Strong As Mountain, Gentle As Feather

Goddess of Compassion series - painting by Mara Friedman -
“Shall we listen to music while we check out our products?”   My dear friend Pamela has a knack of turning even the most challenging situation into a memorable moment.
“How about Mozart?  Light and pure and full of sunshine, like we want all our personal care products to be!”
It was that terrible time of chemotherapy when my hair was falling out, my defenses were low, my self-image at rock bottom.  The latest blow had come when Pamela and I went to Cary to buy wigs and scarves. 
“You know that all your shampoos and soaps and bath oils are probably carcinogenic?”  A well-meaning cancer survivor was trying to be helpful, but her tone of voice was downright scary.  She handed us a sheet of all the things to watch out for.  “Check everything you use and make sure none of these ingredients ever enters your home.”
My heart sank.  I was already exhausted from chemo and now it seemed that even my take-me-away bubble bath was a danger, not a solace.
I ran my eyes down the list of forbidden ingredients.  I couldn’t even pronounce any of them, much less memorize them for future reference.  “I can’t do this.”  I knew how silly it sounded.  I could manage surgery, chemotherapy, a compromised immune system, fatigue, weekly blood tests and all the other challenges related to having been diagnosed with cancer, but having to monitor my shampoo seemed like the last straw.
“We’ll do it together!  This list is just as important for me as it is for you.”  Pamela was right.  Ridding the body and the home of toxins is an important goal for anyone, not just those stricken with cancer.  When I saw my friend’s eyes light up, I knew she had a plan.
“Let’s have a ‘transformation celebration’ !”  Her enthusiasm convinced me.  A few days later there we were with our bottles and jars spread out in front of the computer.  It really was easy, just as she predicted.  We had discovered the Environmental Working Group and their online safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products.  We opened their database, www.cosmeticsdatabase.com, and checked each of our items for its rating, a possible 0 – 9.  We set our goal:  we would only use items that scored a perfect 0.  Zero carcinogens, zero hazards, zero toxins.
None of our products was safe.  Not a single one.  Even the baby shampoo tested in the mild danger zone, and some of the lotions we bought from the health food co-op were in the high danger area.  “I can’t just throw all these things away!”  I was in tears, imagining the dollar bills I was burning, but also scared because no one was protecting me, not even my friendly co-op.
“Just toss it.”  Pamela’s mantra was starting to sound soothing.  I threw away product after product, and with each satisfying “plop” of a bottle into the trash, I felt lighter, more full of sunshine, more like the Mozart concerto that accompanied our party.  No more ignorance, and no more blaming FDA or the government or the world.  We had the key to one aspect of good health right in front of us – this wonderful database which not only listed all the truly safe products which we now called our “Magic Zero items”, but also had links to buy them online.
Almost two years later, I don’t miss any of those old soaps or hand creams or toothpastes or sun screens, and the temporary loss of money was unimportant compared to the freedom and peace of mind I discovered.  My life and good health are definitely worth a few hundred dollars!  I found a woman who makes all her cleansing creams by hand, another woman-owned business that continually develops new products with that coveted zero rating.
It turns out that these beautifully healthy products are no more expensive than the fancy brand names or health food items I used to prize.   I chat with these inventive, inspiring women  frequently, give samples of their wares as Christmas and birthday gifts, feel like a powerful goddess each time I wash my face or shampoo my hair.
Oh, and by the way, I do have hair again to shampoo!  Seven months with no hair really helps you appreciate even a “bad hair day”.  Taking my health into my own hands makes me feel strong as mountain, filling my life with only the purest and healthiest personal care products makes me feel gentle as feather.  Living well does not have to be difficult, even in a world where baby shampoo can cause cancer.  I have choices.  I’m free to choose what nurtures me.
“Like Mozart!” I smile, remembering  the music we played as we tossed away potential poisons.  I’ll have to invite Amadeus to the party next month – the one where we celebrate two years of freedom from toxins.
— Julie Harris, August 18, 2010

— Update January 26, 2013:  More than four years since the cancer diagnosis, and Magic Zero items are now our way of life!!  Here are some links to specific products Pamela and I discovered over the past four years:

Poofy Organics  wonderful shampoos, body butters, lotions, baby products and lots more

Garden of Eve  safest and finest skin care products imaginable

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