Interview with Britta Aragon

I am delighted today to bring you the first of my two-part interview with Britta Aragon, founder of the informative and transformative website Cinco Vidas and author of the newly published guidebook When Cancer Hits. I have known Britta online for the past two years and it is wonderful to witness the new direction in which her life and her work are heading. I know that creating her book has been a labor of love for Britta and her compassion and warmth shine through every page.  Today Britta talks with me about what led her to write her book, her relationship with her beloved father and her top tips for which toxins to avoid in our personal care products.

Britta Aragon

JBBC: I have just finished reading When Cancer Hits, and I know I am not the first to say it, but I really do wish this book had been available to me when I was going through my own cancer treatment. Can you tell us a little about what led you to write it?

Britta: I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 16 years old and had a second experience with the disease when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer 8 years later.

When dad was going through treatment, I sought solutions for the difficult side effects he suffered on his hair skin and nails but I was disappointed and disheartened with the lack of straightforward information and effective solutions.

In caring for him, I tried to help, but soon discovered that most so-called “high-quality” products were loaded with irritants, potentially harmful chemicals, and even carcinogens. Compelled to find better solutions, I researched the issue, but discovered there weren’t very many resources that targeted the dermatological side effects of cancer and also found very little information on taking care of these side effects or on finding safe personal care products.

Unfortunately, after a courageous 8 year cancer battle, my father passed away in August 2007 and I knew at that moment that it was my personal mission and purpose to honor my father’s legacy and dedicate my work to helping others in the cancer journey.  In 2008 I founded the Cinco Vidas Blog, a community forum which provides the resources and information I wish I had while I had cancer and I was caring for my father. Specifically, what to use and what to avoid while someone is undergoing treatment. Two years later, I had a vivid dream where my father was holding a book, and telling me how proud he was of me.  I took it as a sign that this was the next step! It took me over a year to write When Cancer HitsThe book I wish I had while I was caring for my father and it’s the book that is now available for so many on the journey.

JBBC:  I really appreciate the fact that in your book you acknowledge that looking good is still important to us while we are going through treatment. As a trained make-up artist, you provide some great tips on how to do this. You also make it clear that looking good does not mean we have to overload ourselves with harmful chemicals in the process. What in your opinion are some of the most harmful toxins we should avoid?

Britta: I would start with 5 simple steps:

  1. Use fewer products! Potentially harmful ingredients can build up inside the body over time. The less you use them, the lower your exposure.
  2. Start switching to safer options and choose carefully anything that ends up inside you: Lip balm & lipstick and toothpaste
  3. Start switching to safer options or choose carefully anything you might inhale: Hairsprays, Air fresheners & candles and Micronized mineral makeup:
  4. Choose carefully anything that stays on your body a long time: Moisturizers, Antiperspirants
  5. Watch out for particularly toxic products:
    • Fragrances:Choose fragrance-free or natural sources like essential oils.
    • Nail products: Avoid those with toluene and formaldehyde.
    • Dark hair dyes: These contain toxic ingredients that have been linked with cancer—look for safer brands and try to use them less frequently.
    • Skin lighteners with hydroquinone: Avoid hydroquinone, which has shown to be potentially cancer causing. Safe options include kojic acid.
    • Liquid hands soaps with triclosan: Triclosan can create carcinogenic by-products, and is accumulating in our soils. The FDA has asserted that was no evidence that antibacterial products protected people any better than regular soap. Choose options that are triclosan-free.

JBBC: This book is aimed primarily at readers going through cancer treatment, but even though it is now 6 years since I last had treatment for cancer; I still found your book an invaluable resource for the post-treatment years too. What are some of the most important things we can do for ourselves to stay healthy after cancer?

Britta: I am so glad to hear that Marie.  Even though it was intended to be a hand holding guide for those in cancer treatment, I have received feedback on how invaluable it was for survivors or even those who are just looking to prevent and live a safer and healthier lifestyle.

These are what I consider to be the most important things to stay healthy after cancer:

1)      Being able to process our feelings.  Taking time out to be with ourselves.  Be angry, sad or disappointed.  My experience has been that I need to let the feelings pass and not resist them.  I love journaling, meditating and having close friends in my life to share with as ways to process life.

2)      To reduce our toxic exposure by eating organic foods, using non-toxic house cleaners and buying personal care products that are safe and natural (always read labels).

3)      To be of service every day.  You now have a gift and that is your experience through cancer.  This is a gift we can share with others on the journey. Whether is volunteering, being of support to someone who is going through cancer or just sharing your story of victory with others.

4)      Have fun!  Let loose and Let go!

JBBC: I love that line! I have lots more I want to ask you Britta, but for now this seems like a great place to end things today. Looking forward to learning more from you in part two tomorrow.

Click image for more information on Britta's latest book

Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Britta tomorrow when we will be discussing Britta’s balanced living philosophy, self-care tips, the lessons she has learned from cancer AND Britta will be giving one lucky reader a chance to win a copy of her latest book, When Cancer Hits