Guest Writer: Lauren Levenstein
A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend - six feet apart of course - having a frozé and cheese board at a local bar’s patio. As an extrovert, a challenge during these socially distant, pandemic times - I was energized, my endorphins were flowing, the weather was great, and I couldn’t help but think, “this is so healthy for me!” Wait, a sugary drink and cheese board, healthy? What?! The answer for me is a resounding “yes!” For my whole life I have always struggled, and continue to struggle, with defining what it means to be healthy for me. I want to be healthy, happy, confident, and attractive without having to validate it all by a number on the scale or clothing size and without having to sacrifice what fulfills me. Finding my definition of healthy has been a lifelong journey but surviving Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has had the greatest impact on my recent revelations. I’m ready to live life healthfully, unapologetically, and happily because life is fleeting, something I know as a cancer survivor and is front and center for all in the midst of the COVID crisis. Here are some of my learnings that I hope will resonate with anyone else trying to find the healthy balance that is right for them and the power to embrace it and let go.
Meet yourself where you are and be present: There were so many days during my journey - before diagnosis, during six months of chemo treatments, and in the year of recovery that followed - when I had to be present and do what was right for me health-wise. In some cases, that meant a walk to my neighborhood Starbucks or grocery store was akin to finishing a marathon; riding bikes with my dad in Stowe, VT three months post-chemo was my Tour de France; or taking it slow at a Boldbeats class in between treatments was victory enough for me. In other cases that meant feeding my soul by napping, indulging in a pack of Skittles, or enjoying some drinks with friends. It’s about balance and fulfillment. I tried not to feel guilty or punish myself for any of my choices. My body has made a pretty full recovery now but I still remember to meet myself where I am and keep my goals attainable.
Radical self acceptance is hard: I still struggle with this, but I am learning to accept my post-cancer body and be empowered by it. Before starting treatment, I remember thinking “the only good thing about cancer is losing all this weight!” (You know you’ve been jaded by weight-loss culture when you’re thanking cancer for the assistance.) As I started treatment, I gained the weight back and more thanks to Steroids, other medications, and exhaustion. I still struggle with the fact that I’m at my largest size ever and occasionally I resolve to “lose the weight!” But the truth is I do cardio workouts 4 days a week now, go hiking and walking regularly (7 miles on a recent Saturday!), and am falling in love with Boldbeats kickboxing. I’m feeling stronger than ever before and my stamina is back. I’ve drastically reduced my processed sugar intake and most of my meals are healthy. I’ve given up on trying to fit back into a particular size or achieve a number on the scale and am focusing on what makes me happy, healthy, and balanced. It’s not easy but it’s a hell of a lot better than feeling defeated. In remission, I’ve defined radical self acceptance as silencing the self-talk on how I should be a size smaller or how I’m going to lose the weight to “right” my body - those constant thoughts just bring me disappointment and guilt about enjoying food and life. Although it’s a work in progress - I’m deciding to love my body for what it is, find confidence, and stop worrying about the need to always achieve lower numbers - it doesn’t fulfill me. Bodies survive a lot - mine survived cancer and my scars and curves are interesting - that’s pretty sexy if you ask me!
Embrace what is most important with gratitude: I am one of the luckiest people on this earth. I’ve been through a lot but I survived! I try not to take that or the fact that I have the most supportive family and friends in the world for granted - I was privileged to have health insurance, excellent medical care, an understanding and flexible workplace, and resources. I continue to be supported, loved, and lucky. My attitude of gratitude was shaped by my family’s values and by going through challenges and joys in life that have literally exemplified the preciousness of time on earth. All struggles are relative and it’s important to feel what you feel, but when I have those moments of feeling despair, low self-esteem, or unworthiness, I try to remember what I do have, be gracious, feel strong in my body and ask “what’s next?”
Lauren Levenstein is a freelance writer, communications manager, and project manager. She has more than a decade of experience supporting progressive, mission-focused organizations and firms. When she is not creating meaningful content or managing teams to get the job done, Lauren enjoys being active outside, participating in online fitness classes, cooking, and spending time with family and friends (socially distant of course!) She lives in Washington D.C. with her cat, the one and only, Mr. Louis. email@example.com IG: @laurenlev_n_learn