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

I’m not the same person

September 1, 2016 by Julie Negrin

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.

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Categories: Attitude, Blog, Cancer, Grieving, Life Lessons, Mental Health, Recovery, Spirituality

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  • Hi, my name is Julie Negrin. I’m a nutritionist that’s battled 4 cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once — due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. In the three years since I lost four organs, I've been slowly transforming to "disabled" after living a mostly able-bodied life. I've also had a bunch of other complications including not being able to eat solid foods.... Stick around if you're not afraid of the ugly bits. Much love,

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher

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