You may have discovered Glamorganic Goddess (Danielle) during your beauty blog reading. If so, you already know parts of her amazing story, from her career as a professional ice skater, to her battle with Stage II Breast Cancer at 31. But there’s so much more to Glam’s story than is contained on her blog. So we asked her to share it here at HBP.
This Wellness Story is longer than usual, but we wanted to give as much of her story as possible. It’s so rich with information and details that we didn’t want you to miss. So grab a cup of tea and relax with us. You won’t be sorry.
HBP: Tell us some snippets about your life, as a point of reference for everything else we’re going to discuss. We already stated that you were diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer at 31, but give us a little personal background.
GG: I was an ice skating starlet since the age of two and wearing makeup since my first figure skating competition at 4 years old. I’ve always lived a glamorous life.I had a 29 year skating career overall. But when I was diagnosed, I did a lot of soul-searching and stopped coaching skating. Idecided it was time for the next chapter of my life… and time to pursue a new passion- which had always been makeup, and beauty products, just with a healthy twist.
HBP: Your site says it’s your mission to help women choose affordable and safe cosmetics. How did you first learn that beauty products contain carcinogens?
GG: My Mom had always been into Holistic & Organic Living and had mentioned it to me after my diagnosis. I had really never been into “Natural”, “Holistic”, “Organic”, “Green” or anything even remotely close to a “Tree-Hugger” (ha-ha), etc., until I my diagnosis. She printed out a list she found on the internet of all the chemicals to avoid in your beauty products that contained carcinogens. I had only ever heard about Parabens, and didn’t take them too seriously because I thought everything HAD to be regulated in the US before it could be put on the market… Silly me!
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a website called Breast Cancer Action (BCA) and their “Think Before You Pink” campaign that I began to realize that I needed to pay attention to what I was using on my skin, because what you use on your skin- goes in. I found a wealth of UNBIASED information about the causes of Breast Cancer on the BCA website. I had never heard of Pink-washing before, and was astonished to find out that it occurred in beauty products more than anywhere else. It also wasn’t just about slapping the pink ribbon on the products and profiting, it was about putting the pink ribbon on products that contained carcinogens! BCA is one of the most reliable and informative resources I’ve come across to this day!
HBP: When you discovered all of this, how did you feel?
GG: I felt so taken advantage of and so angry! It was really then that I began digging a little deeper and came across The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and The Skin Deep Database… and I looked up my products. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G I was using had to go. It was ALL carcinogenic! I couldn’t believe how many things there were to avoid, and even more so, I couldn’t believe how many of them were in just about every single one of the products I was using… multiple times a day… and, I was layering them on in combination- unknowingly whipping up crazy carcinogenic cocktails and slathering them onto my body.
I thought that in this day and age, in this country… there could be no possible way that these things weren’t tested for safety! I found out that only 13% of ingredients used in personal care products have been reviewed by a self-regulated industry. WHAT??? Meaning it’s on the honor-system. Seriously?! I was horrified, to say the least. You can’t un-know something like that once you know it. The reason why this was so important to me was because I knew it was something I HAD control of when everything else seemed so out of my control.
HBP: So you did this research on your own. Did you discuss the possibilities of changing your lifestyle and beauty products with your doctor?
GG: I did, and they totally blew it off. When I was first diagnosed, I was told I had a lot of serious decisions to make which were entirely up to me, because I would have to be the one to live with them for the rest of my life. As soon as I found out what it was- I had spoken to a close family friend (Dr. Nick Abrishamian) who is a Nutritionist and Biochemist. He was THE ONLY Dr. who told me that I needed to completely change my lifestyle. I had asked all of the treating Doctors how they thought I got Cancer, how long they thought I’d had it, and what I could do to prevent it from coming back in the future.
He was the only one who mentioned carcinogens in beauty products, and when I brought it up- the others told me not to worry about it, that everything was safe (including the toxic ingredients in the topical burn lotion from Radiation that they had given me that contained carcinogens). Unanimously 3 out of the 4 said “Well, we don’t really know what causes Cancer”. Only 1 out of the 4 mentioned anything about a diet (which was the Nutritionist/Biochemist) – and when I asked the other 3 about it, they gave me a Beauty Pageant Answer and said that I needed to eat a balanced Standard American Diet (SAD Diet) and exercise.
I thought I was doing all the right things- and Cancer was the result. I was already exercising at least 21 hours a week by coaching figure skating lessons. So what now? Apparently what I was doing wasn’t working for me… and it became clear that they we were on very different pages. I knew some other things had to change, and right away- my life depended on it. All I could think about was… Where does all that money from the Walks, Races, Bracelets, Fundraisers, Benefit Concerts and Pink Ribbon Products go again?
HBP: So, mainstream doctors were telling you lifestyle wasn’t as vitally important as you were reading it was. Did you consider seeing a naturopath or other nature based doctor?
YES! I desperately wanted to (and still really, really do)… but haven’t been able to do so without having a steady job since the whole ordeal and without medical insurance. Cancer comes with BIG bills! Where I live it’s upwards of $300.00- $400.00 for just a consultation with a Naturopath… So I started watching as many movies, and reading as many books and websites as I could get my hands on that deal with the subject. Some of my biggest influences…
HBP: Where did you find your first natural or organic beauty brands? Health food store, beauty store, online, etc.?
I found my first natural/ organic products at my local Whole Foods Market and Online through The EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. Honestly, I had never used really natural or organic products before (was unknowingly using fakers) and I, like most- also believed they didn’t work as well as chemical-laden conventional ones. The difference is that I no longer had the freedom to be careless. My life was now dependant on a crash-course in reading ingredient labels in another language (like oh, say, Latin?) in case I didn’t have enough on my plate!
The database is one of the very reasons you are reading my blog. I came across it shortly after I was diagnosed. I knew I had no choice but to lessen the toxic burden on my body. The deal I made with myself was that when I replaced necessities, they would be absolute the cleanest and greenest I could find, but they still had to work! I had one shot to buy a product THAT WORKED. I couldn’t afford to buy something more expensive and not use it if I didn’t like it. This is one reason I’m a huge advocate for product samples, even if you have to buy them.
HBP: Did you see an immediate change in your health when you changed your beauty routine?
Yes and no. I have to admit it didn’t all happen with a magical “Poof” quite as quickly as I had hoped, but I later on realized that it’s probably because I had been using Natural “Fakers” and Organic “Cheater” Brands and didn’t know it! Ooohh! “Big Beauty” is sneaky, sneaky, sneaky!
I had to teach myself to look past the pretty bottles, ignore the miraculous marketing claims and skip directly to the ingredient lists. With practice (lots and lots, because I like pretty bottles) it became more like second-nature to me. I have actually learned to see the glass half-full again… and buy products for what IS in them that will make me healthy, rather than what’s NOT in them like preservatives, fillers, emulsifiers, fragrance, etc., (unless they’re safe, healthy and natural of course).
Once I truly made the switch though- I saw an immediate change… called D-E-T-O-X!! Yikes, Lol. It was pretty rough, and I undeservingly broke-up with several honestly healthy products in the fiasco. I had no idea to expect that! Initially, I had a really difficult transition, but once I got past that (which I thought was never going to end, BTW), I was good to go for the most part!
HBP: So what were some of the things that changed for you?
No more creepy-crawly, itchy legs or rashes.
No more watery eyes or eyelashes falling out.
No more dry, damaged hair, itchy scalp, or huge handfuls of it coming out- even though I color it, Plus, it’s really shiny and way less frizzy- I don’t blow dry my hair anymore- wash it the night before and let it air dry.
No more dry, brittle nails.
No more really dry skin, except in a few tiny spots in the winter- I also dry brush.
Fewer breakouts- which really took a very long time- also changed my diet and started juicing.
Less seasonal allergies in general- I only use liquid or pressed powder make-up now.
HBP: Can you tell us how you felt during your ordeal? Did you have a lack of energy? Did you feel sick?
I felt fine… I actually wasn’t sick at all at the time (I wasn’t like what you would picture Cancer-sick to be like), so it was a complete shock!
Looking back over the few years leading up to the diagnosis, I was EXTREMELY tired all the time which we chalked-up to a combination of being over-worked and Hypothyroidism. I was under a tremendous amount of stress from working myself to the point of exhaustion running my own online skating boutique business in addition to teaching skating- both which were busy the same time of year.
I did get sick quite often (the colds lasted longer and longer and got worse and worse each time) but I worked like a crazy-lady 7 days a week, 6 of which were with children who coughed, sneezed and wiped their runny little noses all over their mittens and then wanted to hold hands and hug me during their skating lessons! LOL. So, I just thought it was that. I went to several doctors who couldn’t tell me what was wrong, and it made me crazy that they couldn’t figure it out. So at first (before it hit home) – it was almost an emotional relief to know that they had finally figured it out- although it was Cancer.
HBP: Emotionally, how did you take the diagnosis?
For the longest time I woke up crying every morning (thinking it was just a bad dream), staring at the ceiling as soon as I opened my eyes each day- saying over and over again “I have Cancer” because I didn’t believe it. It was totally rock-bottom for me. Now, it seems as if those days were a lifetime ago for the most part. It does get easier with time. Every day is a choice, and I choose to live.
HBP: Did you opt for chemo?
My Oncotype Dx Score (which determines if the doctors think you would benefit from chemo or not) fell in the middle- so they gave me a choice. I entertained the idea briefly, but was terrified and decided against it luckily. I felt scared into thinking I needed it (because I was so young) even though I wasn’t comfortable what it really was… “Poison” (to kill cancerous cells) but taking healthy, new cells along with it… destroying my immune system when it needed to be built up more than anything. I knew breaking it down wasn’t the answer for me. Plus, I definitely didn’t want to lose my hair, and I didn’t want to get sick either- I saw the nightmare-ish effects it had on others day in and day out on my trips to the Cancer Center for Radiation Treatments. Horrifying wasn’t even the word. They say “Cut”, “Burn”, “Poison” = Surgery, Radiation, Chemo.
HBP: So what treatments did you have?
I had two surgeries in one week: Lumpectomy surgery on my Left Breast (right over my heart), and Re-excision of the Lumpectomy site to get Clean Borders (meaning no Cancer Cells were left in me)/ Lymph Node Removal (to make sure the Cancer hadn’t traveled).
33 Radiation Treatments over 6 weeks.
Two Oncologists Have Prescribed Tamoxifen- but I have still declined to take it to this day. I am not comfortable depending on a pharmaceutical drug for 5 years that has a side effect of exchanging one cancer for two other types of cancer (endometrial & uterine- even though it’s a small percentage) that would permanently change the natural processes of my body forcing me into early menopause. I also was told that I wouldn’t be able to try to have children for 7 years, if that’s even possible (I would be 39 by then- increasing my risk of cancer even more). They didn’t want to make any promises if I took the medication. I was told to consider having my eggs frozen at the cost of over $60,000 + storage each year that I didn’t use them. I would also have to have so many extra tests done! Being single- and without medical insurance… this really wasn’t an option for me.
So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and re-vamp my ENTIRE Lifestyle… Mind, Body and Soul. My motto from the beginning has always been the “Cancer Picked The Wrong Bitch”.
HBP: What is the medical diagnosis on your health today? Is the cancer gone? In remission? etc.
I am currently on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet and take several vitamins and nutritional supplements prescribed by my Nutritionist/ Biochemist. I get blood tests regularly, and follow conventional methods of prescribed testing done by my Medical Oncologist, Surgeon & Radiologist to monitor my health. The recommended Treatment Plan for me at the moment is one MRI, at least 2 Mammograms & several Ultra-Sounds per year (plus the Tamoxifen and Chemo).
That’s a lot of radiation… especially since they can’t really read my Mammogram very clearly (due to my age, the density of my breasts and now the scar tissue after the surgery). When I get a Mammogram, it ends up being an all-day affair, because they have to re-take the pictures several times. The breast that I had surgery on is in excruciating pain every single day as it is (I can’t even sleep on it at night. It feels like little electrical shocks going through the nipple it at all times- probably the nerves that they cut during surgery. They told me it will probably be like that forever), so the whole mammo thing is an absolute night-mare! I am bruised for weeks afterwards. I think there has to be a healthier, more effective way for the detection of Breast Cancer for younger women with dense breasts.
HBP: So what’s next? How do you view your life and your ordeal going forward?
I have some scheduled tests coming up in the next few months. I just try to take it one day at a time and try to do my best as I’m still in the process of figuring out my “Cancer-Picked-The-Wrong-Bitch” Game Plan. As far as I know- I have some cysts, but the Cancer has been gone since the day I had surgery. I know it may be silly- but I hardly ever refer to myself as “having” or “living” with Cancer or being “in remission”. You either have it or you don’t, and it can always return.
It depends upon if your lifestyle switches those little genes on or off. I like to say I “had” it or “was diagnosed with”… as in- “in the past”- since they removed “it” during surgery (unless of course I’m throwing a Pity-Party for myself, or pulling the Cancer-Card, ha-ha)! They say what you think about, you bring about. Call it denial or whatever, but I don’t want to possess it. I have accepted it, but will never own that word. I still get scared, but for the most part it seems to get better with time. Whenever I start to worry about it coming back- I try visualize Miss Pac-Man going through my body as the board and eating all the unhealthy stuff!
My Wellness Story is a column that allows women to share their health and beauty related experiences. HBP does not present them as medical advice, nor do we necessarily endorse every statement made by our guests. If you are experiencing any health-related problems, please seek out a licensed health professional. Glamorganic Diva chose not to use her real name for this story.