Beauty through the Sadness

There are tulips from a beautiful bouquet my mother in law sent Lillian for her 7th birthday in a vase on my counter. They brought such joy to her face as she opened the door, which immediately brought joy to mine. Yesterday I noticed the tulips began to droop and I decided to take them out of the vase as they were stretching for sunlight. I moved them to a new vase and put them on the table and I immediately thought they looked a little sad, but beautiful. They matched my mood this week as the weather was damp and the sky dark, I had to schedule some cancer related dr. appointments, Jay was traveling leaving the house quiet, October (Pinktober for me) will be here soon,  and I was fighting sickness all week.

Though they looked a little sad, their beauty still shined through. The vibrant shades of purple color on the petals, the bright green stems, their strength as they delicately hung over the vase grasping for light all created beauty for my heart. 

Sadness has been a theme for me in my life. Grief has come in various waves, through my mother’s battle with metastatic breast cancer and death, my own diagnosis at 32 and the subsequent damage treatments and surgery have done to my body, my sisters’ BRCA status, surgeries, and my younger sister’s diagnosis at 31. Additional waves of sadness and grief have overtook me more recently dealing with my chronic illness of mold sensitivity and environmental illness (MCS).

The greatest lesson this has all taught me is there is always beauty in the sadness. In my darkest days when I couldn’t get out of bed, I would think of the joyful, beautiful moments that had yet to come. Seeing Nate and Lillian go off to Kindergarten, dancing with Nate and Lillian at their weddings, taking them to beautiful places in our country when they were older, and holding grandchildren in my arms one day. These joyful moments pulled me through.

Without sadness I wouldn’t know the extreme joy I feel when I am well and happy, in nature or with my husband, children, and those I love most. Yin and Yang. You need one to enjoy the other.

Sadness still comes and I have learned not to fight it. If you are not familiar with grief, it comes in waves. It has a way of sneaking up on you sometimes, as a wave does when your back is to the ocean. Other times I can feel it coming. Like a storm. I have learned to ride out the storm, to let the waves crash over me instead of knocking me over. Sometimes jumping into the wave is the best way to keep from getting knocked over. When I ignore the grief that is welling up into my being it knocks me over. I am tired of getting knocked over. Cancer and my chemical sensitivities have done enough of that.

So I rest when I need to. I nourish and listen to my body. I say no when I need to and yes whenever I can. I allow the grief and sadness to come and go, as it always will. No emotion lasts forever, they pass like the wind and waves. I can choose to hold onto grief and sadness or I can choose to hold onto the joy. I choose joy. 

When I feel the waves of grief rising, I know it will pass and when joy is imminent in all the cells of my body, I hold on, knowing it won’t last forever.

So yes, I am thankful for sadness. I am thankful for joy. I am thankful I am alive, because so many women have lost their lives before their life was fully lived. I carry joy as I see  my children grow and I get to grow older beside my husband. 

The beautiful purple wilted flowers are still on my counter, drooping a little lower each day. Their drooping beauty reminds me of the beauty in sadness. The beauty in grief. The beauty in joy. 

Spring (and pollen) is in the air! A natural food approach to allergies that works!

Spring in Chapel Hill is a colorful, beautiful time of year. Rebirth, renewal and lots, and lots of pollen in the air. We have about 1-2 weeks that will be approaching soon when it literally rains pollen. Since we relocated to North Carolina I learned that this area is one of the worst in the nation for allergies due to the short winter and warm climate that allows for many varieties of plants, molds, grasses, and trees to bloom. What I love about Chapel Hill, NC is also what makes my body feel terrible. 

Some people get congestion from allergies but for me and others the response is inflammatory and neurological. What I have found is a great remedy that I use throughout the day to fight the inflammation in my body. I take Gaia Turmeric Allergy Supplements when needed as an extra boost however this is my go to to combat my allergies. Last season I spent much of it indoors, however this year I am enjoying Spring! I have continued to hike, walk, garden, read outside, and enjoyed a beautiful event welcoming Spring at the Eco-Institute at Pickard's Mountain last night symptom free! 

The secret? Ginger elixir with turmeric! A ginger elixir with honey and lemon was recommended by my acupuncturist and I added in turmeric for an extra anti-inflammatory boost. The health benefits of ginger are numerous, including reducing nausea, indigestion, inflammation, viruses.  I first began having ginger tea during chemo and it did wonders for my nausea. Here is some great information on this healing food from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

The method:

 1. Peel about 1 cup of ginger (just learned a new hack of using a spoon!)  

2. Put in food processor until grated, or you can hand grate. 

3. Using a fine mesh sieve or tea infuser, pour 1.5 cups of hot water over the ginger (a large mason jar works great for this) 

4. Enjoy! Drink as a shot or sip throughout the day.  You can add some local honey (or manuka honey), lemon, or 1 tsp turmeric (another super food that is anti-inflammatory) if you would like

I leave it out in a mason jar and sip throughout the day or you can heat if you store it in the fridge. You can make it on Sunday and have it throughout the week. Mason jars travel well to work or play.  It will keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days.  What do you do with the ginger after the elixir is made? Use it for soups, chicken, fresh salad dressings,  smoothies, or sautee greens with olive oil, ginger, and garlic. YUM! 




Green Your Exercise Routine - Local Spotlight

I have always enjoyed exercising outdoors. Hiking in the woods is one of my favorite things to do. I used to love going for a run outdoors, however lately running is not agreeing with my body. I also recognized that I need strength training to prevent further bone loss. Menopause at 32 is taxing on the body and one major side effect is osteoporosis. Gyms and indoor studios mostly do not work for me due to mold, harsh cleaners, and perfume choices, so that led me to find a local outdoor exercise program. I knew that Kerry from Fit Feels Best lived in my neighborhood so I approached her to teach a boot camp class in my neighborhood. This has been such a great fit for me! We meet twice a week for an awesome outdoor work out great for all fitness levels.  I also connected with Carolina at Inspire Fitness and had some personal outdoor sessions and join her outdoor classes throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well.

So why green your exercise routine? There are so many reasons! First, it just feels great. Fresh air is wonderful when working out and can immediately shift your mood. As Carolina states, "Many of us spend a majority of our lives indoors. Our exposure to sunshine and fresh air has drastically declined. I run my fitness classes outdoors to provide clients with outdoor exercise. I really believe fresh air and fitness are good for your mind, body and soul. Nothing beats working out to a sun rise or doing yoga in a garden full of roses."

According to research studies exercising outdoors in the natural environment showed an improvement in mental well-being, great feelings of revitalization, increased energy, decrease in tension, anger and depression. Those that exercised outdoors also reported great satisfaction with their exercise routine and were more inclined to stick with their programs. Kerry from Fit Feels Best agrees that people seem to enjoy their workouts more when they are breathing fresh air and that exercising outside leaves her clients feeling more energetic with an improvement in their mood. She states, "Those positive feelings make it more likely that you will want to repeat the experience and be more inclined to continue your exercise program!"  

A great local program for new moms is Stroller Strides. There are affiliates all over the country. I wish I took advantage of this when Nate was born. Looking back it would have helped me on many levels! Locally in Chapel Hill the stroller strides is run by Amy Rosso. When asked about her classes she states, "As moms our exercise time is limited. There are creative ways to workout at home but getting out of the house to exercise with your little one is a win for many reasons: breathing fresh air, enjoying new scenery, meeting other mamas, bonding with your baby - all while getting a great workout!" FIT4MOM offers mommy and me type fitness classes including stroller strides and stroller barre which incorporate cardio, strength training, and other elements including yoga. You can learn more at Amy shared that the first class is free! 

Outdoor exercise is great to do as a family. Here is a great local list of family friendly hikes in the Triangle by Carolina Parent 

Another North Carolina Triangle local, Maria Finnegan of Maria Finnegan Fitness, offers outdoors SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) classes beginning in May. Outdoor classes are usually at Jordan Lake and she offers basic SUP classes, SUP yoga and SUP Fusion. The classes range from 60 to 90 minutes and offer a unique workout in a quiet beautiful setting.  She states, "Imagine resting in savasana and looking up at the blue sky above, feeling the gentle water beneath you as you float on your SUP, and hearing the crickets and birds chirping in the trees. When we paddle, we become very focused on the present because we need to concentrate on our movements, our balance, the way the paddle moves through the water. Whether we are paddling or practicing yoga on our boards, there is an immediate connection between our bodies and nature." She also offers indoor classes at local pool/aquatic centers and they are a great way to get practice balancing and standing on the SUP board. You can find out more about her classes at

Don't let the cold weather stop you. What are you waiting for? Get outside and green your exercise routine! There are so many options, go for a walk, a run, do jumping jacks outside, bring your yoga mat outside, maybe try an outdoor bootcamp or yoga class or search for a local stroller strides if you have a baby in tow. I will be joining Maria's SUP class this spring. If I can help find local outdoor options in your area that work for you feel free to reach out to me at! Remember another beautiful thing about exercising outdoors is it can be free! 


Resources and more info


Boot Camp Class with Kerry at Fit Feels Best

Boot Camp Class with Kerry at Fit Feels Best

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Maria Finnegan's SUP Class basics before hitting the water

Maria Finnegan's SUP Class basics before hitting the water

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Our house remodel saga, from mild to severe Chemical Sensitivity

I remember waking up every morning for approximately 2 months, with my first thought being, "Please let that have just been a bad nightmare." But then I would feel the symptoms immediately, numbness, brain fog, electrical zaps, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, and I would realize just like my cancer diagnosis, "This is my life, it was not a nightmare."

I would then take a few deep breaths to release and "make" myself ok as mothers do so I could take care of Nate and Lillian and get through the day and find joy amongst the craziness that was happening in my body. My morning mantra was and still is, "I am healthy, I am happy, I am free."

How did this start? In March we started a bathroom renovation due to a leaky shower. We decided to redo the bathroom and I was as careful as I knew how. I researched, made sure products were not off-gassing as they went in. I smelled tile, grout, the insulated tub, vanity, and I thought I was careful, but I made a big mistake not realizing how sensitive my system was. What did me in was the silicone caulk used to adhere the glass on the frameless shower doors. It contains VOC's and anti mildew agents. I spoke with the company and they assured me smell would be gone in 1 day and was the lowest VOC product on the market. However turns out none of that was correct, so I chalked it up to another learning experience. 

As I type this it is 9 months later and I still can't get into the space of our master bedroom and bath. Turns out it contaminated the entire space for me and any steps we have taken have not been enough to let me back in the space. So we are hoping that more time will make it ok. In the meantime we converted the playroom to our bedroom and although inconvenient, we are making it work and we are waking up to the beautiful sunlit trees. We have a safe house for me otherwise, we have our family, and I can cook in my kitchen :) So we are rolling with it all best as we can, of course some days better than others, but it's a journey right?

Second event was the completion of our screened in porch. We already couldn't be in our bedroom and I suggested we wait to do the porch because at this point I was very nervous about any other additions. But against my better judgement I ok'd the porch. I was again careful making sure to use non toxic paints and stain, and flooring that did not off gas. However I had a very large slip in judgement that I didn't realize.  The wood used was saturated in chemicals to make it withstand the elements (so crazy I didn't realize that in hindsight.) The day the porch was done, I literally had to flee my house. It was off-gassing into our home and I was vomiting for hours locked in the upstairs bathroom, the one safe room left for me. It was the last day of school for the kids. Luckily my sister swept in, helped get the kids settled as I proceeded to vomit outside the front of my house. A good friend was traveling and we found a safe haven at her house in the neighborhood.  I knew about people with severe MCS and I knew too much about what the road ahead could look like. I  literally thought I was dying.  I was lucky my sister was there reminding me I would be ok, I just needed time to detox the chemicals. And then came that life lesson again, one day at a time. 

As I escaped my house, we were fortunate enough to have 2 safe houses locally for me to escape to with the kids. I began to take one day at a time, tried to get them to swim, kept them entertained and began to treat it like an adventure. I would say things like, "It's not every day you get to play with your best friend's toys without them being home" while wondering if I would ever be able to live in our home again. Our "adventure" took us up to NJ and NYC to see family and friends and I coped the best I could. Truth is I don't feel great in most other people's homes, but the kids were great and although I didn't know what tomorrow would bring, I knew I would be o.k. I had to be, in my mind I didn't have a choice. 

As we took it day by day, I recovered from the assault on my body and immune system. I have bad moments, bad days when I am exposed to various chemicals, but also many great days. I now have more good days than bad and try my best to avoid stores, school, and other homes that make me ill. I can walk into a home and know immediately if they use chemicals in cleaning products or if has off-gassing furniture. This is not a skill I want and I try to tune it out as best as I can. It is difficult to disengage from what is happening in my body after being forced to be so in tune after my cancer diagnosis. Especially since it feels so terrible. 

Being mold and chemically sensitive is very difficult in today's world. Although my body has recovered I am still considered to be severely sensitive to mold and chemicals. I react to almost everything. Stores are very difficult for me so I try to do mostly online shopping. My clothes are organic cotton and new items must be washed at least 10 times and soaked in vinegar and dish soap. This is my life. Not the life I imagined, but I am alive. A great lesson from being a breast cancer survivor is that each day matters. My daily life consists of avoiding toxins, being outside as much as possible, cooking nourishing foods, researching and connecting with other like minded people. I am on a quest to help diminish my symptoms to make life easier for my family and I. 

This morning the song, "Home is wherever I'm with you" came on our playlist. It is true, home for me is whenever I am with Jay, Nate and Lillian. I may be mold and chemically sensitive, and yes our world has gotten a little smaller as there are limits where I can go, but I feel grateful for each day. And yes there are positive things that have come out of this situation. My children will be healthier. I can help share information with others. I have great empathy for anyone dealing with chronic illness. My marriage is stronger than ever and I try to make the most of each day. When I feel good I feel great and relish in it because I know that tomorrow may be different. Life is messy. Control of most things is an illusion as things can change in the blink of an eye, so I focus on what I can, finding joy today. Here is to enjoying the messy, beautiful, heartbreaking, joyous journey of life!