I started writing a post a few weeks ago about how I’ve been adding healthier things to my diet and life, and removing whatever toxins and carcinogens I could. More whole fruits and veggies, more vitamins, supplements and herbs, and fewer products with chemicals. (Coconut oil instead of conditioner, facial moisturizer, body moisturizer and makeup remover.)
I’ll insert the post here:
(Written on Jan. 23, 2013)
“Less chemicals, more kale”
Ever since my breast cancer diagnosis I’ve been trying to limit the amount of chemicals I put in and on my body. I truly believe I’ve found a happy, balanced, medium place where I am in control of what I can be. As I’ve learned, there’s never a way to escape all chemicals. There are chemicals in everything. I’ll never give up processed foods or perfume. But I CAN limit them in my life. And what I can completely eliminate, I do. I’ve used aluminum-free deodorant since my initial diagnosis, and for the past two years have slowly swapped out certain things for more natural or pure versions. I have replaced my body and face lotion, makeup remover and hair moisturizer (post-shower) with coconut oil. (organic virgin – the kind used for cooking.) Yes, coconut oil CAN be used for all of those things, and it works wonders! It smells amazing (like I’m putting dessert all over my body) and works like a charm, WITHOUT parabens, phalates, fragrance/parfum, sulfates, etc. Just pure, organic oil from coconuts. And it moisturizes my hair, face and body better than anything else I’ve ever used. And it’s less than $6 and will probably last me much longer than the six or seven more expensive bottles I used to buy, full of ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce.
I feel better putting something on my body that is natural. It smells good and is good for me because it is natural. I don’t need to be slathering chemicals all over me. No thanks, I’m allergic to carcinogens.
Now I’ll never be a full-blown health, non-GMO, organic-obsessed person. Never a health nut. Not that I have any issue with those people. In fact, I admire them for their willingness to focus on health and take care of their bodies. And maybe some of them don’t have a choice. Sometimes we forget that not everyone has the luxury of eating whatever they want. Some people have medical conditions.
Anyway, I will never be like that – a granola, organic-only health nut. Not completely, anyway. I like my mascara and wine too much. But like I said, I’ve been doing what I feel I am able and want to control.
So we’ve talked about coconut oil on my body and deodorant with no aluminum. Enter: candy. I could never, ever, ever in a million gazillion years give up candy. Especially chocolate. I am like a little kid sometimes in that I crave Swedish Fish or Twizzlers. (And I always crave chocolate.) And although every once in a while at the airport or the movie theater I give in to those chewy, gooey lovelies, when I go food shopping and feel like buying a sweet for home or my office I make a conscious effort to buy the healthier options. Dark, organic chocolate (at least 60 percent cacao), and YumEarth (organic candies) that have no high-fructose corn syrup. And, of course, Panda licorice. YumEarth (you can Google the name) makes lollipops, jelly beans and gummy bears. I recently tried the gummy bears and they were delightful! An entire bag was only 4 WeightWatchers PointsPlus (REALLY not bad for a whole bag of gummy candy), and the best part was the flavor, like pomegranate. Pomegranate gummy bears? Why, sure! Like I said, no gross syrups or dyes.
I’ll never be vegan and I’ll never be on a raw food (or even completely whole foods) diet. I’ll also probably never be a vegetarian (though I only eat meat about once a month). I’ll never be perfect when it comes to diet. But I do feel good about trying sometimes. I feel I want to control what I can, but not feel bad that I can’t control everything.
I still drink out of plastic water bottles (BPA?), still use (for the most part) regular shampoo with sodium lauryl sulfate, and still douse myself in body spray. I still drink way too much coffee and probably too much wine.
My goal for 2013 is to keep working on my health and body and keep getting better, but never go crazy about it. I have already added more fruits and veggies to my diet, and want to drink more water, do more yoga, stress less, and eat more green, including kale. (Our fridge is full of apples, blackberries, raspberries, mango, cherries, nectarines and grapes.) I’ve already been cooking and eating more fish, but I want to eat more vegetables with that fish. I’ve already bought quinoa but now I want to actually make it and eat it. When I eat healthier I feel better and I look better. It’s true, a healthy diet with plenty of water makes your skin glow. And so does coconut oil.
The overall goal is not to be perfect, since that doesn’t exist. And it’s not to eliminate all “bad” things from my life. That doesn’t exist either. But what I can do is constantly work on finding my now, my center, my peace. I can work on being content. I can work on my Namaste. My “divine spark.” My “be well” to myself and others.
My cancer and surgeries are over. It’s time to be well. It’s time to focus on things that make me feel good and happy. It’s time to treat my body the way it deserves to be treated. I often hear the saying “we shouldn’t exercise because we hate our bodies; we should exercise because we love them.” That’s true for both exercise and eating right. We treat well the things we love and cherish. At least we should. And part of that (besides the less chemicals and more kale) is finding and knowing your own balance. A place that makes you happy. Where you can feel good about coconut oil and quinoa, but also good about apple pie and perfume. Where you can feel good about a 2-mile run, but also feel good about lying on the couch all Sunday with a very sleepy doggie.
These past (nearly) two years it’s been a struggle to find my balance between the breast cancer and the wedding and planning my life and my future. And post surgery No. 6 I have met many new and puzzling challenges, from dealing with not having my “quick fix” pills anymore to trying to find meaning in a now suddenly peaceful life. For me, this is something that comes with time, and I’ve learned the past few weeks that I can’t rush it. I can’t force changes. I have to let them happen naturally. For the first time in a while I feel like I may be getting somewhere. I may be regaining balance. I may have found new meaning in a life after breast cancer.
There are so many parts of my journey that will never be over and I’ll never have all the answers. And I plan to be learning and re-setting and re-shuffling for a while. And that’s fine. But right now I feel less tilty. (I am aware that’s not a word.) Maybe it’s because I actually feel somewhat in control of my health in a body of a genetic mutation that doesn’t exactly ask permission. (“Hi, my name is Li Fraumeni Syndrome and no matter how physically healthy you are, you can still get cancer.”) Today, I don’t think of that. I think of my NOW. What I’m doing now to feel good. And it’s working because I’m glowing.
And there’s no denying a good glow. Even in the dead of winter.
All of that still rings true, but I’ve added some more thought to all this. This is so much more than getting healthy. This is so much more than having power and control over what goes into my body and what goes on my body. This is so much more than CHOOSING to live a healthy lifestyle. This is about thanking my body.
I think I knew this ever since I started yoga again post-breast cancer. Being able to do all of the poses (not perfectly, of course) is one of the most empowering feelings. Many of these poses (such as a plank) seemed impossible post mastectomies, especially on the side where I had lymph nodes removed. It may not be easy, but thanks to running a few miles a week and weight lifting, the poses are not hard for me. Sure, it is still an amazing workout and incredibly detoxifying and I still want to take a nap afterwards, but I am in pretty good shape and it feels good.
It’s not that I don’t have strength in my arms. My arms are pretty strong. It’s that there is no strength in my chest, so when I do something like the plank or a push-up, I feel weak and can only hold it for a few seconds. But I am doing it. Something I never imagined I could do. I never ever thought I could hold myself up using only my arms and my chest. Not after being torn open and sewn back together six times.
For any yogi, yoga is so much more than physical activity. So much more than balance and muscle building and strengthening. Even so much more than learning to be in the moment. What I’ve learned, through the classes I’ve been taking since December, is yoga is about loving yourself and thanking your body. At the end of each session the instructor thanks the participants for their practice, and asks us all to thank ourselves for taking the time to come to yoga and challenge ourselves and be with ourselves. To thank ourselves for taking time out of our hectic schedules to JUST BE for an hour and recognize why we are so important to ourselves. This is what touched me. That’s what initially sparked my thinking of how I’m thanking myself.
During a yoga session I feel empowered. I know I’ve used this word three times in this particular post, but that’s the best way to describe it. I feel strong. Warrior strong. Whether it’s Sun Salutations or a different class, I go through the poses with such vigor. I challenge myself. I AM within myself. I feel, and I am. I am JUST BEING. And at the end I truly do thank myself for letting myself do this FOR MYSELF. Mind, body, being.
Sweat. Detox. Refuel.
When I buy wheatgrass powder and grapeseed oil and organic gummy bears I am not only taking control of my health because it is something I can control; I am thanking my body for putting me through two cancers. When I run and lift weights four days a week, and when I practice yoga, I am not only trying to find power; I am thanking my body for getting me through six breast cancer surgeries.
And not just the surgeries. Three years of chemotherapy at the age of 12 for leukemia. And not just the treatment. My body got me through the stress of planning a wedding during breast cancer, the stress of the Li Fraumeni Syndrome diagnosis, the stress of deciding whether or not to have a second mastectomy, the stress of two rounds of tissue expanders, the stress of getting married with only one breast, the stress of wondering if it was something I did to give myself breast cancer, the stress to find ways to make sure I never get cancer again, the stress to wonder if I’ll ever get cancer again or if two was the magic number, the stress to find my life again, after the wedding and after the breast cancer, the stress to accept my new body.
My body is strong and it got me through because I love it and I take care of it.
I don’t know if I’ll get cancer again. I don’t know if I can prevent it. But I do know I can sure as hell try. I also know, if G-d forbid I get sick again, I’ll have the healthy body to pull me through it again. I know what I CAN do. I know I can eat healthy and exercise and avoid certain chemicals, and I can love my body.
As we laid there on our sides at the end of the yoga class, just before sitting up into student pose to close the session with a quick meditation and “Namaste,” the teacher told us to give thanks to our bodies for getting us through that day’s practice and for taking the time to practice yoga. And as I laid there on my mat I felt it. I feel that thanks. I felt my hard work in yoga class. I felt both empowered and rested. Both invigorated and serene. I’ve found my next step, my next place. My balance. My now.
I feel, for the first time since I can even remember, so incredibly appreciative of my body. I feel I want to nurture it. Take care of it. Give it what it needs. Keep it healthy and strong.
Not because I’m expecting to fight cancer again, but because I’m expecting to fight the rest of my life.