Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Lena Rothman’s Story

Photo on 2013-02-08 at 10.16

Today, there are about 80,000 chemicals that are used in our homes and cars, washing machines and dryers, and rubbed into our bodes and hair. Petrochemicals are not only found in gasoline, diesel fuel, heating old and jet fuel, but in every form of plastic (except bioplastic), synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, and acrylics), canned foods, pain medicines, make-up, dyes and paints……to name a few.

It is estimated that 74 million Americans have some form of chemical sensitivity. This could be as simple as an occasional headache from the odor of a perfume or new carpet.  But for 10 million people – 3.2% of the US population – it is a much more serious and chronic condition that it requires a major change of lifestyle because they can no longer live in a normal manner anymore.

Most of us go about our lives not worrying about what the person sitting next to us on the bus might have washed or dried her clothes with or what scented products she might have bathed with that morning. Instead of a short 5 minute bus ride, we might be walking instead. We don’t go to work  concerned about sitting in a room with men and women who might have splashed themselves with perfume or cologne  or washed their hair with scented products, and be worried  that we might get that “brain fog” again and not be able to concentrate or do our job to the best of our capabilities – or not at all. We don’t think that walking down the detergent aisle in our favorite grocery store might trigger a migraine or sinus infection. We don’t worry about the cleaning products our dream hotel uses because if they’re not free and clear of scents, we might have to sleep on the beach or head on home. And what happens when the house or apartment you live in becomes toxic and you start reacting to the formaldehyde in the building materials and have to move?  Where do you go that is safe?

And when we go to the doctor to talk about the sore throat, fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pains we’re getting and the doctor tells us she has no idea what’s wrong with you or maybe worse, tells you that it’s all in your head and says, ”Here’s a prescription for anti-depressants,” and while you’re at it, “Go see a shrink.” What do you do?

My guest this week on KOWS, 107.3FM’s, Wise Woman Storytime is Lena Rothman who lived a normal life until the mid 1970’s when she started developing a series of symptoms that seemed unrelated and confusing to her.  Her throat closed and she was rushed to the hospital after she got a shot of penicillin. She broke out in rashes after swimming in a chlorinated pool, She began to react to the pollen in the air and had to have someone record a class she was enrolled in because she couldn’t remain in the classroom with the new carpeting. When it  became increasingly difficult to treat her acupuncture patients who used scented soaps, hair products and body lotions, her career suffered and her income was dramatically reduced.

Finding it increasingly difficult to live in a scented world, Lena retreated to a very rural community where she lived an isolated life and lifestyle for 7 years. It was here she studied and researched her illness and explored avenues that would give her a path to a more normal, albeit cautious and hyper-vigilant life; a life where daily normal activities involve planning safety routes, escapes and alternatives in the event of an exposure.

Today she is living in the city of Tuscon.

Known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Illness or Chemical Injury this is not a patient friendly illness. Doctors are often uninformed and baffled by the complex and myriad of symptoms. Many doctors just don’t believe in MCS and believe the disease is in their patients heads. Very few allopathically trained doctors know how to test for the actual physical effects of human chemical reactions.

MCS is often described as the ultimate 20th/21st century disease.  We live in a world where one 42 gallon barrel of gasoline creates 19.4 gallons of gasoline while the rest – 22.6 gallons -goes into everything from detergents, body products, toothpastes rubbing alcohol, etc. etc. etc. Isn’t it time we rethink  “Living better through chemistry,” and listen to the messages of people – young and old, black, white, Latino, Asian – who are getting sick from the chemicals in the environment?  Aren’t they the present day canaries in the coal mine?  Hadn’t we better heed the lessons that maybe living better without chemicals might be healthier for all?

As always, click on the link below to listen to the show.

For more information, see the list of resources Lena has recommended.

By Roberta Teller



Resources:             Check out her video, How chemical Exposure May be Affecting Your Health       Chemical Injury Information Network      Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Referral and Resources     Imune          The Human Ecology Action League

Pamela Reed Gibson’s book, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Survival Guide

Amy Gorman: On Aging Artfully


My earliest memories of the “elder experience,” were the ongoing kvetching sessions my parents, neighbors, aunts and uncles engaged in when they got together. Add to the mix, the unflattering, images of older adults depicted on TV, films and magazines,  and from early on, I got a not very pretty picture of senior living. Old age seemed like an endless list of grievances, complaints, dissatisfactions and helplessness. 

Over the years and as I have aged, that norm of a diminished retirement didn’t fit in with what I wanted for my third life stage. I had often lamented that there were so few elder women role models for me to emulate.  I don’t have to tell you that we live in a youth oriented world where the young are revered and idealized by the media and the advertisement world. Whether you go to the movies, watch TV or read a magazine, the images we are bombarded with are young, skinny and wrinkle free.  The images we see of older folks are often sanitized, air brushed (okay, they all are) and not representative of my image of elderhood. as a potentially rich, fulfilling and meaningful time of life.

My guest this week on( KOWS 107.3 FM’s)  Wise Woman Storytime, Amy Gorman is helping to change this paradigm. A retired social worker in the field of gerontology, Amy has written a book spotlighting 12 women aged 85 – 105 who through their optimism, resilience, ability to adapt, commitment to live in the present moment and their love and dedication to their creativity and art, serve as wonderful role models for those of us who aspire to a ripe and rich old age. 

Amy’s book, Aging Artfully: 12 Profiles of Visual and Performing Artists 85-105 spotlights these ordinary and yet amazing elder women who because of who they are and how they live, inspire, motivate and encourage all of us to do what we love. It’s a prescription for a longer and happier life.

Click on the audio of the show below and find out how Amy’s own personal journey led her to cross life paths with these 12 women.  Glean the lessons of their lives and maybe, just maybe, improve the quality or yours. 

Check out Amy’s website,  You can order the Aging Artfully directly or on Amazon . Make sure to check out the documentary film, Still Kicking that depicts the life of 6 of the 12 women in Aging Artfully.

By Roberta Teller


El Chess: Lessons in Self-Love


“Bringing the experiences of women to full light, although in one sense perfectly straightforward, becomes a radical endeavor.” 

                                                                                           Carol Gilligan

Giving voice to the unspeakable, seeking healing rather than victimhood, and being a student, teacher and ambassador of self-love, are but a few of the gifts El Chess brings to the world. Creating a full life for herself and helping and inspiring others to live happily, is El’s life work and it hasn’t always been easy. 

Just a few days from her 70th birthday, El boasts a long resume of a successful and varied career and life. Her career path includes the following: personal life coach, seminar leader, keynote speaker, teacher, self-love educator,  and Executive director for the Attitudinal Healing Center of Sonoma County. She is a mother, grandmother and she just celebrated her 4 month wedding anniversary to the love of her life and soul mate, Tye. 

But life was not always good to El. Her early years were dominated by extreme abuse and trauma. She was subjected to unimaginable suffering and pain. Her first two decades of life were lived alone, isolated and invisible. 

This is a deeply personal journey of a woman who has been on a lifelong personal path to healing; a woman who credits her experience of living a fulfilled life to developing courage, striving for happiness, deep inquiry, and Grace. 

El’s story is a living testimony to how having a vision for a better life, having the courage to step on the recovery path,  and how having a commitment to do the inner work can lead to a fulfilling, happy and rich life. It is a story of the power of determination, will, grit and ultimately the ability to love oneself  that triumphs over adversity, heals and allows her to not only survive but to thrive.

When someone steps up to the plate, speaks the unspeakable, walks the path of healing and offers her life lessons to others – that is a radical endeavor………meet El Chess………a woman daring to live fully, happily and enthusiastically all the while changing the world as she goes.

Scroll down to listen to the the audio of the show

Want to contact El?

El Chess is in the process of creating a 12 Step Program called Adults Abused as Children Anonymous.  For more information on this, Self Love and her soon to be published books, you can contact her at 

By Roberta Teller