At 49, San Francisco-based journalist and mum-of-one Beth Greer thought she was doing everything right in terms of her health. “I exercised, didn’t smoke, hardly drank, meditated and thought I ate a healthy diet.”
So it was a huge shock to discover, not long before her 50th birthday, that she had a mass the size of a tennis ball growing inside her chest cavity. “I was terrified,” said Beth. “I thought: why is this happening to me?”
Beth first realized something was wrong while she was on holiday in Hawaii a few weeks before. “I had a weird pain in my shoulder that wouldn’t go away,” she explained, “and I was having trouble sleeping.”
When Beth got home, she decided to see a chiropractor. But despite several treatment sessions, the pain got worse. “It radiated from my shoulder down my arm, and my fingers kept going numb.”
Suspecting something serious was going on, Beth’s chiropractor recommended she have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which uses magnetic fields and radiowaves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.
Beth took his advice and, after an agonizing wait for the results, discovered what was causing the pain in her arm and numbness in her hand: a 5-cm tumour.
Fortunately, further tests revealed that the tumour wasn’t cancerous; Beth was diagnosed with a benign schwannoma—a tumour of the tissue sheaths that encase the nerves. But as it was causing her symptoms, Beth was advised to have it surgically removed. One doctor even told her “it could become cancerous at any point”.
Not wanting to rush into anything, Beth sought the opinions of three top surgeons on how best to remove the tumour. As it was pressing on nerves in her arm, the procedure would be a complicated one. “One surgeon wanted to cut me under my collar bone, the next said he’d go in through my armpit and the third said he’d remove one of my ribs from behind,” Beth recalls.
The surgery was also risky. “If they severed a nerve, I could have lost feeling in my hand.”
Scared and overwhelmed, Beth needed some time to ponder her options. Coincidentally, a week-long retreat she had booked for herself before the diagnosis gave her the perfect opportunity to do so.
“I’d booked it for some R&R,” said Beth, “but it ended up changing my life.”
The retreat was actually a holistic healing programme involving ‘cleansing your body, quieting your mind and renewing your spirit’, held at the Optimum Health Institute of San Diego in California.
“I had colonics and ate a raw-food diet to detox my body, and also did a lot of meditation and visualization to work on my mind,” Beth explained.
Within three days of being on the programme, Beth not only felt a lot more relaxed, she also noticed a difference in her health.
“The pain in my arm started to ease and I could sleep a lot better. I thought to myself: this is really interesting.”
When she got home, Beth decided that instead of putting her health in the hands of surgeons, she would take charge of her own health and continue with the self-healing techniques she had learnt at the Optimum Health Institute retreat.
“I don’t know where I got that faith,” said Beth, “but when I experienced the pain going away, I knew I was going in the right direction.”
Beth bought a food dehydrator and juicer and fully embraced a raw-food-only diet. She also continued with the mind–body techniques she had learned at the retreat. “One word kept coming to me during my visualizations,” said Beth, “the word simplify. So I decided that’s what I needed to do: simplify my life.”
The simple things
Beth had already simplified her diet by ditching processed foods in favour of fresh whole foods eaten as close to their natural state as possible. So she started to look at her environment to see what else she could simplify.
“I looked at what I was putting on my body, like my deodorant, shampoo and cosmetics. I was astounded by the long list
of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce on the labels.”
Beth got even more of a shock when she began to study the labels of all her household cleaning products. “I remember reading the label on a bottle of Windex and seeing the words: hazardous to humans and domestic animals. I thought, this is crazy; how can I be using this every day?!”
Beth then began to research the ingredients in her toiletries and household products, and soon discovered that many of them were linked with serious health effects. “I couldn’t stand the thought of putting these chemicals on my skin or using them around my home and young daughter.”
Ditch and detox
Beth gradually started replacing all her synthetic chemical-laden cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products with natural alternatives. “I started with my deodorant,” said Beth. “I switched to baking soda, which I sprinkled under my arms after a shower. It works great.”
For cleaning, she swapped her big brand products for simple ingredients like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide—“things my grandmother used”, said Beth.
The goal of all this, Beth explained, was to rid her body of toxic chemicals as much as possible. Alongside her household and dietary detox, she also started having far-infrared (FIR) saunas to encourage the elimination of toxic chemicals via sweat, and something called Light Beam Generator therapy to help restore her lymphatic system. “My therapist said my system had got backed up with so many chemicals to process, so it was vital to get it moving again.”
Beth stuck with her detox regime rigidly and, six months later, her pain was completely gone. “I no longer had any pain in my arm and my fingers stopped going numb.” Other general aches and pains she’d been having also seemed to disappear.
Another six months down the line, Beth had a repeat scan to check the state of her tumour. She couldn’t believe the results—the tumour was completely gone.
A clean cure
While some doctors dismissed Beth’s disappearing tumour as a case of spontaneous regression, Beth is convinced her diet and lifestyle changes were responsible for the turnaround in her health. “I believe the tumour came from environmental exposure, since I had no genetic predisposition for it. When I cleaned up my environment, I healed myself.”
Soon after the good news, Beth started writing to her local newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, about her life-changing experience. Those letters turned into a regular column in the paper about living naturally and avoiding toxic chemicals, and that column eventually became a bestselling book called Super Natural Home (Rodale Books, 2009). “I took all the research I’d gathered and put it into an easy-to-read format—in the hope that I could help others.”
Now 64, Beth is an advocate for “clean, green healthy living” and on a mission to educate people about the toxic chemicals lurking in their food and everyday household products. “I see clients—mainly parents of children with special needs and challenges—and teach them how to read labels and make better product choices.”
She firmly believes that making small, but significant, lifestyle changes can reverse disease. But what she really wants to “shout to the world” is: “Don’t wait till you get sick to make changes”. It’s crucial to be mindful of your environment, she says, and take positive steps before it’s too late.
10 tips for a super natural home
Here are Beth’s top tips* for reducing your exposure to everyday chemicals.
What goes in you
1) Eat organic or pesticide-free foods whenever possible, and shop at farmers’ markets or plant your own garden.
2) Read labels and avoid food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG), trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), and artificial sweeteners and colours.
3) Choose filtered tap water over bottled—it will have fewer bacteria and chemical contaminants—and use glass or stainless-steel water containers.
What goes on you
4) Buy natural chemical-free bodycare products and cosmetics with the fewest and safest ingredients.
5) Avoid parabens as well as the chemicals diethanolamine (DEA; a foaming agent used in shampoo and baby wash) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT; a solvent used in lipstick and nail polish).
6) Be cautious of products that include ‘fragrance’, such as shampoos, lotions and perfumes. Artificial fragrances can contain phthalates, known to interfere with your hormones, so pick those made from natural essential oils instead. Check out www.safecosmetics.org.
What surrounds you
7) Clean your house with non-toxic natural cleaning products like vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Avoid chlorine bleach, strong solvents, ammonia and products using the antibacterial triclosan, as well as synthetically fragranced candles, laundry detergents, air fresheners and dryer sheets.
8) Avoid volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in vinyl wallpaper and floor coverings, new carpeting and paint.
Sleep on a mattress made from untreated, non-toxic natural materials. If you can’t afford a new mattress, buy a mattress topper made of wool or organic cotton.
9) Switch to sheets and towels made with bamboo or organic cotton. Regular cotton is one of the most intensively sprayed crops in the world.
10) Get rid of non-stick Teflon cooking pans—they emit potentially toxic fumes when heated—and use cast-iron, stainless-steel, enamel or glass cookware instead.
*Source: Greer B. Super Natural Home: Improve Your Health, Home, and Planet – One Room at a Time. New York, NY: Rodale Books, 2009
Visit Beth’s website for more tips and resources at www.supernaturalmom.com