Radically Free

It has been just over 6 weeks since I was diagnosed with cancer. Four of which were spent in a hospital bed. Two of which have been spent adjusting to my new life back at home.

I’ve had a lot of time to mull things over. Perhaps not the kind of things you’d expect me to think about. More like “I hope I’m not too sick to continue baking through my recipe bookmarks.” Or, “I’m really pissed I can’t go to any of the concerts I bought tickets for this summer.” Or how about “I’m super pissed I can’t go to the Healthy Living Summit.”

But most of all, I think about what I once deemed my “healthy lifestyle.”

I ate my fruit and vegetable servings every day. I exercised almost every day. I did lots of yoga. I meditated (sometimes). I laughed (a lot). I got fresh air walking and running, I slept my eight hours a night. I haven’t touched a cigarette since 2005 and I drink maybe once a month. Maybe.

According to Dr. Oz, I was doing everything right. And I still. got. cancer. At 25 years of age no less.

Enter: existential crisis.

I still have the same core values when it comes to healthy living. In other words, I still believe it’s all about balancing out the important stuff with the fun stuff. But I no longer believe that the healthy stuff is a cure-all. It is one thing to eat and live a certain way to say, deal with gastrointestinal issues. It is another thing to force yourself to live a certain way, when really all you want to do is LIVE.

I don’t actually think about my mortality a lot since my cancer diagnosis. But I will tell you that when mortality gets involved, a person’s idea of healthy living is bound to change.

In essence, I just have a greater desire to do things for ME. So yes, that’s changing to a mostly organic diet to keep the chemicals out, a choice made for me, by me. But you know what? I still eat toast and butter for dinner when the chemotherapy makes me gag at the mere mention of a “dark leafy green.”

These days, being happy, keeping my sanity, and finding joy in the small things are way, way more important than stressing about the things that may or may not prevent me from getting cancer. Or I guess, make my cancer worse. Yes, I am way more aware and prudent of it all, but in the end… How much does it really matter? What have I done differently than a person who lives to be 92 and disease free?

I will still try my best to eat my veggies and exercise, because that’s just who I am. But I now know that obsessing over it is fruitless. What I do know is that I want to spend my days feeling engaged and enjoying every hour lived. Not slaving over some notion of what I “should” be doing. I just want to be stress free.

At my cottage last weekend, my Aunt bought a big ole’ chocolate cake slathered in the most delightful boiled icing that has ever touched my lips. My uncle passed away a few months ago of brain cancer. Losing him was a tough blow to my family, and getting my cancer diagnosis weeks after his funeral was another big blow.

Instead of wallowing over how cancer has affected my family, we instead sliced into this divinely delicious cake as a symbol of celebration. Yes, we have lost a lot, but we still have a lot more. Manymany things to celebrate. We sat there for almost 10 minutes clinking our glasses together with cheers of things to be grateful for. Then dug into the super-sugary dessert. Not healthy in the least, but a moment in time that gave me more emotionally and spiritually than I think a green smoothie ever could.

Did I mention the boiled icing?? It tasted like marshmallow fluff! The stuff my sweet fluffy dreams are made of.

I am off to my cottage again this weekend – or my “Sanctuary of Healing” as my sister calls it. I’ve been feeling pretty blah from my last chemo treatment, so the fresh salty air will be very welcome.

Now go enjoy your weekend!!

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Posted on August 5, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 76 Comments.

  1. Oh my – that chocolate cake looks divine. Enjoy your time at the cottage.

  2. This is my first time posting on the blog, so hello!

    After reading this article , I just wanted to give you a virtual *high five* and tell you that I think you have a great attitude. Life is terribly short and we must make the most of it while we are here. Cancer has a way of helping us to prioritize our lives and experiences, and as hateful as it is, it can be a blessing in disguise in some ways. Please continue to be strong and believe in yourself. You are an inspiration.

    • Hi And welcome! I think you are totally right when you say cancer has a way of prioritizing our lives. SO many times since getting my diagnosis I’ve been point blank about what I can and can’t deal with in a moment (listening to other people talk about logistics for some reason drives me nuts now! Why can’t we all go with the flow??). It’s just like I’ve had a wake-up call and ask myself all the time if going about these stressful things is really worth my vauabe time…

  3. When you spend all your time trying to prepare/live for the future you lose all you have in the “now,” which is really all we have. I enjoy “healthy” living because it helps me feel my best, and when I feel my best, I can enjoy everything in the “now” a little bit more.

    You don’t need to have cancer to have perspective, and I hope this post reminds everyone that life is meant to be lived, not meticulously planned. Have a great weekend!

    • “You don’t need to have cancer to have perspective”

      Exactly!! That’s why I’m so keen on sharing this perspective, because you don’t have to be in a crisis to get it.

  4. Another great post! The comic at the top really says it all! The media would have us believe that EVERYTHING causes cancer. In reality, we really don’t know exactly what causes cancer, or what could cause us to be in some sort of terrible accident etc- We just have to live for right now because that’s all we have :) Hope you feel a little better this weekend!

    • Speaking of accidents, I’ve been reading some things that say physical trauma can cause inflammation, and therefore the creation of cancer cells around the site of the injury. Crazy!

      • Really!? It does seem like a coincidence that your cancer started to develop right around when you hurt your arm in such a close location! It would make sense to me if it was related.

        • I definitely don’t think it’s just a coincidence! Because I have a blood cancer, broken bones are quite common (it all starts in the bone marrow, mine just got cancerous once it reached the lymph system). My doctor says the reason why my elbow shattered so badly to begin with, and then never healed, is very likely due to the cancer. Go figure.

          • Interesting… so what started first? the cancer or the injury?

            • I think the cancer. I was definitely having symptoms in January (prolonged fever, headaches, lethargy), and possibly as far back as November. Maybe it started in November and the January symptoms were a “growth spurt” so to speak. One of the reasons why I fell skating was because I was so dang tired and not in the same physical shape as before!

  5. enjoy your cottage time! i think that is one of the key things that gets canadians through the winter ;-)

    this is a really good post and a great reminder about how to deal with many things in life that are completely out of our control. your attitude is so awesome. stay strong!

    (also. the cake? out of control! wish i had a slice. right. now.)

  6. Such a great message – I agree, you shoud live life and do things just for you!

  7. whew! I’m caught between tears born of resonance with your post’s incredible message, and laughter over my intense desire for you to share the boiled icing recipe. :-) Enjoy your weekend at your healing sanctuary.

  8. Ok- you had me at the first picture of the cake and I was swooning at the last picture of the cake.

    Your family sounds great! I’d love to have been a fly on the wall during the mauling of that cake. (ok, I’d rather have been right in the mix eating cake…but whatever)

  9. A very deep, wonderful, post, Susan.

    And then…
    “Did I mention the boiled icing?? It tasted like marshmallow fluff! The stuff my sweet fluffy dreams are made of.”
    Oh yes, please.!!!!!

  10. Ok, first, I want to dive face first into that cake!! looks divine. I love that you are sharing a message of hope and living and happiness despite having every right to be quite the opposite. As others have said here, we ALL should have perspective on what’s going on around us, not become a victim of it. You are a testament to that regardless of having cancer or not. Have a wonderful weekend!

  11. You are so completely inspiring… just wanted to tell you!

  12. My grandfather used to say, “All things in moderation.” I’ve always taken that to mean that there are no absolutes when it comes to diet and exercise as long as you don’t get carried away. Although I think I would have a hard time not getting carried away with that cake!!

  13. Nina's Nibbles

    You inspire me every.single.day.

    I am so glad I found your blog :)

  14. You are very right observing that we too much live according to a mantra of ‘what we SHOULD do” (to be healthy, stay on track with our jobs/relationships/life) instead of what really matters to us. All in the thinking that we are responsible for the outcome by our actions, yet life shows that sense of control is really an illusion. It is better to live well, to be happy, and not worry about how everything will have an effect 10/20/50 years down the road.

    Enjoy the cottage weekend!

  15. Such an interesting point – and one I happen to totally agree with: life is meant to be lived, joyfully, not spent toiling away stressing about every morsel that touches our lips or whether we worked out hard or long enough. Sure – I happen to love to workout and eat yummy healthy foods, but I don’t stress about it, it’s just part of who I am (just like you said), that’s all. I choose to enjoy things like a good glass of wine or a special date night dinner with my husband without stressing so much about how I’ll feel in the morning if I have a couple glasses of wine or a few sinfully delicious bites of dessert. Enjoy that chocolate cake (and what is boiled icing, because I must have it) and hug your loved ones tightly, everyday. That’s a motto to live by ;-)

  16. Wow… yet another powerful post from you that has me in tears.
    I remember thinking this when you posted your first cancer post – but she’s so healthy… it was a bit shocking, because you always expect that people who are healthy will not suffer health issues.

    I know that because of your powerful writing, and your attitude that heir is a reason for this bump in your road and it will likely be touching, inspiring or changing people’s lives.

    Love to you!

  17. “Obsessing over it is fruitless” – YES!! Agreed!
    Have you read the book “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp?? Beautifully written book about being thankful for each and every thing. I highly recommend it!

  18. There is nothing like celebrating over a super sweet cake. :) You are such a positive person and I’m so impressed with how you’ve been able to step back and give thanks in the midst of everything- I’m sure quality family time helps!

  19. We should definitely try to be as healthy as we can, but not to the point of obsessiveness. I tend to be obsessive! For me finding balance is difficult, I’m usually either all or nothing, so this is going to be a learning experience for me.

  20. Thank you for sharing your journey and perspective through this difficult time. It’s refreshing!

  21. hi my name is eva…i am new to your blog and i have been reading along for a few weeks–haven’t been to comment yet, because i have not been home to do it…
    first of all, my thoughts and prayers go out to you while you are going through dealing with your cancer…you have touched me and bring me inspiration daily or when you post your blogs…

    i consider myself a pesky-vegan (pesky aka pesce aka fish on occasion)…i exercise regularly…i am in the kitchen at least 3 hours a day, i make all meals from scratch and don’t eat any processed foods…my focus is on food that brings nutrition into my and my family’s body…

    i am now 40 (do i get a holler?) and have learned so much over the last 20 years of my life when i decided to lose the 30 extra pounds i brought home from living in europe for 2 years….i won’t go into my whole story here, but i will fast-forward to now…most importantly i don’t obsess about my weight anymore–nothing more liberating…if i eat well, i don’t need to weigh myself compulsively….i exercise moderately–running 3 times a week and i throw on 3 lbs onto each arm as i wash the kitchen floor and do yoga in front of our evening garbage TV…

    i do wonder that if i am working hard to make wonderful meals for my family, does this mean we won’t get cancer?…and i’ve come to the realization that eating healthy is just one thing i can do to improve our outcomes….upon slathering suncreen on my children and myself everyday during the summer, i’ve learned that i could possibly be introducing carcinogens straight into their our bodies…or that lighting a candle releases phlalates (sp?) into the air…or ahem, ahem going for that spray tan i love so much (so i will have lung cancer instead of skin cancer) is so unhealthy…

    it saddens me that we live in such a chemically laden world…and there are so many things we just don’t see or are aware of that can be the exact factor that will turn on cancer genes in our genetic make up–it’s a literally a crap shoot…that many europeans smoke packs and packs of cigarettes and eat cheese and drink copious amounts of alcohol but live long, long, long lives because of ‘physical activity’ or ‘low stress lives’–uh not fair?
    anyway my love, i loved this post…it really resonates with me right now as i ponder the issues of living obsessively…

    ps i promise not to blog on your blog anymore : ) but really wanted to let you know that you have touched me….i will limit future comments to a couple of lines

    • Thank you for being so honest on my blog! It really does make you wonder… I mean, if everything we do is *really* doing anything to our benefit? It seems like such a crapshoot, and really, I just can’t let myself over-think it. I am in the position to go completely crazy with healthy living, doing everything I can to make the cancer go away. And yet, is that the quality of life I want to lead? Tough questions!!

      • Book recommendation: “Slow Death by Rubber Duck”. It talks about our daily chemical exposure through things we touch, breathe in, or eat. It was really an eye opener for me. I couldn’t abide by all suggestions in the book, but I did dispose of many unsafe plastics and research the level of toxicity of my cosmetics. It lists a few useful websites at the end, my favourites being:

        http://www.healthystuff.org/departments/toys/

        This website lists the toxicity level of toys from low to high and lists which chemicals they contain.

        http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

        Amazing, amazing website that reviews the toxicity levels of cosmetics (deoderant, sunscreen, foundation, etc.). The scale is 0-10; it breaks down what chemicals they contain and what risk each chemical poses to your health (i.e. carcinogenic, allergen). While I don`t currently use truly non-toxic cosmetics, I did choose safer, low-impact cosmetics.

  22. I’ve never heard of boiled icing- sounds calorie free haha kidding- I need that recipe regardless! ;-)

    yes, eating well and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle is important to a point. I firmly believe that genetics play a huge role (I’m screwed, hello!) and no matter if you have green monsters, chia oats and steamed veggies and organic tofu all day, you can still be hit. You hear stories of people who drink like fish and smoke all day and live to be 100. THen you hear about the marathon runners who collapse and die or someone who gets cancer despite living healthy lifestyles.

    I suppose my philosophy is that I try to be ‘good’ as it makes me feel better now (kinda like what you said) and if it doesn’t cause me to suffer and brings me enjoyment. That might involve organic salads sometimes and it also might be washed down with a Big Gulp of Diet Coke. I can’t stress about it- I can only live my best life, like you.

    Thanks for another wonderful reminder for everyone to live life.

    • Yup, you totally hit the nail on the head Deb. I now realize that I should do healthy things for myself to benefit me right now – like, I’ve started doing light exercise again this week and it makes me feel fantastic! Totally pushes through the fatigue and gets the feel-good endorphins going. But I do that because it benefits me TODAY, and not because I’m terrified of having something bad happening 6 months, 6 years, or 60 years down the road. And honestly, yesterday I hardly got out of bed at all, and that made me feel pretty darn good for the whole day too ;)

    • I was just thinking the same thing. I used to do cancer research, and now I am a healthcare professional, so this may turn into a science-loving nerd rant, but I think it’s interesting. Cancer is almost always a result of a combination of genetics and environmental/lifestyle factors. There has to be at least two “hits” to your DNA for cancer to develop: one mutation in a gene that makes cells STOP dividing (this gene is turned OFF), and one mutation in a gene that CAUSES cells to keep reproducing even when they shouldn’t (this gene is constantly turned ON). So if someone already has an inherited mutation in one of these genes, they already have one “hit”. If environmental/lifestyle factors cause a mutation in the other, it’s more likely this person will develop cancer. That’s the big reason you see some people with healthy lifestyles still develop cancer, while others with no regard for their health may live to 100.

      Of course- I can’t advocate a healthy lifestyle enough, it improves the chances of not getting cancer if you are predisposed, and it helps to prevent a myriad of other health complications (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, etc). That being said, I totally agree with Susan’s outlook. You can’t live your life being stressed out about not being “perfect” or what might happen. I really admire your strength and positive outlook!

  23. Susan. My god. This post. I am going to eventually link to it on my blog, because THIS is the definition of healthy living. I wouldn’t be surprised if this post leads to a book publisher knocking on your door. I work in medical publishing, and if my company wasn’t solely focused on clinical texts for physicians and nurses, I’d be begging my CEO to speak to you. You have a wonderful way with words…your candor, your descriptive writing, your journalist’s knack for exposing the nitty-gritty.

    Last year I deleted several healthy living blogs from my Google Reader because I was tired of reading about everyone’s Garmin stats and the bowl of oatmeal they had for breakfast. Something made me keep you on the list, and I’m so glad you made the cut, because every time The Great Balancing Act lights up in my Reader it’s like getting a handwritten letter in the mail. It excites me, and I save it for later, when I’m not distracted by work, and read it when I know I have the time and energy to savor and digest it.

    You are my blogging hero!

  24. Enjoy your weekend! Eat cake, toast, whatever you want and have to. Focus on you and your family. Enjoy every moment of it. And keep on keep’n on. Those are great lessons for everyone to learn (I learned the hard way a few years ago, but I learned nonetheless)!!

    P.S. The icing sounds fabulous. Kind of like the White Mountain Frosting or a 7-Minute Frosting. However, since I keep about a half dozen jars of marshmallow fluff on hand. I’ll just reach for that – less work)! :)

  25. Great post–you are SUCH a great writer, Sus! I love it! It is crazy what kind of perspective a serious health situation can put on your mindset. When my mom had her stroke, working out was the LAST thing on my mind. I know it wasn’t me that had the stroke, but it was the most important person in my world and all I wanted to do was hang out with her–not in the gym.

    So glad you are soaking up fun family time–the line “Yes, we have lost a lot, but we still have a lot more.” was simply and perfectly put.

    I don’t like frosting, but boiled I would like to try!

    AND WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOU GOING TO HLS?! That is what I personally am always thinking about. I was so excited to cuddle :(

  26. This post is the definition of how I feel about healthy living. Your outlook makes me smile every time I read a post. That cake looks like heaven! I am off to figure out what boiled icing is now, because I MUST have this creation in my home very soon.

  27. This was a wonderful post. Brought tears to my eyes and a good dose of perspective to my always-over-thinking-brain. Thank you. Hope you have a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend!

  28. this is the best bit of advice anyone could ever share! especially at our age and with what we define ourselves as. Keep posting things like this to remind all of us that life is short and you live once. LIVE it, Love it, and keep smiling. I thank you susan, for making me LIVE today!

  29. What an amazing post! Thank you for sharing. We can all learn so much from you.

    I am new to your blog (Fundraising Challenge) and have really enjoyed what I have read.

    Sending positve thoughts your way.

  30. Hi Susan,
    I am new to your blog and have left you a couple of pieces of information, given the size of your apparent support network there is probably very little I can offer you. I will say this, First your Blog name states it beautifully… Balance something many of us seek our whole lives and yet never attain because we seek with wrong motives. Second, You are not an accident, you have distinct gifts talents and abilities and the people whose lives you touch and impact are beyond your ability to measure or comprehend. You can beat cancer…Really and cancer really isn’t as mysterious as it’s made out to be. Our bodies have a perfect design and if we are willing to cooperate with the design and the designer, than balance is that much closer to being achieved. Look you don’t know me from Adam, so some stranger posting on your blog hardly constitutes advice worth taking. I was diagnosed with a purportedly uncurable disease in 2007. I no longer have any symptoms of that disease… hence my journey has created a passion to see others set free to live again. Prayer for your continued healing, JT

  31. I just read an article the other day that many 100 year old people embraced a lot of “bad habits” like eating junk food, not exercising, staying up late, smoking, drinking, etc. It just goes to show that life is a game of chance.

  32. You know, the other day I was thinking about the definition of healthy. it seems our society has put such an emphasis on working out and eating “right” that we forget healthy involves our spirit and our mind. Is eating a calorie-laden cake healthy for your body? It’s not the best choice. But is it healthy for your mind and spirit? Absolutely. Being healthy is more than just eating oatmeal and running a marathon. It’s the culmination of doing what makes you feel most alive — even if that means having a slice of cake every once in awhile.

    And plus that cake looks divine. :) Absolutely love this post. Enjoy your weekend, Susan!

  33. You know, the other day I was thinking about the definition of healthy. it seems our society has put such an emphasis on working out and eating “right” that we forget healthy involves our spirit and our mind. Is eating a calorie-laden cake healthy for your body? It’s not the best choice. But is it healthy for your mind and spirit? Absolutely. Being healthy is more than just eating oatmeal and running a marathon. It’s the culmination of doing what makes you feel most alive — even if that means having a slice of cake every once in awhile.

    And plus that cake looks divine. :) Absolutely love this post. Enjoy your weekend, Susan!

  34. I know I say it all the time here since I heard about you – YOU ARE AMAZING …. and inspirational! I guess it runs in the family – they sound like they have it right & you do too!

    HUGS!

  35. I always strive to concentrate on the beautiful things in life and I highly disslike being stressed, and I always try and find ways to remind myself just how great of a life I have. However, stress has a way to sneak in sometimes. Next thing I know, I’m fretting about something that wont matter for long.
    One thing that I can always use is a good reminder! Thanks! Being around people and places I love makes me the most happy, and I know this has a big impact on my health.
    Hope you soak in all the goodness this weekend :)

  36. That boiled icing…omg it looks fantastic!

    I think being stress-free is the best. I strive for that in my life. I spent so much time stressing about my health, my career, my relationships and it did nothing for me. Life is way too precious to get caught up in stress! Love what you said.

    Have a great time at the cottage!

  37. i think making healthy choices is of course a good decision, but how true…doing so is not a guarantee in any way, shape or form. i can already tell how rich everything in your life will seem from this point forward. from boiled icing and beyond!

  38. I have never commented on your blog, but I have read your story both here and on other sites. You are so strong and such an inspiration. Your message about living is such a good one to pass on…too often I get caught up in the “what should I do’s” rather than what I actually want to do. Or I get stressed over things that honestly are no big deal. So what if my little dog had an accident on the floor?! I can clean it up, right? So thank you for your positive attitude. I hope a little can rub off on me. Keep fighting. You are always in my prayers.

  39. I guess what it exemplifies is to live with your heart as much as you can. Get out of your head space and go with your heart. Thank you for this post. I needed it for a lot of reasons of which I don’t know i have words for. But your honesty and perspective I truly believe is at the essence of what a lot of us want in our lives. To live, simply live, in spite of whatever is going on around us.

  40. Hey Susan..? Thank you for reminding me to just live in the moment. Doing that can bring such freedom. I needed that reminder today.

    By the way – if you nail down the awesome boiled icing recipe…pleeeease share. Chocolate cake and boiled icing was my grandmothers FAVORITE dessert on the planet. Her birthday is coming up in september…and it would be neat to make that in honor of her…SO…please share :)

  41. Another amazing post Susan, this one really spoke to me and if I hadn’t stopped myself I’d be bawling like my 2-year-old right now :) Way up there ^^ Jennifer posted that she waits to read your posts until she is able to give them the attention they deserve – I’ve only been reading for about a week and I find myself doing the same already! Saw you had posted this this morning but wanted to wait until after work when I could read in peace and really focus on what you were saying. Thanks for another great and inspiring post, enjoy your weekend!

  42. You are awesome. Have a fantastic weekend!!!
    xoxo

  43. Michael Sandalis

    Great to hear you are doing well. That cake looks great and your perspective is even better!

    Michael

  44. Sweet mercy, that cake looks good!

  45. Beautiful post. I think any type of health scare makes us re-evaluate how we treat our bodies. Eating healthy (or in some cases, less nutritiously – which is also healthy!) takes a whole new meaning. You start to really believe those phrases like “we only have one life” etc. I always thought they were cheesy before but they are so true!

  46. What a great post, Susan. Healthy is as healthy does, but healthy is also as healthy THINKS and that’s where your attitudes and ideas are so great. There’s always a place for cake with inch-thick frosting with that philosophy! The existential crisis must be very difficult to deal with, but how about looking at from this perspective…Perhaps the cancer was always going to happen. But your healthy lifestyle and attitude has given you the strength to fight it off. Not everyone, faced with the same difficulties, could have been so mentally or physically strong about it. Fx

  47. I look forward to reading your blogs each day. You never cease to impress me with your positive attitude. My mother had breast cancer last year and thankfully is cancer free today and at 64 years old, I’ve never seen her so happy and appreciative of the ‘little things’. Chocolate cake with boiled icing is just good. :)

  48. As someone who recently enjoyed this exact dessert, I can attest – boiled icing does a body good! ;) (My husband baked for the first time and is now on deck for all future cake-making…it was divine)

  49. It brings home once again the truth that too often we are so focused on forcing ourselves to live in a way we deem healthy or right, that we don’t realize we’ve stopped living the life we want to live.

    Happiness is the greatest health-inducing product there is. Patch Adams knew that. Live in such as way as to fill you heart with joy and laughter. Health will follow shortly after.

  50. This is such a wonderful message. This post has made me cry like a baby. You have spoken some of the most inspirational words I can ever think of, and it shows your absolute passion for life. Amazing!

  51. That is the best looking cake I have ever seen. This is a great blog post too. I struggle with perspective all the time. I have a lot of difficulty enjoying the here and now. I admire the positive attitude you have been able to maintain. Yes, you don’t need cancer to have perspective, but it helps when a woman with cancer AND a better attitude writes something so clear and powerful that it serves as the kick in the ass I so clearly need sometimes. Thank you for writing this.

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