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

  • Words are like puppies and toddlers. The more you chase them, the further they run.

    I’ve finally learned to stop. And walk the other way. Until they starting chasing me.

    The writing voice I couldn’t find for so many years finally showed up when I stopped looking for it.

    Only when I was drugged and in so much pain, could it finally find it’s way through the complicated neurons synapsing in my brain.

    The drugs and pain creating a tunnel like the parting of the Red Sea.

    Creating a pathway for the words to finally escape.

    Now the words flood my brain every day, all day, especially late in the evenings.

    They come to me while I eat, while I walk, while I’m in the bathroom, in the shower, at the doctor.

    I tried for so many years to hold them back, afraid I would drown if I let them all in.

    But this past month, it became too exhausting to cover the holes in the dyke any longer.

    Whatever I was afraid of happening couldn’t be worse than how bad I felt trying to hold them back.

    So after a lifetime of trying to keep them at bay, I filled my lungs with air, held my breath, and removed my hands from the crumbling wall. I braced myself for the literary tidal wave that slammed into my fragile body.

    I am now gulping for air, clawing my way to the surface. Watery words twisting around my legs like seaweed.

    Currents of icy cold epiphanies and poetic prose gagging me.

    The salty sting of truths clawing at my skin.

    My only option now is to learn to swim through them and figure out how to navigate their powerful currents. And hope that I’ll master a few strokes. That, one day, it won’t all feel so overwhelming.

    But it’s a process.

    It takes time to master the river of words. I’m flailing, banging into large boulders, sometimes sinking, like a small kid suddenly thrown in the deep end of a pool.

    I’m trying to adjust. To so many things. Living with family. Surviving on liquids. Coping with pain.

    This new reality will take some time. Trying to wrap my head around being disabled, to calling myself an artist, a writer. To knowing my life will never be the same again.

    All I know is that I feel so much better when I let the words OUT.

    When I give them a little bit of attention. Drawing them on paper with black sharpies. Scratching them onto tiny pieces of paper in the middle of the night.

    Entering them here into proper form for the world to see. Rearranging them. Editing them. Even when I’m falling asleep, I’m trying out different words in sentences that are running through my mind.

    Maybe, if I share the words here on a regular basis, they won’t beat their little letters against my skin, my gray matter, my heart when I need peace and quiet.

    If I share the words here, they will find other people who will grab them, hold them in their hands, and stuff them in their hearts so they won’t be alone anymore.

    If I share them here, it won’t just be me carrying the long sentences, the heavy phrases, and even the tiny punctuations, up the long, winding mountain alone.

    If I share the words here, maybe we can divide them up between us and carry them all together.

    I think my body would appreciate that very much. If I shared the words and we all put them in our pocket and walked up the lonely, cold mountain together.

    All I know is that the words want out. And writing them down in private isn’t enough anymore.

    Now they want to be HEARD. Be SEEN. Find other homes, other hearts to live in.

    And my only job, the weary secretary, is to release them to the wind.

    Perhaps that’s what art is – releasing something that we can’t hold in anymore.

    So that whatever it is that we create, finds a new home, the right home.

    Because I couldn’t stop now even if I tried.

    They are tired of living in my phone and in my journals.

    They want to fly free and I can’t blame them.

    If you close your eyes and listen only to the whispering on the wind, they’ll find you too.

  • 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

  • FullSizeRender (7)

    Dear Beth,

    I heard you were just diagnosed and wanted to write you a letter. I remember feeling so lost and alone after my diagnosis.

    You are probably freaking out right now. Panic, fear, grief. It’s overwhelming.

    The moment the doctor said “cancer” everything changed.

    The grocery store clerks mutters a casual “how are you?” and you want to shriek in their face, “I HAVE CANCER THAT’S HOW I’M DOING. I’M LOSING MY MIND. DEBIT OR CREDIT, REALLY? MORE LIKE LIFE OR DEATH!”

    But you don’t. You grimace and say “fine” and finish your transaction.

    Your friend calls to hear how you’re doing. You give a few details and trail off. She senses the uncomfortable lull and begins chatting about work. You want to cry out, “I’M SO JEALOUS. I WANT TO HAVE SOMETHING MUNDANE TO TALK ABOUT!!!!!

    But you don’t. You stifle your envy, thank her profusely for calling and hang up.

    People at work say how sorry they are. Others look away when you walk down the hall. You want to grab their arm and shout, “IT’S NOT CONTAGIOUS!! I’M NOT INVISIBLE – LOOOOOOK ATTTTTT MEEEEE!!!!!”

    But you don’t. You walk to the bathroom, sit in the stall and stare at the door. What is happening, what is happening to me. WHAT. IS. HAPPENING. TO. ME.

    You’re now unfortunately part of a secret society in CancerLand. Trying to do “real life” while also scheduling doctor appointments feels impossible. Finding out the details is excruciating: What stage? The prognosis? Treatment options? Do I have to have surgery? What is the recovery? Do I need chemotherapy? How much time off work will I need to take? Will I be able to care for my kids? Does my insurance cover all of this?

    WILL I DIE?

    WILL I DIE?

    WILL I DIE?

    WILL I DIE?

    It fucking sucks.

    I wish I could make it go away for you. I’d fly around as the Anti-Cancer Fairy, wave my magic wand and make it disappear for everyone. You’d wake up the next morning and think “Whew I had a horrible nightmare last night.” Shake your head, make your coffee and think damn, glad that wasn’t real.

    I can’t do that. But I can do something else. I can give you the more positive spin on what’s happening. So often, doctors give worst case scenarios due to liability issues. It’s astounding how depressing doctor appointments can be after a cancer diagnosis. I would counter them with phone calls to upbeat survivors and visit my acupuncturist just to hear all his spectacular survival stories (I still do this).

    A cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean certain death anymore. Not at all. In 2014, there were 14 MILLION SURVIVORS. That’s a lot of surviving going on.

    I meet many survivors that were Stage 4, given 5% chance and are alive 10, 15, even 30 years later (I will be interviewing them here later).

    I WANT YOU TO HAVE THIS IN YOUR MIND THROUGHOUT YOUR CANCER EXPERIENCE. I want you to keep a vision of yourself with hair again, happy, healthy, doing great. Create your mantra. I’m going make it through. I’m going to live a long time. I’m going to be AWE-SOME when I’m done with all of this. Whatever works for you. Can be silly, something profound, whatever feels good to YOU.FullSizeRender (1)

    I know it’s so so SO hard to “stay positive” when you’re feeling scared and sad. I’m not saying it’s easy. That’s where the notes and phone calls to survivor friends come in. They hold us up through the dark periods.

    I have a card on my whiteboard that I can see from bed that says “YOU GOT THIS” and I wrote NEVER GIVE UP. 

    Some days, I’ve been super depressed, laying in bed. And my eyes fall on the NEVER GIVE UP message my more upbeat self wrote for my sad self. And I’m reminded of my strength. I don’t know why but the notes work. They just do.

    I also came up with my mantra while posting on Facebook which I still use:

    I CAN DO THIS.

    You can too.

    You CAN DO THIS.

    I’m with you. You’re not alone.

    Fight on.

    Much love, Jules

  • 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