Practical advice and personal wisdom from a four-time cancer survivor.

I want a job. I want to wake up, complain about waking up, turn off my alarm because it’s too early, and get dressed for a job. I want to put on my black work pants and a shirt appropriate for work. I want to stuff my breakfast down without thinking. Get in the car, already exhausted from imagining the day ahead, turn on the radio and sip my homemade coconut chai drink while navigating traffic. Traffic! I want to complain about traffic, my commute, how bad it is in Seattle now.

I want to get out of my car and roll my eyes at the flood of emails I’ve already gotten about a meeting that has been re-scheduled a million times. I want to roll into the office, smile at my friends, notice the stale baked goods in the lunch room, ignore the person that keeps trying to get me to join an after-work group, and hunker down in my cube. I want to stare out the window briefly wishing I was still in bed, knitting and watching my dumb TV shows. I want to turn back to my computer, adjust my keyboard and start typing out the first of many emails trying to get a handle on my workload.

I want to sit in a meeting bored out of my mind, texting my co-worker while trying to look interested in budgets. I want to wish it was the end of the day already. I want go back to my desk and laugh at my cube mate’s story about her/his weekend debacles.

I want to secretly, not so secretly, look through airfares for my next trip, somewhere new. Somewhere hot for the sunshine, some beach. I want to have a trip to look forward to and an excuse to buy new clothes. I want to make plans to order lunch because I’m too busy to go out. I want to order a salad with lots and lots of fiber. I want to eat beans. Feta cheese. Beets. Avocado for fun, not because it’s caloric and keeps me full. I want to pretend to debate which salad dressing to get (duh, balsamic vinaigrette every time). I want to mindlessly eat my salad while half working on my computer and half joining in the impromptu conversation started near my cube.

I want to forget to chew my food. I want to forget to enjoy my food.

I want to be like everyone else, sitting at their cube, complaining about their job, their boss, their benefits, their life.

I want to be like everyone else and order food without thinking twice.

I want to be like everyone else and finish the long day debating whether I should go to happy hour or the gym. I want to do both.

I want to go to the gym and sweat without worrying about becoming dehydrated. I want to go a bar with my friends and drink without worrying about becoming dehydrated. I want to nibble on the french fries my co-worker orders and laugh at her jokes while we eye the cute bartender. I want to have fun again. I want to wake up the next day slightly hungover and annoyed with myself for not going to the gym and eating too many fries. I want to promise myself that I will work out that evening.

I want to be annoyed about normal things. I want to be sad about normal things. I want to be frustrated by the parking ticket on my windshield. Or my boss. Or the president.

All while getting direct deposit checks into my account every two weeks.

I want a job.

[disclaimer: i can’t really do a job, this is not a request to hire me – it’s just what i wish for today…also i know that i’m oversimplifying what “normal” life is and that everyone’s got their shit, this is just the writing that wanted to come out of me today]

Shared in February on my personal Facebook page

  • Cancer Teacher
    Hi there, my name is Julie. I’m a nutritionist that’s had four cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. Cancer can be horrific, painful, life-stealing. It can also be transformative, mind-opening and life-affirming. I’m working hard to get strong and find the silver lining lessons during this shit storm experience. Stay tuned to find out what I've learned, and continue to learn, from Cancer Teacher.

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher

  • I’ve been thinking about how everyone keeps calling me brave. Because my view of myself from the inside is often a bumbling, neurotic, insecure woman. There. It’s out there now. I’m actually a very insecure, nervous nelly! I overthink everything. I dissect what I say. What I do. What I wear. How I speak. All of it. I think one of the reasons I loved living in New York is that I blended in so easily with all the other neurotics. 

    Maybe this isn’t as big of surprise to you as I think it is. Perhaps it is.

    Either way, I want to come clean. I want to come out of the insecurity closet and wear my neurosis proudly! Because, in the end, who the fuck isn’t insecure? Or questioning themselves all the time? One of the best things about being such an overly sensitive neurotic is that it makes me self-aware – some of the time too much, obviously – but a lot of the time, it allows me to sense someone’s sadness and ask if they are ok, inviting a heartfelt conversation. It allows me to think about each and every post and wonder: is this going to contribute to the Internet conversation in some meaningful way? Or is it just self-importance drivel?

    Whatever it is does, it makes me ME. And I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want to pretend I’m someone that I’m not. 

    There are several reasons I rarely shared anything personal on social media prior to my triple cancer diagnosis. I’m actually a very private person. Also I didn’t “get” how social media works for a long time. 

    However, the main reason I kept things professional was because my “work” was my cloak. My armor against the world. I hid behind it when I felt anxious. I hid behind it when I wanted to avoid intimate entanglements. I hid behind it when I felt awkward and strange as “just me” in the world.

    I loved telling people about my work because it was so much easier than telling them about myself.

    Because I was afraid that if I shared even a tiny sliver, eventually you’d find out the truth. That I’m a geeky, insecure, weirdo whose head is often in the clouds.

    And that felt unbearable.

    But something has happened over the course of the last three years. Slowly, as I shared embarrassing details about my health and my broken heart over losing my old life, I’ve been cheered on by friends, colleagues, family, old boyfriends, traveling buddies, even friends of friends.

    And it felt liberating.

    The words flow fast and furious from my brain, my soul, or wherever they come from through my finger tips and land in a little Facebook post box. I’d click on POST and feel the anxiety rising inside of me.

    Don’t do it! my Old Self would cry! Don’t let them SEE you! The world is a cruel place where you’ll be judged and criticized! The more they SEE you, the harder it will be to hide. Keep hiding! It’s so much safer that way!

    The New Me looked on with detached amusement and calmly counter every argument: fuck it. Who cares. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s their own crap, it has nothing to do with you. And what IF the world sees the real you, ugly bits and weird parts and all? Is that the worst thing in the world? Wouldn’t it feel good to be truly KNOWN for whatever time you’re still left on this planet? And what if some of your words, some of your pain, insecurities, anxiety, strangeness somehow makes someone feel a little bit better about their own?

    What if sharing the good, bad AND the ugly gives others permission to do the same?

    What if it reminds others that regardless of how great someone’s life appears, we all feel pain, sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, and confusion. We often focus on how we’re different. What if my words remind us that we’re actually a lot alike? Mere humans who feel a LOT of things beside the happiness we constantly see in our social media feeds.

    Isn’t the ugly bits what makes us interesting anyway?

    They’ve been duking it out over the past year since I put this site up. Back and forth, back and forth.

    The New Me gaining in strength even as my body got weaker.

    The pain wracking my physical body slowly stripping away the ego. Which, as you may have figured out by now, IS the voice of the Old Self.  

    That voice that tells us it’s better to hide our pain behind laughing photos on the beach.

    The voice that tells us our crazy ideas will never work, why bother trying.

    The voice that says we’re not good enough.

    To show our real self to the world, let alone broadcast it through the Internet.

    But then, I think, Fuck It.

    Who cares. I’d rather be seen, entire self and all, and be jeered at by a few lonely trolls and cheered on by a handful of lovely readers than to hide out in my parents house by myself.

    Because I can’t hide behind work anymore. Or, by jetting around the world. Or, packing my schedule so tight, I don’t have time to FEEL.

    In the end, the idea of *actually* hiding in my parent’s basement, alone, while I try to get better sounds exponentially more terrifying than sharing my story with the public.

    I might as well bare it all. And do it with a REAL smile on my face.

    A smile that comes from truly being SEEN. And nothing else.

  • Cancer Teacher
    Hi there, my name is Julie. I’m a nutritionist that’s had four cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. Cancer can be horrific, painful, life-stealing. It can also be transformative, mind-opening and life-affirming. I’m working hard to get strong and find the silver lining lessons during this shit storm experience. Stay tuned to find out what I've learned, and continue to learn, from Cancer Teacher.

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher

  • Retiring from Teaching Cropped

    I just found old photos of my VERY first cooking students I taught in Seattle in ’97 when I worked for WA State Dept of Health. It was so long ago, there are peanuts on the table! These kids are close to 30 years old now.

    It breaks my heart to say it out loud. 

    I know it’s weird but my work has been the love of my life for the last twenty years.

    Unfortunately, it’s time for me to admit the truth: my body can’t handle the manual labor that goes along with culinary work.

    I was also in denial when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 17 years old. I acted like other college students, drinking alcohol and eating cereal for three straight meals in a row. I lived like that for four years before I was ready to take responsibility for my health.

    Denial is part of the healing process.

    The stakes are higher this time, of course. 

    Three cancers and the impact it’s had on my body requires my full attention.

    And yet, I still managed to live in denial for two years after surgery!

    It’s hard to let go of something we love, especially when it’s a huge part of our identity.

    When people ask me what I do, I don’t say nutritionist or author, I say “cooking teacher.” It’s how I perceive myself first and foremost – and always leads to delightful conversations. 

    And now I have to let it go. 

    I’m retiring from teaching cooking. 

    There, I said it out loud.

    I’m retiring from a career I adore while living with my parents, broke, beaten down and fighting for normalcy in any area of life I can.

    I wish desperately that I could work like a normal person. But I’m at doctor appointments 4-5 days per week. Fluids take up two half days per week, visceral massage, acupuncture add up to another half day. I usually see a specialist of some sort – or this week, I am meeting with a survivorship person at the cancer center. Last week, I met with a gynecologist oncologist – between driving, waiting for an hour, the administrative crap, my appointment took a total of 3 hours. One appointment! 

    And this doesn’t include how crappy I often feel or how emotionally draining some appointments and cancer screenings are.

    I’m often so exhausted by 4pm, that I crawl into bed and stare out the window.

    Some days, I wonder what I’m fighting to get back to, where I’m headed. If I’m in a particularly dark mood, I think about the fact that I have basically no retirement, no way to support myself in upcoming years, my parents can’t keep working forever. They won’t always be around.

    What will I do then? What if more cancer comes back? I have my siblings, of course, but they have their own families to support. I could win the lottery. I could finally grow the fuck up and choose a partner already. But still, nothing is certain. 

    There are no guarantees.

    It’s hard to live with such uncertainty. 

    At a time when most of my peers are firmly locked into careers, homes, and families, I feel completely untethered.

    I don’t have anywhere to be each week except for doctor appointments that I could cancel at any time.

    My friend pointed out that I can create anything for my life now. This is huge reason I never settled down: I loved reinventing myself, starting a new career chapter, moving to a new city, discovering a new lover. 

    That’s changed now. Feeling untethered when everything else in my life is so uncertain makes me feel anxious instead of free, overwhelmed instead of buoyant, afraid instead of confident.

    I guess that’s why it was so important to me that I start this blog before I moved back to Seattle. I needed SOMETHING to focus on, something to connect me to the outside world.

    Otherwise, where do I exist? What is my purpose on this planet?

    I don’t know where I’m headed. None of us do, of course. 

    But most people’s uncertainty is a dull dinner knife pressed against their fleshy backside they can ignore most of the time.

    My uncertainty is a razor sharp fisherman’s knife digging into my jugular. 

    One wrong move, one bad diagnosis, one fatal test result and I’m gone.

    It’s a strange way to live, untethered, uncertain, unattached to normalcy. No money. No career. No partner. No kids. No home of my own.

    My community has always been important to me. 

    But now it feels like my lifeline. 

    You are my family. You are my work. You are my loves.

    That’s all I got right now, are the people in my life. 

    More and more, it’s becoming clear that it’s the only thing we need besides food, water and oxygen. 

    When all you have is love in your life, you hold onto it pretty damn tight.

    Of course, it’s only when everything else was taken away that I could see this. The longer I live without tangible adult identifiers (business owner, renter, girlfriend, employee, freelancer, professional, traveler, gypsy) the easier it is for me to see the real treasures buried underneath the labels.

    The people and the love.

    So now when someone asks me what I “do” for a living, my response will be simple:

    “I’m in school, I’m learning how to be a better human being. I may be failing a couple of subjects but I love it. I love learning what’s important. I love gaining better perspective. But most of all, I love learning how to love.”

  • Cancer Teacher
    Hi there, my name is Julie. I’m a nutritionist that’s had four cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. Cancer can be horrific, painful, life-stealing. It can also be transformative, mind-opening and life-affirming. I’m working hard to get strong and find the silver lining lessons during this shit storm experience. Stay tuned to find out what I've learned, and continue to learn, from Cancer Teacher.

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher

  • Thanksgiving photo with title

    This was taken on Thanksgiving ’13, a few days before I got the call about the cancerous colon polyp that was just the beginning.

    I realized the reason I’ve been in mourning the past year is that I’m grieving the death of someone. A very important person. You could say the most important person in my life.

    I’ve been trying to cope with the death of myself. My former self. My pre-menopausal, fertile, fiber-ingesting, energetic self.

    The woman who would hop on a plane and travel abroad alone.

    The woman who could juggle 8 different freelance gigs at once.

    The woman who could work 10 hour days on her feet, then go for a run at 9pm at night.

    The woman who spent 5 years healing her colon in her twenties so she could travel and eat the foods she loved, salad, popcorn, kale, nuts, dried fruit, beans, grains. 

    That beautiful, lively, brash, opinionated, feisty, athletic fearless woman died on March 14, 2014.

    The doctors love to warn you about the potential death of your body.

    Nobody mentions your metaphysical death.

    The hardest part is trying to figure out who this new self is in the regular world.

    I still have knee-jerk reactions from my old life:

    Sure! I’ll come to your party in a few weeks!

    Yeah, let’s plan a trip next year!

    Absolutely, let’s grab a bite out next weekend!

    Then, reality sets in. Parties stress me out because my energy and digestion are so unpredictable. I can’t travel. Eating out is fraught with anxiety unless I’ve tested the restaurant and found my “safe” meal.

    I wish I knew how to explain this new self to others. But the truth is she is still a bit of mystery to ME.

    I’m getting to know her while you’re getting to know her.

    When I’m around others, I’m thinking: Did I laugh at the right moments? Is it weird that I am visiting the bathroom every five minutes? When people ask how I’m doing, how much do I share? Or, do I pretend I’m normal so I don’t make people uncomfortable?

    I attended a family gathering right after I moved back to Seattle in May. I saw someone I grew up with and the poor guy, trying to make casual conversation, asked where I was living. I figure most of the Jewish community knows my story. But just in case, I test it out. “I’m living with my folks, ya know, recovering from some cancer!” I try to hold my smile as horror washes over his face, clearly unsure how to respond. Damn, he hadn’t heard. Fuck, walk away, Julie. Just walk away.

    I used to love socializing, being outdoors, eating fabulous food, my culinary career, dancing with friends….

    What happens when most of your identity gets stripped away? 

    How do you evolve into a new person when you’re still figuring out your physical limitations?

    Why does our mainstream medical world expect us to carry on like nothing has changed?

    Where do I fit in the world now that I’m this different person?

    I still laugh easily. I’m still a hugger. I’m still passionate, feisty and overly protective of the people I love. 

    But I have changed. I’m more serious now. “Life is short” isn’t some motto I see on Instagram and keep scrolling. That ambitious self slipped away along with my hormones and my uncertain future. My focus is finding a way to stay alive AND improve quality of life. And hopefully help some other people while I figure it out.

    What I DO know: this new woman is more introverted and quieter because talking takes energy. I’d rather paint than go to a party. I’m more compassionate – I’ve always been a mushball but now I’ll cry along with you during your grief. I’m less reactive – most things aren’t worth getting worked up about.  

    I think I’m near the end of grieving for my old self (will it end?). Last week, I realized that I was crying for someone that wasn’t all that happy anyway. Yes, I could travel and eat more freely. But I was also a chronic worrier, a workaholic, angered easily and struggled with expressing my feelings.

    I’m not the first person to go through cancer and feel like it’s a chance to start fresh. 

    A rebirth.

    I think a lot of the pain over the last few months was grieving AND labor pains. Trying to give birth to this new version of myself, one that isn’t scared to call herself a writer and an artist. Or, share her innermost and feelings thoughts after a lifetime of hiding them.

    Best of all, I’m finally starting to grasp the alchemy of love. Understand it’s dimensions, it’s depth, it’s power. How it feels to open yourself up to it, ask for it, receive it from all kinds of sources, ANY time, ALL the time. More importantly, this new Julie Negrin knows how to give love, unabashedly without hesitation, hollering “I love you” across the street as we part or into the phone as we hang up.

    And that’s how I’m managing to walk away from the old me and head toward the new one. The old me could do a lot of things I can no longer do. But the new me truly knows how to love.

    I’m not the same person. But…I’m finally accepting that this might be a good thing.

  • Cancer Teacher
    Hi there, my name is Julie. I’m a nutritionist that’s had four cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. Cancer can be horrific, painful, life-stealing. It can also be transformative, mind-opening and life-affirming. I’m working hard to get strong and find the silver lining lessons during this shit storm experience. Stay tuned to find out what I've learned, and continue to learn, from Cancer Teacher.

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher