5 Things I Learned from A Naturopath

5 Things I Learned from A Naturopath

It’s no secret that I am freakishly in-tune with my body and that I also value knowing exactly what’s happening behind the scenes of my symptoms. Even before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew something was off with my body, and I’d started to research root causes and naturopathic/functional medicine approaches to help me with some things I’d been experiencing. Then, cancer came into my life and between the 85 million appointments (not exaggerating…), I decided to hold off on seeing yet another practitioner.

Now that I’m approaching the end of active cancer treatment, I decided it’s time to get some additional support and testing done. A few things I was concerned about include the health of my digestive system, support for my thyroid, and restoring equilibrium for my female hormones. I chose to see a naturopath (ND) based on recommendations from friends and based on her experience level and social media content (never underestimate the power of social media!). Here’s a few things I’ve learned after my initial consultation and lab work:

Get that Good Gut Health

Chemo is designed to destroy cancer cells which are typically rapidly dividing and multiplying in our bodies. Well – guess what else rapidly divides and multiplies? Healthy cells in our digestive tracts! Side effects from chemotherapy tend to hit the GI tract hard and can include mouth sores, nausea/vomiting, heartburn, and diarrhea or constipation. Seeing as I had several of these symptoms during my 16 rounds of chemo, I knew my gut was going to need support and healing.

First of all, the GI tract is full of trillions of happy, healthy bacteria typically referred to as the gut microbiome. These bacteria help us to digest food and maintain a strong immune system. It’s all a bit complex honestly, but a lack in diversity of these bacteria can lead to a whole host of health issues, including mental health concerns.

My ND recommended a few important things to get me started: a good probiotic to promote microbiome diversity and a drink called GI Revive which supports the intestinal lining and promotes regularity. It’s also crucial to eat a diverse, supportive diet that includes plenty of fiber, vegetables and whole grains, and fermented foods.
*Side note – if I’d known GI Revive existed, I would have started it during chemotherapy. However at that time, I did use L-glutamine supplements which helped me prevent issues in my mouth and lower GI tract.

Altogether, I feel like things are coming back around to normal after chemotherapy with this added support. I imagine that the more my gut heals, the more I’ll see my immune system improve and I’ll be able to maintain low levels of inflammation in my body.

Clarity on Chemopause

I started chemo on June 9, 2020, and that was also the first day I received a Zoladex injection. Zoladex is a hormonal therapy designed to stop the ovaries from creating follicles which release estrogen. The ovaries have a high rate of cell turnover like the GI tract, so chemotherapy can lead to infertility if not protected by hormonal therapy. Modern medicine is truly incredible, and I’m grateful that as a 30-year-old woman going through chemo, I had the option to try to save my fertility in this way.

Joke’s on me though, because after 6 months of this hormonal therapy, I am officially in chemopause (a medically-induced menopause), and I have all the symptoms to show for it. I specifically asked my ND for post-chemo baseline labs for my estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels. No surprise here, but my labs confirm I’m in a menopausal state and that explains the hot flashes, joint pain, dyspareunia (learn more here), and amenorrhea…

Now, true menopause means a woman has had no menstrual cycle for >12 months. Being only two months out from my last Zoladex injection, I’d say there’s still hope for my ovaries to bounce back. Most women who’ve been on this type of treatment have seen their menstrual cycles return after 5-6 months on average. In the meantime, I need to be supportive of my body! I attempt to exercise 3-5 times per week (walking, resistance training, and stretching) to relieve joint pain and both my ND and OB/GYN have recommended vaginal moisturizers to prevent vaginal atrophy until my estrogen levels improve. (If this is TMI for my family & friends reading this – sorry, but it’s just #RealTalk!)

I’ll continue to monitor my labs every few months to be sure things are trending in the right direction. Chemopause isn’t necessarily permanent, so here’s hoping my body can pull through!

The Thyroid Needs to Thrive

About seven years ago, while I was deep in PT school, I began having unnatural fatigue. I ended up being diagnosed with an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). The thyroid gland produces hormones which help regulate our metabolism, and if the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, you can have symptoms like fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, weight gain, constipation, or feeling like you’re always cold. Every body system relies on the thyroid so it’s a priority to take care of it!

Trying to find the root cause of my thyroid dysfunction has always been something I was curious about before my cancer diagnosis, and after treatment I wanted to know if there was: a) any additional support needed for my thyroid after chemo, and b) if there was an underlying cause for my hypothyroidism. After running a full thyroid panel, my ND diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition in which my own immune system is attacking my thyroid. She educated me that Hashimoto’s is actually the most common cause of hypothyroidism and affects about 5 in 100 people.1 It seems that Hashimoto’s is a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors such as food sensitivities or heavy metals toxicity.

My next step is to try to determine what may have triggered this autoimmune condition. The more I know about my condition, the better I can treat it or avoid any sensitivities that may make my condition worse. It might seem like I am seeking out more health problems, but my intent is really to understand my own body and how I can best support it to remain healthy and cancer-free. I will likely always have to be on thyroid medication, but I’d like to try to prevent the condition from progressing as much as I can (I plan on living a long life, you know?!).

Sometimes You Just Have to Supplement

In all honesty, I’ve never been a fan of supplements because I just can’t remember to take them every day! I now understand, however, that there are certain vitamins and minerals that I’m unable to get enough of through a vegan/vegetarian diet (like vitamin B12 which is only found in animal products), and also, based on my recent lab work, we found that some others (like my vitamin D and zinc levels) were significantly depleted for me during chemotherapy.

There are certain supplements I need to be cautious taking during radiation therapy as high levels of antioxidants (like those in vitamins A, C, and E) can interfere with the treatment itself. For now, I am supplementing with:

  • B vitamin complex to improve my energy levels and cognitive functioning
  • Vitamin D3 which promotes bone health and has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer metastasis
  • Omega-3 which helps to reduce inflammation and supports brain and heart function
  • Zinc which supports the immune system
  • A probiotic and the GI drink I mentioned earlier for gut health

It sounds like a lot, but I’m currently finding it very worthwhile. Some of the brain fog that started during chemo has lifted since I started supplementing more regularly, my GI system is more settled, and my hair is growing back much faster than I anticipated! Maybe eventually I won’t need so much supplementation, but I feel now is the time to be very supportive of my body and it’s healing.

The Cost of Collaborative Care is: Priceless.

I know what you’re all thinking – this all sounds expensive! And it is to some extent. Supplements can be pricey & aren’t covered by insurance like most pharmaceuticals. When providers don’t contract with insurance companies, the costs can add up. I don’t need to explain myself, but I just want to let you all in on my thought process at this point.

Seeing an ND and using supplements and acupuncture to support my healing have brought me immense benefits and peace of mind both before and after my cancer diagnosis. I personally feel that seeing a fee-for-service provider is excellent because they are not held to unreasonable standards that insurance companies often dictate. These providers can spend more 1:1 time with their patients, can recommend tests and treatments that can be run through insurance companies, and can provide a more holistic approach to your care. I personally feel it worth every penny to have this kind of care.

If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. This year my body has been through the ringer and besides feeling physically unwell, I saw my mental health and my relationships challenged. I was hardly able to concentrate on anything besides getting through treatment and managing my symptoms. My husband became a “caregiver” and most of our life revolved around what I could and couldn’t do with friends during a pandemic when you’re immunocompromised. I haven’t been able to treat patients for almost a year and so my sense of purpose got a little muddy at times.

Now is the time for me to heal from all of that. I am beyond grateful for good health insurance that got me through treatment without any debt, family and friends who contributed to my GoFundMe so I can seek out alternative care options as I continue to heal, and for my super-supportive coworkers who’ve donated time off and kept me in the loop at work so I don’t feel like a complete outsider. These things may seem small, but they can mean the world to someone living with a complex illness.

Again, my purpose here is to share my journey in case someone else going through this can benefit from what I’ve learned. Much of this info is very personal, and I choose to be open about this. I’ve said this before, but just because someone is considered “cancer-free” doesn’t mean they’re not still experiencing some of the long-term effects of treatment. We use fire to fight fires in cancer care and there are often side effects of side effects!

Please be kind! If you know someone in treatment (or if you know someone who may just need a little extra help), reach out today and see how you can support them – we’ve all got to have each other’s backs.

Aloha ❤

*This post is not intended to provide medical advice or recommendations. I am simply stating what has worked or been recommended to me on my personal journey. For more information, read my full disclaimer here.

A Fertility Update

A Fertility Update

How it’s going…

You may remember me posting a while back about the different ways I tried to protect my fertility as I prepared to start chemotherapy. First, I froze some eggs. In case I’m unable to conceive naturally later, I can use them for IVF. I also started monthly Zoladex injections – a medication that halts ovarian function in an attempt to preserve fertility overall.

And so, at age 31, I’ve been in a Zoladex-induced menopause since June. Six whole months later, my estrogen levels have tanked and my joints ache like I’m an 100-year-old lady! Some other fun side effects include amenorrhea (lack of a period), hot flashes, and dyspareunia. So, I’m currently staying as active as possible (mostly walking and stretching when I have the energy) in order to mitigate some of those side effects, and thankfully, my oncologist and I decided it was time to discontinue the Zoladex now that the bulk of treatment is behind me. Today marks one month since my last injection!

For more detailed info about fertility preservation, you can read my earlier post here.

What to expect now?

Typically, the menstrual cycle can take a few months to return as the body figures out its new normal once again. As I have some previous experience with amenorrhea after I came off the birth control pill in 2019, I know that what I eat will play a huge role in how quickly my body gets back to normal. Thus, the plant-based diet continues (plus no dairy, processed sugars, or alcohol) and I will try my absolute hardest to cut back on caffeine to keep my nervous system calm.

I also plan to use seed cycling to help my body regulate the essential hormones it needs for menstruation and ovulation. This is a great article about how to do seed cycling if you’re interested in learning more. Seed cycling is an excellent, natural way to balance hormones, however if you have hormone-positive cancer, please ask your doctor if a daily dose of phytoestrogens is safe for you!

Once I’ve completed radiation therapy, I’ll speak with my medical oncologist and OB/GYN about when it will be safe to start trying to conceive. With that said, I think my body deserves a long break to heal completely before that all happens. Actually, this might be a good time to kindly remind you that it’s just not acceptable to ask a person when they plan to have children. A person’s body is their own to make decisions for and, sometimes, people aren’t capable or willing to have children at all.

My goal for this blog has always been to be as open and honest about my experiences as possible in the hopes that whoever may be reading this can gain some insight for their own health and wellness. Personally, I don’t think there’s ever TMI (too much information) disclosed when it comes to learning about your own body and how it works. This coming from a pelvic floor PT who talks about poop all day… Anyway, I’d love to know what questions you have about:

  • fertility preservation during cancer treatments
  • long-term side effects of the birth control pill
  • nutrition around hormone balance
  • seed cycling

Drop your Q’s in the comments below!

Intermittent Fasting for Health

Intermittent Fasting for Health

Hello! I hope everyone had an excellent Labor Day weekend!

I wanted to make good on my promise to write about intermittent fasting as I hope it’s something that will benefit at least a few of you out there! For the past 5-6 years, I’ve included some type of intermittent fasting (IF) in my routine. I can honestly say that I notice a huge difference in my energy levels and metabolism compared to periods when I don’t intentionally include IF in my regimen.

In the past few years, fasting has become rather trendy. However, IF has quite a bit of research behind it, which pulls it out of that “fad diet” category (not to mention many religious groups have practiced fasting over long periods for centuries and it’s working for them). IF changes the body’s metabolic processes on a cellular level and therefore has important effects for both the body and brain – cool!

Here’s how IF works:

Normally, when the body needs energy, it uses glucose first as a rapid energy source. Once the available glucose has been used up, the body begins to break down fat to fuel our metabolism. Protein is the last to be broken down and is usually not utilized unless the body is under extreme conditions (i.e. starvation).

During a period of fasting/caloric restriction, the body is able to use up it’s glucose stores and begins to break down fat for energy. We can use fat from any part of the body that has excess fat stores like subcutaneous fat (a.k.a. “that stubborn belly fat”), visceral fat (fat that builds up around your abdominal organs), and intramuscular fat.

By significantly reducing calorie intake during IF, our body is able to use the spare energy to boost its processes of detoxification in the liver and kidneys. Waste removal from our cells also increases, and our body as a whole is able to operate more efficiently.

Some of the many benefits of IF include1:

  • Optimized cell functioning and cellular repair (this is called “autophagy” which literally means “self-eating” – eating the bad stuff, anyway)
  • Decreased insulin resistance = lower risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation in the body
  • Increased fat loss while maintaining lean body mass
  • Improved brain function and neuroprotective effects

Types of intermittent fasting include:

  • Weekly fasting (5:2)
    • Limit calorie intake to 500-600 calories for 2 days out of the week.
  • Daily fasting (16:8)
    • Eat all of your normal daily calories within an 8-10 hour window and fast (0 calories) for the other 14-16 hours. 16:8 is the most common, but for females and those with difficulty regulating blood sugar, a 14-hour fast can be more ideal.
  • 24-hour fast
    • Only 0-calorie liquids allowed for a 24-hour period. Can be done several days per week, but best to alternate fasting days with healthy eating days.

With all of that being said, IF is appropriate for most people. Be sure to consult your doctor, registered dietitian, or physical therapist before trying intermittent fasting. It is important to eat an adequate amount of calories in a balanced diet for all of your meals. It’s also extremely important to maintain proper hydration (water & electrolytes), especially with longer fasts.

I have continued to do 14:10 fasting during my chemotherapy, most days of the week. There is some research that IF can reduce chemo side effects2 and I continue to feel very strongly about making sure my insulin/blood sugar regulation is under control to prevent this tumor from taking advantage of any opportunity to grow! I am very aware of my overall calorie intake as my body needs plenty of nutrients to stay strong during treatment. This is NOT a time for me (or any cancer thriver) to be in a calorie deficit!

Please feel free to leave questions about IF in the comments section below! Stay tuned for more updates on my personal journey later this week as I complete taxol/carbo #6!

Aloha!

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

This blog post is going to open up a whole can of worms for me. I feel so passionately about nutrition and I have soooo much to say so I’ve delayed writing this post because I wanted to do more research before I put just any old information out there.

Before I dive in, I want to give you a little history about my diet and health pre-cancer. I’ve been vegetarian (…well, “flexitarian”) since 2010. I chose this out of personal preference but also because there’s some decent history of heart disease in my family and I (always) like to be proactive.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

Last February, I also went off my birth control pill which I had been on for 12 years (OMG, I know!). I have always suspected that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS (symptoms can include irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, acne, excessive hair growth on the face/chest/back, and weight gain), since high school and the pill helped me to manage most of those symptoms for a long time. PCOS also goes hand in hand with insulin resistance as it is primarily a condition of hormonal imbalance.

This is where it gets juicy, guys. Insulin is a hormone that lowers our blood sugar and helps us to use those delicious carbs that we eat as fuel.
If a person has insulin resistance, their body has difficulty using blood glucose for energy/metabolism and blood glucose levels stay elevated or we begin to store it as fat. When blood sugar keeps increasing, the body produces more insulin, and on and on we go….

It sort of works like this:
If I eat a donut, or a bowl of pasta, my blood sugar increases. Then, my insulin levels go up to try to reduce my blood glucose. If my body has a limited number of insulin receptors in certain cells, the blood insulin level stays high and, in the long term, can increase my risk for developing diabetes (if I don’t already have it) or obesity.

Borrowed from: renewedvitalitymd.com

There have been many studies about the link between insulin resistance, especially in people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome (yes, we’re talking about the same insulin), and cancer. As it turns out, those with high blood insulin levels are at an increased risk for tumor development and for more rapid tumor growth.

Here’s the funny thing, though – this doesn’t only happen when we eat carbohydrates (FYI all “sugars” are carbohydrates). It can also occur when we eat animal products like meat, dairy, or eggs because those foods have something called insulin-like growth factors which are similar to insulin in that they have some ability to lower blood glucose, but they primarily promote cell growth.

Now, for someone with cancer, their tumor/s, just like every other normal cell in their body, also have insulin receptors (IR) and insulin-like growth factor receptors (IGFR). It seems that for those with insulin resistance, the IR and IGFR are more sensitive, and the tumor can grow more quickly dependent on what we eat!

If I haven’t bored you to death already, then you may be starting to understand why Justin and I have chosen to be very strict about diet during my cancer treatments. We are eating primarily vegan (no dairy, no eggs, no meat, no poultry), limiting the “bad fats,” and eliminating alcohol and processed sugars. We are far from perfect at this, and I do occasionally sneak a dark chocolate peanut butter cup from Trader Joe’s, but if I am going to kick cancer’s butt, then I need to make my body the most inhospitable place for it to live!

I’ve also been doing intermittent fasting (I fast for 16 hours, then eat all my usual daily calories in the remaining 8 hours) to help regulate my blood sugar and metabolism. I’ll save you and write about the benefits of intermittent fasting in another post!

We’ve been working with a local MD who specializes in nutrition and has recently moved his practice toward working mostly with patients with cancer.
Check him (& his delicious cookbooks) out here: http://www.drshintani.com/

I’ll let you digest this totally fascinating information, but before I do, I just want to mention one more time how important it is to know your own body! Be curious, ask your doctors questions, and if something doesn’t seem right check with your doctor – your life could depend on it!

Thanks for coming to my TED talk!

xo

Welcome

Welcome

Today, I’m out on my lanai drinking my favorite Yogi tea, and sitting down to write out some of what’s been going on in my life over the past month.

To give you a little background, I grew up in Butte, Montana, attended college at University of Montana and achieved my Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Eastern Washington University. Since then, I moved with my husband to Honolulu, Hawaii. In the past 5 years, I’ve grown in my practice as a pelvic health physical therapist. I’ve also learned the true meaning of ALOHA which I hope to carry with me through all life’s adventures.

I wanted to start this blog for multiple reasons. Primarily, so my family and friends can stay updated on my medical journey, but also so I could share my knowledge with others.

As a pelvic health physical therapist, I’ve had the unique privilege of working with breast cancer patients to help them maintain independence and wellness during their treatments. I have more to give than to just tell my story and leave it at that, so this blog will contain updates on my personal journey as well as physical therapy tips for patients with breast cancer, pelvic floor concerns, and orthopedic conditions.

I hope that my perspective will be unique and helpful. Thanks for following along!