This weekend, I watched a documentary by actress ad photographer Kris Carr called “Crazy Sexy Cancer.” Carr was diagnosed with a rare and incurable type of cancer called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EHE) that left 24 “beauty marks” on her liver and lungs. When the doctors diagnosed her with her cancer, they said her cancer was in stage four, but told Carr to remain optimistic. Despite the severity of her cancer, her cancer was very slow moving, so she had time to contemplate treatment options before committing to anything. While chemotherapy remained a possibility, Carr decided to use her time to explore alternative medicine to see if it could fight her cancer.
After Carr received her cancer diagnosis, the documentary showed how Carr began her healing journey by going to a bookstore and buying as many books as she could on alternative medicine. Additionally, she visited an alternative medicine fair, a naturopathic doctor, an acupuncturist, a nutritionist specializing in the micronutrient diet, and a pH alkaline specialist. She tried eating a variety of Chinese herbs, rubbed healing mud all over her body, practiced yoga, consulted spiritual teachers, and attempted laughter, dance, and anger therapy. I would try anything as well if I had stage four of an incurable cancer.
While exploring alternative medicine, I could also relate to Carr’s exhaustion of devoting all her time to her health. The best way she describe it was “cancer became my full time job.” She had to quit her job as an actress that she loved and become dependent on her parents again. Time she would spent having a social life became consumed by doctor appointments and trying to figure out what works best for her body.
Last semester, I was in a similar situation. Since my doctors did not know what was wrong with me, I had to quit all my activities that I was involved in exchange for doctor appointments and self-caring. From someone who has always been a very active and involved person, especially at a university like UNC-Chapel Hill, where it seems like every student is involved in something, it was very difficult for me to not participate in some sort of cause. Being involved in activities gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel connected to my different communities. Without these interactions, like Carr, I felt like I lost my identity. I felt like my identity became my health problems. It is always scary to go through health problems, but for me, it was especially difficult to do so in college, because I was already adjusting to so much change, and I was away from the support of my family.
Carr also had to change her diet. Like me, she made Whole Foods her pharmacy. She had to go on a plant-based diet, so if her foods didn’t come from a plant, she could not eat it. Consequently, this new diet required a lot of time cooking in the kitchen, as the majority of restaurants did not serve the raw meals that she needed. Initially, Carr was excited to be cooking so much because of how amazing she felt after eating, but eventually, she started to feel imprisoned by her kitchen because the amount of time it took her to prepare her food caused her to be isolated from socialization. The amount of time she would have spent meeting a friend for dinner or lunch had to now be invested into cooking.
Like Carr, last semester, I had to structure my schedule to always be in close proximity to my kitchen. I could not pick up a meal from the dinning hall or a restaurant. Because of all my allergies, I had to prepare everything that went into my mouth, which was a huge undertaking for a college student, living in a dorm room, out of a small mini fridge, and with no personal kitchen. Like Carr’s experience, all the hours I had to spend cooking for myself drastically minimized my time for socialization.
Besides having to change my schedule and my allocation of my time, the hardest part for me was that I felt I could not open up and share what I was going through. I felt like I couldn’t share that I was going to the doctor’s office to get tests done because generally speaking, most college students are fortunate enough to be in good health and do not have to spend their time as frequently as I did in doctor offices. Because I felt like people couldn’t understand my situation, I felt that they would be unable to emphasize.
Eventually I realized that we are all going through something, whether we vocalize it or not. My food allergies might be someone else’s anxiety disorder, battle with depression, or cancer. For the longest time, I thought that my food allergies were a punishment for something that I had done. However, I quickly learned that hardships are an opportunity for us to practice acceptance. My food allergies have blessed me with the chance to practice accepting all the things I can and cannot change about myself. And by practicing accepting who I am and who I am not, I have become better at accepting others and other things that happen in my life.
Whether you have stage four cancer or the inability to digest a variety of foods, practice accepting your crazy, sexy hardships.