After my breast cancer diagnosis, I found myself overwhelmed by what to buy or put into my body. I consulted with a naturopath, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, three oncologists, and a functional medicine doctor. I tried a bunch of different products to ease my anxiety, lower my stress, and help me recover from breast cancer. Here are 18 of my favorite products that supported me during chemo and radiation.
1. Yoga Mat
During my breast cancer recovery, I found myself on my yoga mat a lot more than usual. Not only did I use it during my yoga practice, but it's where I went to meditate on hard decisions or lay in corpse pose after a long day of chemo.
But did you know that just like sunscreens and skin care products, yoga mats can be toxic, filled with PVC, phthalates, dyes, and other harmful products? For a product that you'll be sweating and pressing your body against possibly for hours every day, it's really important to buy a high-quality mat that won't expose you to harmful chemicals that can disrupt your hormones. You can read more about those toxic substances and the best nontoxic mats at Umbel Organics.
My favorite mat is the Manduka eKOlite made with responsibly sourced all-natural rubber free from phthalates, dyes, and other harmful chemicals.
2. Aerial Yoga Swing
I love using my yoga swing to do long inversions (which helps your lymphatic system) or just to cocoon myself up on a bad day. I have two hanging from a beam near our TV, so my daughter and I can get some exercise or just hang or swing while we're watching a movie. The yoga swing can also help you stretch after a hard workout, alleviate stress, and get into inversions easier for back problems.
Most of the yoga swings I've found are made of nylon (Don't let the "silk" deceive you). After doing a lot of research and comparing different swings, I decided I could live with the nylon material, which isn't a carcinogen but has been known to irritate skin and isn't produced in the most sustainable way. You can read more about the production of nylon in this article about breast cancer and acrylic fibers at Oceotextiles.
Yoga4You's Aerial Yoga Swing comes in a lot of different colors, has handles that make it easier to use, and can be set up in a few minutes by yourself without needing to call in a handyman or neighbor for help. I love it and wouldn't want to live without it.
3. Far Infared Sauna
My far infrared sauna is still one of my favorite purchases six years after I was diagnosed with cancer. Not only does it allow me to sweat more (which is important for someone like me with the MTHFR mutation), but it helps me sleep better, has lowered my heavy metal toxicities, and is just a great way to detox and relax, not to mention it offers some of the benefits of heavy exercise and detoxes your skin to give you a healthy glow. This article by Oriental Remedies Group says it has the following benefits:
Improved circulation and skin complexion
Strengthened cardiovascular system
I chose Heavenly Heat Infared Saunas because they're very clean and nontoxic (You want to make sure you don't buy a brand that uses a type of wood containing terpenes, which can harm the human nervous system). Cedar and Aspen grown at high altitudes are supposed to be the best.
4. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive Enzymes help the body break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. They can improve digestion, methylation (especially if you have the MTHFR mutation like I do), and help you absorb nutrients. My doctor recommended Wobenzyme, which is also great for muscle recovery and joint pain. And it's the one supplement that I've found many of my doctors take themselves.
My TCM doctor told me kelp is helpful for mitigating the negative effects of radiation. In fact, according to Dr. Axe, kelp can help:
Support a healthy thyroid
Decrease cancer growth
Treat and prevent diabetes
Prevent blood-related disorders
Act as an anti-inflammatory
Prevent bone loss
A natural source of iodine, kelp can be added to soups, breads, salads—practically anything—and its taste is barely noticeable. I love using Main Coast Vegetables Alternative. I add it to everything; it's virtually a salt-like alternative made of kelp, even though it looks more like pepper.
6. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil calms me and keeps me optimistic. Cathy Wong, MD, writes that lavender essential oil helps with:
My favorite lavender oil is a local company, Rivendell Aromatics, near my home in Ojai, Calif. DoTerra and Young Living also make amazing lavender essential oils. Regardless of where you buy your essential oils, make sure they’re high quality and organic.
A great gift idea for a cancer patient is to put together a basket or gift box of high-grade essential oils with a diffuser. Here are some good other great essential oil choices for breast cancer patients:
Helicrysum italicum has been used since Homer's time to cure skin ailments and heal wounds. It's especially great for:
An earthy or musky smell which I also love, Dr. Axe says frankincense:
Enhances the immune system
Destroys dangerous bacterias, viruses, and possibly cancers
Acts as an anti-inflammatory
Has Antiseptic qualities
Rocky Mountain's Lymph Support Essential Oil blend was designed especially for lymphatic support and includes Myrtle, Sage, Nutmeg, Geranium, Myrrh, and German Chamomile in a base of 60% Fractionated Coconut Oil. This oil blend supports the immune and lymphatic systems.
You can also make your own lymph blend with coconut oil and your favorite essential oil blend.
On Guard by doTERRA supports healthy immune function and has antiseptic ingredients, including Wild Orange Peel, Clove Bud, Cinnamon Leaf, Cinnamon Bark, Eucalyptus Leaf, and Rosemary Leaf/Flower essential oils.
Another musky smell good for both women and men, sandalwood is:
A natural relaxant
Lowers blood pressure
I love Aura Cacia's Sandalwood made in Jojoba Oil with organic ingredients. You can usually find this brand at your local Rite Aide or CVS, and it's very affordable. High-quality pure sandalwood essential oil can be very expensive.
Aura Cacia and Now Foods both make a great rose oil mixed with Jojoba and rank well on EWG's Skin Deep database.
Otherwise, pure rose oil can also be really expensive. If you want to splurge, I recommend Young Living Essential Rose Oil.
My TCM doctor told me it's very important for cancer patients to get plenty of electrolytes. He suggested drinking Smart Water regularly, though I prefer to buy Dr. Berg's Electrolyte Powder that I can add to my water and comes in different flavors. Gatorade, although higher in sugar, is always a good go-to as well, especially if you need the calories.
Electrolytes are minerals that have many benefits, according to WebMD, including:
Regulating PH levels
Food sources of electrolytes include:
Sea salt dark chocolate
8. Dry Brush
Gwyneth Paltrow is a big advocate of dry brushing and sells a great dry brush on Goop. Make sure your brush is made with clean, non-toxic ingredients. According to Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, MD. at the Cleveland Clinic, dry brushing is great for:
Improving lymphatic flow and drainage
Increasing blood circulation
Detoxifying your skin
9. Coffee Enemas
My grandmother used to swear by coffee enemas and she lived to be well into her nineties with few health problems. It wasn't until I read about the Gerson Therapy that I decided to try them myself at home.
Although the benefits of coffee enemas are controversial, Dr. Leslie Korn writes that they're good for:
Supporting liver function
Enhancing Glutathione S transferase (which in turn enhances the liver phase 2 detoxification pathway)
Dilating blood vessels
I use this Aussie Co. Coffee Enema Kit I bought on Amazon and certified organic therapy coffee from Gerson's or Bulletproof Coffee. I personally prefer the metal bucket over the plastic bucket that some websites sell.
This is another game-changer that I go back to often to clear out my liver and feel rejuvenated. I was hesitant at first to try it myself, but it's actually pretty easy and not very messy if you do it in the bathtub, and it offers immediate results. Dr. Leslie Korn describes in detail how to do a coffee enema.
You can also go to a professional colon hydrotherapy clinic. I love Espirit in Ventura, Calif.
10. The Artist's Way Morning Pages
Another item that makes a great gift for a woman going through breast cancer, The Artist's Way, was another game-changer for me. The foundation of Julia Cameron's program are the morning pages, a daily ritual where you fill up your journal with handwritten stream-of-conscious writings that help you purge negative emotions during your breast cancer recovery. Six years later, it's still a practice that I continually come back to in order to boost my creativity; to get clear about what's working or not working in my life; or simply to explore what's going on in my mind.
Bundling The Artist's Way with some handmade pens and journals makes another great gift for someone going through chemo and radiation—especially that someone who's had to put her creativity aside to raise her kids or work a job she doesn't enjoy. I highly recommend this practice.
A beautiful woman with great taste gifted me this Wrap Up Robe by VP during my chemo treatment, and although I've gone through three of these robes since then, I love it! It's cozy and pretty, and when you don't feel like going out during chemo and radiation, a high-quality robe can be very inviting and makes a lovely gift.
Meditation was another game-changer for me during chemo and radiation. It helped me reduce stress and make important decisions with a clearer mind. Although I didn't start using this tool until late in my recovery, the Muse headband 2 is one of my favorite meditation tools. I'm not a fan of being connected to technology while I meditate, in general, but the benefits of the Muse app are really profound. By listening to different sounds during your meditation, you're able to learn how to recover more quickly and get into a theta-wave brain state.
It's not cheap, however, so if you're on a budget and can't afford it, don't let that stop you from meditating. There are so many free guided meditations on the internet, or you can just do it the old-fashioned way; that is, find a place to sit and just close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Every time you get a thought, try to let it go and come back to your center and start again. Even 5 minutes of meditation daily has many benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation can help with:
High blood pressure
Irritable bowel syndrome
13. Earthing Mat
Earthing reduces inflammation, pain, and stress; improves sleep; and improves your overall well-being. Although it's ideal to walk barefoot on the ground or beach every day, most of us don't get enough natural earthing or grounding, so I bought an earthing mat that I connect to a grounding plug, and it gives me a full night of earthing right in my bed. I've noticed my sleep is deeper and I have less inflammation.
14. GAPS Diet
GAPS, which stands for Gut & Psychology Syndrome, is an excellent diet for people like me with the MTHFR mutation or anyone suffering from gastrointestinal problems or autoimmune disorders. The mainstay of this diet is bone broth, which you sip throughout the day and it helps improve your joints, boost your collagen levels, improve your immunity, and seal your gut. This Heal Your Gut Cookbook is one of my favorites, but you can also just make bone broth at home. Dr. Axe explains the difference between bone broth and stock and the benefits of a bone broth fast.
15. Blue Blockers
Blue light from your phone and computer screens can have a negative impact on your health and has been linked to cancer. I bought blue-blocker glasses that I wear as much as I can while I'm on the screen, especially at night.
You can also get blue blockers added to your prescription glasses. Talk to your optometrist about it.
16. Cold Caps
Are you afraid of losing your hair during chemo? Penguin Cold Caps, though expensive and not exactly comfortable, can keep you from losing your hair during chemo. There may be some risks involved that you might want to talk to your doctor about, but if keeping your hair intact is as important to you as it was to me, you might want to look at the research of scalp metastasis with cold caps. The picture of my daughter and me on my About Us page was taken two weeks after my last round of chemo with Penguin Cold Caps.
17. Super Greens
I love Dr. Axe's Organic Super Greens. It helps me get all the detoxifying greens I need, even if my diet doesn't always give me enough nutrients, and I usually slip it into smoothies or soups.
18. CBD Oil & Medical Marijuana
If you're lucky enough to live in a state where you can get your hands on CBD oil or medical marijuana, research shows that both are effective for cancer recovery. Benefits include:
Relief from nausea and vomiting
Act as an antioxidant
If you don't live in a state where you can purchase marijuana or CBD oil, you might ask your doctor about using FDA-approved capsules that contain THC.
Please know that I'm not a physician and you should always consult your own oncologist before you take any supplements or try any therapies. Please read my medical disclaimer.