When Arielle and I first started exploring the vitamin world, it was clear we needed to work on a formulation for growing healthy hair. Hair loss and thinning hair is one of the most emotional things that we see in the office, especially for women. We used our experience and our research to work on the proper combination of vitamins and then got input from our dermatology colleagues. Little did we know, that it would impact my own mother a year later when she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The formulation was tweaked for my mom as she lost her hair to chemotherapy. Surprisingly, my her hair grew back thicker and more luxurious than before treatment. Her hairdresser noticed and started selling our product from her salon. This led to other hair salons carrying our multivitamins tailored to hair growth. It looked like we were on to something! Three years later, people all over the country benefit from our vitamins for hair loss.
A year later, during spring break, I felt an awareness of my left breast. I scheduled a mammogram while I was still on vacation upon my return home. Subsequently, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Needless to say, at 43 it was a shock. My mother had been screened for the most commonly detected genetic mutation causing breast cancer, BRCA, and was negative. I had gained a false sense of security from her having had this negative test. Before making my surgical decisions, I met with a wonderful geneticist and counselor. Testing included a more extensive panel based on my family history and recent discoveries in breast cancer genetics. Ultimately, I tested positive for CHEK-2, a mutation I had never heard of that increased my risk of Breast Cancer by over 25%.
Based on my increased lifetime risk of another cancer, I chose to undergo double mastectomy and lymph node dissection. This was the right decision for me, but certainly is not the answer for everyone. My treatment involved major surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. My health care team has been amazing from start to finish, but it has none the less been a long an taxing year. I was determined to fight this and look and feel as normal as possible. There were times, when I felt far from normal, but looking back on it there were several things that helped me through.
Initially, I tried a new technique to keep your hair during chemo. Cold caps are popular in Europe and being used more in the US. They are helpful in preventing some hair loss with chemo. I very much wanted my kids to continue to see me with my long shiny hair. It helped keep my hair somewhat for the first 10-12 weeks but did not last the full 20 weeks of chemotherapy. By then end my hair was gone. The good news is my three boys came to fondly refer to me as “bald mom” as we laughed around the dinner table. Turns out the humor was probably more helpful then the cold caps.
I also started to use our Vous Power Up™ Situational Supplements to help me during chemotherapy. They provided me with extra electrolytes that I badly needed. I also found them helpful in preventing some of the side effects that many experience with chemo including neuropathy (tingling hands and feet) and GI symptoms. I also updated my Vous Vitamin® personalized multivitamin for a formulation more focused on hair growth and energy. When I was going through chemo I was particularly susceptible to illness and kept Immune Blast™ close at hand.
Now a little over 6 months after chemo my hair is thicker than ever and growing so fast. I can’t even wear my wig anymore because of my thick head of hair! It is the first thing that people mention when they see me. I finally feel like I have recovered from the fog of chemo and the toll of that long year on my body.
This journey has been humbling, enlightening, and full of love. The support of my family and friends has been immeasurable. I have returned to work as a more compassionate physician than ever before. There are many things that I have brought back to my own practice of medicine.
A few things that I have learned that I want every woman to know:
- Please get your mammograms! Do not listen to anyone than tells you they are controversial or not useful. Most clinicians agree on screening starting at age 40. If you have dense breast tissue, please discuss a follow-up ultrasound with your health care provider as this is becoming more common practice to help identify some cancers that are not easily seen on screening mammogram (though mammogram is still the gold standard and must be done first). If you feel something not right, seek an opinion from a breast specialist, even if your mammogram is normal.
- There are more genes for breast cancer than the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that have been publicized by Angela Jolie. They are learning more on this front every day. If you have a strong family history of breast or other cancers, please discuss this with your health care provider. You may benefit from a consultation with a geneticist. However, do know that only a small percentage of breast cancer is genetic. No family history of this disease does not mean that you will not get it. Unfortunately one in eight women will get it in their lifetime.
- Listen to your body and follow-up with your health care provider if there is anything concerning.
- Count your blessings, take your vitamins and wear whatever hair you have with confidence!
With much appreciation for everyone’s support and well wishes,
Romy Block specializes in Endocrinology and Metabolism and is mother to three active adolescent boys. Arielle Levitan is a Doctor of Internal Medicine with a special interest in Preventive Medicine and Women’s Health. She is a mother of three teen agers. As professional women with active family lives, they recognize that people often neglect their own health needs and are uncertain about what vitamins to take. Each person is different in her diet, exercise and health history, and will benefit from different nutrients. After years of advising their patients about the proper vitamins to take, Drs. Block and Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins that are suited to their individual needs. They are authors of the award winning The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health (She Writes Press, 2015). Take your vitamin survey now to get exactly the right vitamins for your needs.
The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered by Vous Vitamin® are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Nothing contained herein is intended to be a diagnosis or constitute medical advice. The symptoms described in this Blog may be a result of a serious medical condition which requires medical treatment. You should consult with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this Blog and before beginning any vitamin or supplement regimen.