the hoarseness, the coughing…was it a chronic cold? Pneumonia? Lung cancer? What could it possibly be??

Doctor after doctor, medication after medication and finally a GI doc did a scope and we had a diagnosis. He found that his esophagus was “like a Florida sunset” – red, inflamed, and angry due to constant acid reflux. This reflux was going allllllll the way up his esophagus to his vocal cords and causing his chronic cough.

Silent symptoms of Acid Reflux. Courtesy of: http://www.doctoroz.com/article/silent-reflux-epidemic

So we tried the classic medication for reflux. A proton pump inhibitor (aka PPI – something similar to Prilosec) twice a day. Everyday. For the rest of his life.

And it worked!! But we didn’t like this as a long term solution. The doctor suggested he take calcium supplements as a PPI can inhibit your absorption of calcium. We figured this CAN’T be good in the long run. So we tried to ween him after a few months.

But the cough came back.

So we tried to take out the highly acidic foods from his diet.

And the cough came back.

And then we tried a glycemic index diet that was described in a book titled Heartburn: Fast Tract Digestion by Norman Robillard.

And the cough came back.

Back to the point where my husband is on the pills again twice a day. It progressed to the point where it is embarrassing to be with him coughing all the time. People look at him as though he’s contagious in public places.

So I looked into the most drastic thing we could do diet-wise where we could potentially find the culprit foods. An elimination diet fits the bill.

Soooooo what the heck IS an elimination diet??  It’s just that – you eliminate ANY potential allergen or irritation causing food for a few weeks and slowly work in other foods to see what’s causing the symptoms.  Foods such as: gluten, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, beef, alcohol, caffeine, citrus, legumes/beans/peanuts, nightshade vegetables, and anything processed. It sounds pretty simple in concept, but in reality?

courtesy of: https://wholelifenutrition.net/articles/elimination-diet/free-elimination-diet-resources

What the heck do you eat???

In a lot of ways, this is probably the simplest diet you could ask for. Chicken, rice, and veggies are going to be staples for the next few weeks. But eating the same thing every day in this household is NOT an option.

So I’m going to have to get creative with recipes and finding ways to keep the husband’s belly happy throughout this journey – there has already been one breakdown (OK I admit it was me having a fit when I realized that I couldn’t have eggs for breakfast and there are VERY limited options in the cereal aisle!)  I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.

I know this won’t be easy. But I’m hoping it’ll be worth it in the end. If this is what it takes to find out the culprit of my husband’s reflux, then I’m there 100%. I want him to be happy and healthy, and I’ll do anything I can to get him there.

Keep following for recipes and grocery lists – coming soon!

Does YOUR yoga class accept coupons?

courtesy of http://www.kpfit.club/hatha-yoga/

I took a yoga class back in college to fulfill my PE requirements and I REALLY REALLY hated it. The instructor was a super patchouli-smelling granola-crunching tree-hugging lady who looked like she wandered off the streets of San Francisco circa 1967. She insisted that it was cruel to eat meat, and touted vegetarian rice and beans as a “complete protein”. We did some sun salutations, learned basic poses, and then we would lay in corpse pose for 20 minutes.

I never broke a sweat and fell asleep every class. It was sooooooo boring. I dreaded going.

I passed the class and threw in the towel on yoga. I told myself yoga was totally for wimps.

That was over 10 years ago (I’m leaving it at that because a lady never tells her age). I opened up to yoga again when I was going through treatment for melanoma. I didn’t have the energy to work out, and I felt myself wasting away.

I wanted to do something physical…but not TOO physical. And I also wanted to be able to create a more holistic lifestyle that help me focus on getting rid of daily mental stress.

So I gave yoga another shot. I got a book on poses and downloaded some apps. I actually started to enjoy yoga. I could put my body to (gentle) use and stretching helped my lymphedema. I started to see results and began to enjoy it more and more.

But I kinda got stuck. I wanted something more interactive and more physical now that I’m back to my old self. Yet, classes were out of the question. I refuse to shell out $15 a class for something that I wanted to incorporate into my weekly schedule. Even the cheapest monthly yoga classes I could find – $10 a class – that could be $50 a week! Did that math and said NOPE. No way.

So I scoured the internet. YouTube videos here, online classes there. None of them were great so I kept scouring.

And I hit the jackpot! Seriously – this is the BEST online yoga! It’s a group called “The Yoga Collective” and they film classes from their studio in California. It has everything you could ask for from an in-person yoga class but right there online! You can select your instructor, your level of difficulty, what area you want to work on, the length of time…ANYTHING!

It’s like having a studio instructor in your living room! And one that I can take with me while I’m traveling for work, which is HUGE for me.

I feel very sales-y touting this company, and I apologize if it comes off that way. But I can assure you – I have absolutely NO connection to them besides just being an insanely happy customer. If you want to try it out, they offer a 15 day trial for free. Absolutely free to try! How can you say no, you secret Yogis out there??

And I have to fill you in on a little secret. I found a Groupon for the group and got a year for about $12…YES $12!!! That’s the price of ONE class!! This comes out to a couple CENTS per class!! To add the cherry on top,  you can order your Groupon through Ebates and earn money back!! My inner coupon lady is singing “the hills are alive” and dancing an Irish jig right now!

I don’t think that my version of yoga is ANYTHING like the yoga I did in college. I consistency break a sweat while on the mat and don’t feel bad about the grass-fed burger I eat afterwards. I’m happy I re-found yoga to mold it into what works for me (and at a price that doesn’t break the bank!) I hope you ALL find what works best for you to live a long happy, healthy life.

Namaste.