The Stages of Sex After a Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer and sex: do they go together? Can they go together? I have cervical cancer and it isn’t going away. Does that mean I can never have sex or experience intimacy again? Absolutely not. However, it sometimes feels that way.

untitled-11-of-18My vagina has been trying to kill me for years. That is how I feel, anyway. My cancer started out growing on my cervix, so mentally it is hard to stay outside of my own head during sex. It is hard to not think about this thing inside me which continues to attempt to kill me, and the fact that it all started out right there! It makes it hard to stay in the moment.

When I get asked the question “Can cancer and sex go together?” my answer starts out in a way you might not imagine. We actually caught my cancer because I was having sex. One of the symptoms of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding with intercourse. My husband, then my boyfriend, asked about the bleeding as it became increasingly worse.

I remember the last time we had sex before my diagnosis. It wasn’t because it was the most amazing night of my life or anything dreamy like that; I remember it because we were away at a conference and staying in a hotel. We had sex and afterward it looked like a graphic murder scene. I can only imagine what the hotel staff must have thought about when they came in to clean the room the next day.

My spouse said, “That’s it, no more sex until you get checked out and see what is going on.” The threat of no sex actually pushed me towards seeing my doctor and directly led to getting my diagnosis of cervical cancer in October 2012. It felt like the world was crashing in around me. I never even considered how it might impact my sex life, I just wanted to get the cancer out!

Has your doctor ever talked to you about sex and cancer? I would guess not. It’s time to take a look at sex and cancer in a few ways. Let’s break it down by stages of the cancer story:


Your sex life could change, even before diagnosis. Sometimes sex can trigger symptoms of your cancer, such as bleeding with intercourse. Sometimes cancer causes your hormones to get crazy. You might not feel like having sex or you may go the opposite way and want sex all the time. It is hard to say and it varies person to person. One might also find that your sexual abilities are not impacted at all, while another person might find that those body parts just don’t want to work. Once you have a diagnosis you will have the mental aspect to cope with as well, and this too can have an impact on your sex life. Bottom line: your sex life might begin to change before you even enter treatment.


dsc06009Sex and treatment? This is an entirely different ballgame. The wide variety of treatments available in cancer can have an even wider range of impacts sexually. You could find yourself with extreme nausea and fatigue, with sex being the furthest thing from your mind. You could find yourself in a treatment or have a surgical procedure that will put you on restrictions as to how long you have to wait to have sex.

Personally, I had multiple surgeries and each one seemed to extend the amount of time before sex was even an option. After surgery often comes more treatment, sometimes chemo and/or radiation. I know during radiation I was able to have sex. I remember a particularly entertaining time at my radiation oncologist when my husband thought he should ask the doctor if it was okay to have sex. My doctor replied, “I’m all for sex, no problem there.” My husband joked that he was worried he would come out like a glow worm. As uncomfortable as it might be, take the time and ask your doctor if you are unsure if you are fit for sexual activity based on your treatment plan.

And let’s not forget about menopause. That’s right– menopause can be a side effect of cancer treatment. This is a beast all in its own. Vaginal dryness, hormones gone wild, loss of desire. All of these are pieces that you have to overcome if you want to have a fulfilling sex life again.


I have to be honest here, I haven’t made it into the remission stage for any long period of time and I am living my life with cancer, so I am going on 5what I hear from my cancer friends. It. Gets. Better. It might not be today, it might not be next year, but sex after cancer gets better. Things might be different. They might not ever be the same. You might need lubricant. You might not be able to be as spontaneous as you once were. You might not be able to have sex in all the same ways and you know what, you might not even be able to have a sex life that even resembles a “typical sex life.” That is okay. Find your groove.

I asked a friend about sex and cancer and she said she is all for it, but immediately realized that maybe she should be talking to her doctor about it. She had recently been notified that her blood work indicated her counts were low (neutropenia), and she realized she could be putting herself at further risk–risk she didn’t even think of.

Cancer means you have to worry about things you never thought you’d have to worry about. Sex shouldn’t have to be one of them, but it is. I hope that throughout your cancer story you find your groove and keep it! I hope that sex doesn’t become difficult. However, be prepared because you need to make some adjustments along the way. Sex can change due to cancer, and that is okay. Physically your body will be different after treatments. You might look different, you might have scars, you might have numbness, and you will definitely feel different.

Don’t try to be someone else’s version of sexy. You’re your own version; embrace your cancer body. Celebrate the things you enjoy sexually and understand you might have limitations. Those limitations are okay. Find your new normal, embrace it, and enjoy life!

left-eye-9-1Erica, Left Eye, is a 31 year old cervical cancer advocate who is out living cancer for the third time. When she isn’t advocating for cervical cancer and HPV awareness as a Cervivor Ambassador, she can be found roboting or heading up the STEM program at the school where she is an educator. Erica enjoys spending time with her husband and son in their Indianapolis neighborhood, as well as pursuing new and adventurous hobbies. She can most recently be found fawning over kayaks and daydreaming of returning to whitewater kayaking with FD, chatting it up with her FD Family, and spending weekly visits with the Hoosier Kayak Club. Follow Left Eye on her own blog,

*This piece was originally published by FD Alumni, Erica “Left Eye” Frazier Stum on I Had Cancer and we are reposting with the authors permission. 

The Cancer Dating Blahs

horsetooth-1Dating can be a beast of a headache. It’s no wonder that this topic inspires tons of articles in magazines, blogs, books, and conversations on television. There is so much weird etiquette to agonize over and different rules to live by. When do I txt him back? Do I play hard to get? Is he ghosting me? What do we disclose and when? It gives me hives just writing about it.

As a young adult cancer survivor/fighter, it has the potential to be a nightmare. There isn’t a guidebook for us and we, like many of our struggles, must make it up as we go along. Battling cancer leaves scars, physical and mental, and can impact us years after treatment passes. From issues such as chemo-induced menopause, infertility, P.T.S.D., neuropathy, and mastectomies there is no hiding the way cancer leaves a lasting impression.

So do you tell someone right away about your cancer history/present? What a conversation starter that would be! Let’s talk about chemotherapy over pasta, that will really get their motor running. There’s nothing sexier than talking about injecting straight up poison into your chest. Hey baby, want to see my port scar? Do you like bald chicks? Let me tell you about my scanxiety, I’m sure that’ll put you at ease.

Yeah, not exactly conversation starters many people feel comfortable with.

This one question alone seems so simple yet it’s so complicated. If you don’t share your experiences right away, are you really being honest and true tofdhighfive-1 yourself? But if you share too soon, there’s that fear of scaring people away. Because let’s face it, young adult cancer makes so many people uncomfortable. No one likes to hear about cancer in our age group. It makes people question their own mortality and no one wants to be reminded of how uncertain life can be. ‘That could happen to me’ is a valid and common fear that many young adults are not ready to be confronted with. Dealing with cancer can be an isolating experience. So it’s reasonable to feel pressured into not wanting to share those experiences right away. Who wants the risk of feeling othered when you’re trying to connect with someone new?

But how long is too long to wait? If someone cannot handle the tug of war you’ve played with your cells, shouldn’t you know right off the bat instead of wasting your time?

There’s no easy answers for this. And unfortunately, this seemingly simple question can be daunting enough to take the thrill out of dating. Issues in the same wheelhouse as your sex life doesn’t exactly help those thrills either. No one wants someone to be reminded of weird vagina pill commercials that come on during the Price is Right when you try to explain your menopause. And what about sexy time itself? Hey, did you bring a condom? Nah, no worries these eggs aren’t hatching, it’s cool brah! And speaking of infertility, what about that? No one wants to start talking about the future too early but wdozerkayak-1hat if you spend a significant amount of time with someone just to find out they only want biological children and that’s not a possibility for you? Then what? And since fertility options are an absolute mess for cancer patients, there are so many of us that cannot have children.

It’s a struggle in all aspects. Communication is likely the best option (I’m not Oprah though so don’t ask me!) but that doesn’t make it any easier.

On the flip side of all of this, someone worth your time will accept these things. And you deserve that strength in your life. There’s no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. Just a shared mutuality and frustration for how much cancer impacts every aspect of our lives. And that just sucks. The one thing worth saying is don’t isolate yourself. Don’t give up. And laugh it off. If someone freaks about your cancer and runs for it, be happy that they ran. Let them run as far away from your thriving booty as possible. They didn’t deserve those cancer fighting buns of steel anyways.

This is another topic that highlights how important it is to have a community to belong to that understands. One of the many life changing things about going on my first trip with First Descents is now that I have a community to turn to whenever I need it. There can be no isolation when you have a tribe of people supporting you that share so many of your same experiences. And that’s so important.


Lindsay (Dozer) Brookshier grew up in Colorado and spent half of her adult life in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She and her six year old son currently reside in Fort Collins as she bulldozes her way through a MA degree in English literature while teaching college composition. She went on her first trip with First Descents summer 2016 to Hood River and learned how to white water kayak with initial terror followed by immense enthusiasm. Since then she has become hooked to the spiritual experience of pushing her limits, embracing nature, and Out Living It. One of her greatest passions is writing blogs that advocate for young adult cancer awareness with her favorite subjects centering on struggles of parenthood, patient advocacy, and self image. You can follow her most recent blog posts here:


Step Away From the Mirror: Body Image and Cancer

If you are struggling with your identity and your image, whether you’re currently undergoing cancer treatment or are 10 years removed from diagnosis, know that you are absolutely not alone in your struggle. There are millions of women across the country struggling with image and eating disorders every day. We obsess over body shape, tummy flatness and that wobbly underarm bit that shakes when you wave.

fridge 2American women, in particular, seem to be more susceptible to the pressure to be thin, to look perfect. We count calories and worry about “muffin tops” and I don’t mean the delicious, rounded portion of a breakfast pastry. What happens, then, when you take unrealistic size expectations and overlay them on a population whose bodies have undergone drastic and painful physical changes in a short period of time due to cancer? How do you reconcile six-pack abs with a colostomy bag? Or horizontal scars where once there were breasts?

The first time I remember thinking I might be “fat” was at the age of 11 and I spent the next 10 years managing eating disorders, obsessive calorie counting and over exercising. Then as a college sophomore, I found myself receiving treatment for cancer and observing my body morph into something unrecognizable. My personal image issues crashed headlong into my cancer diagnosis and I remain, nine years later, damaged from that battle.

Those image struggles began pretty quickly after my initial admittance to the hospital for acute lymphocytic leukemia. The induction therapy was scheduled over four weeks, all inpatient. Every single day, I watched my weight drop. My muscles withered away from lack of use. My dancer’s calves, of which I was so proud, disappeared along with my hair and my identity as a young woman. So much for the perfect body. So much for calorie counting when you’re on prednisone and all you need is an Oreo Blizzard with chocolate ice cream. But you only have intermittent days when you actually want to eat, when you aren’t puking or lying in bed because you have zero energy while your mom does your laundry. When you find yourself in those situations, society’s female body standards fly right out the window.

After treatment, I gained weight but was so self-conscious about my body that I still wasn’t connected to my truest self. My cancer hasn’t returned, but I have struggled nonstop with its continued effects, the least of which has been weight gain and loss.

I want to say it gets easier, but we all know that isn’t quite true. I’m a realist who relies on positivity: As cancer survivors, we are stronger individuals for having faced down our medical demons. Our bodies – loved, hated, misunderstood – completely betrayed us. I had leukemia, and I distinctly remember thinking that my literal lifeblood had turned on me. Forget image issues; I had issues with my entire hematologic system.

For those of us who have had cancers that target the female organs, the struggle to re-discover ourselves is even more difficult. So what do we do? How do we get back to “who we were!”? Well, the good and the bad news is that we will never get back to who we once were. We get to figure out the essential parts of us that remain and are waiting until we are ready to start inching towards our new identities. It is incredibly intimidating to think of starting over but we are an elite group of individuals who possess an indestructible iron core of strength and we can figure it out.

fridge 1If we can believe in ourselves above all else; if we can internalize that we are powerful beyond our wildest dreams; if we can find those things that bring us the most joy, then nothing can stop us. I may never quite be at peace with my body, but I also refuse to give up on it. The best part is I have two secret weapons in this particular fight – the knowledge that absolutely nothing is more important than my health and a deep-seated belief that I can survive whatever the universe throws my way because I’ve already been put through its wringer.

I hope you can find strength to step away from the mirror, take a deep breath, and commit to embracing your scars, muffin top and body because you are a fighter.


fridge 3Caroline “Fridge” Bridges grew up in Chicago, IL, and has lived and loved life in Denver for more than five years. In 2009, Caroline went on her first First Descents camp, climbing in the Tetons, and the experience opened her eyes to the possibility of thriving after cancer. Since 2009, she has participated in three more camps, as both a camper and a volunteer photographer, and ran in the Boston Marathon and the Ragnar Relay Snowmass for FD. Caroline loves to give back through volunteerism and spends as much time running around in the mountains as she can. Follow her running and nutrition misadventures online at

Farmdog Surf Scholarship: I love surfing.

We received so many amazing submissions for the Farmdog Surf School + First Descents Surf Scholarship. It was so difficult to choose just one. All of our participants told incredible testimonials of how surfing has impacted their lives and helped them to embody the true meaning of Out Living It and we were inspired by each of you for having the courage to face your fears, push through, and continue living life to it’s fullest.


Check out his essay below

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I love surfing. I started a few years ago and fell in love with watching the surf report and driving an hour to the beach to try and surf. (I suck at surfing but I’m in love with it).

My parents have a place in Rhode Island that is good for surfing in the summer. New Hampshire is awesome for winter surfing.

My first board and only board was a 10′ Hobie. I spent some money patching it up and it was beat so I had to junk it after a couple seasons. Now I don’t have a board. I do have a paddleboard which I use on the lake.

I have gone surfing in Hawaii and the Dominican Republic. All small stuff but still a blast. I have gotten a lot of friends into surfing and they all love it.

Every year, I help Wounded Warriors with a surf day up in New Hampshire. We get disabled veterans on boards and get them surfing. It is such a site to see all the smiles on their faces once they start riding the waves.  I am a combat veteran myself and love helping out whenever I can. I also read that veterans that take pain meds on a regular basis don’t have to when they surf because it releases endorphins and they feel like a million bucks.

I was lucky enough to head to Colorado to ice climb with FD this past February. What an amazing experience with some incredible people. I love the staff and everyone I met on the trip. Just the other night I had beers with Thor and Ricki Bobby (local friends I met on the trip).

I never realized how everyone’s story of having cancer is the same and so different. We all went through extreme hardships but the mental and emotional endeavors were all different.

I always looked at the positives and kept pushing on when I was sick.  I realized after my trip with FD that I can’t really just forget about things as severe as they were.  Talking about them with my FD family was extremely helpful. Being a cop and a veteran I was taught to suck it up and keep moving.

Now I know there are other options.

I love surfing the east coast. You get up early and head to the water. Get out past the break and squint your eyes because the sun is coming up over the horizon, spit out some salt water. There can be five or fifty people out there and no one is saying a word. We are all just watching and waiting for our ride in on the perfect wave (hopefully stand up) then paddle out to do it all over again.

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Yoga for Cancer… & Stress, Strength, Mental Clarity and Everything Else You Could Possibly Want

Stuck in the belief system that if you’re not working out at high intensities or pumping heavy iron, you won’t see results, yoga was nowhere on my radar for years. My interest in yoga didn’t develop until a cleanse I was following recommended it as a gentle practice to aid detoxification. Committed to achieving the best results, I followed the advice and found acarly Bikram studio in Chicago. During my first class, I noticed my ability to perform the yoga asanas or poses was compromised on my left side. The trouble was due to a three degree tear of my PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). I was 28 years old at the time and felt defeated by my body’s lack of strength, flexibility and agility. But I wasn’t about to give up. I kept going back and after a few classes noticed I was able to move slightly deeper into the pose each day. My progress excited and kept me committed. After 30 days, both sides of my body were equally strong and flexible—nothing shy of a miracle from where I started.
My yoga practice has fluctuated over the years. I’ve experimented with different studios, teachers, and styles. Before my breast cancer diagnosis, yoga had taken a back seat to skiing, mountain biking and hiking. After my diagnosis, I was thankful to have this practice to fall back on. Yoga has served as the only form of exercise I have consistently stuck with throughout my treatment and healing. It is my primary form of exercise, and surprise surprise, I’ve never felt stronger, leaner and more fit.
There are many excuses one can make to avoid yoga including, 1) I’ve never done it, 2) I’ll hate it, 3) It’s not for me, 4) It’s for women only, 5) My booty looks big in yoga pants, 6) Yoga is for tree hugging, granola munching, crunchy people only, 7) I’m too wound up, 8) I don’t have time, 9) It’s too spiritual, 10) I’m not flexible, 11) I’m too tired, 12) I’m too sick, 13) I like beer and hot dogs and, therefore, couldn’t possibly do yoga, 14) Fill in your excuse here _____. If you find yourself making any of these excuses, yoga will likely be perfect for you!
How to Succeed at Yoga
  • Keep an open mind
Everything you do for the first time feels strange in some way. As adults, it’s uncomfortable not knowing what you’re doing. Check your expectations and insecurities at the door and allow your experience to unfold naturally. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find if go in without any preconceived notions of what yoga should or shouldn’t be.
  • Find a studio and teachers you love
I stopped my yoga practice a few years ago because the gym I joined lacked the environment and teachers I desired. Instead of seeking out what I wanted, I quit. Now I’m at a gym I love, with a yoga studio that meets my needs, and has teachers I enjoy. Trust your gut. If the class or studio feels off to you, shop around until you find what feels right. If you live in a location where one of the daily deal sites offers discounts, I’d start there. I purchased a 20-punch card in Phoenix for $10 at what turned out to be an excellent studio. Alternatively, go with a friend and try their studio. See if they can get you a guest card. Some places will offer the first class for free.
  • Understand no one is looking at you
Recently, a regular in my class asked me to let him know if is underwear poked out during class. I said he’d have to figure that out himself because the odds of me looking at him, even though he was in the row ahead of me, were slim to none. Most people in your class have likely been doing yoga long enough to know what’s going on. We are focused on our breath and the intention we set for our practice. You might look around the room to figure out what you’re doing, which is natural. But the majority of us are in a world of our own. No one will notice if you can’t do a pose. One day soon, you won’t be looking at anyone else either.
  • Wear something you feel comfortable in
Some athletic-wear brands have contributed to the illusion that yoga class is a fashion show. It’s not. If you feel judged by what you wear, you’re at the wrong studio. Wear what you’d usually work out in and adjust going forward as needed.
  • Make it about you and what you need

We’re all on the mat for different reasons. Discover what you need and set an intention for each class. Listen to your body. If a posture is hurting, stop. Talk to the teacher. Let them know what’s going on. If you’re tired, rest. During my intensive treatment phase, I spent a disproportionate amount of class in child’s pose while everyone else toughed it out. I couldn’t have cared less. I was proud to be there and acknowledged the benefit of being in child’s or corpse pose, as opposed to being home in bed. Honor your body and what it needs.

Why Yoga Will be the Best Practice of Your Life
The benefits are immeasurable, but here are several reasons to get on the mat 
Decreases stress. Releases endorphins. Builds strength (inner and outer) and increases flexibility. Drains lymphatic system (flushing junk from treatment out of your body). Provides mental clarity. Enhances respiration. Leads to better bone health. Gets your blood flowing. Boosts immunity. Regulates adrenal glands. Supports proper digestion. Reduces pain. Improves your relationships. Balances your brain. Makes you happy!!! The benefits are endless.
I love my yoga practice. When my mind is spinning a mile a minute, it helps me reel in my crazy thoughts. When my body feels sluggish, tight and off, yoga provides me with energy I didn’t think I had. When I can’t let go of thoughts, they emerge and are released during class. When I’ve felt unable to workout at my usual levels, yoga gave me a way to move my body that felt nourishing and empowering. Today, as a result of my continuing yoga practice I am stronger than ever–physically and mentally.
Now that you’re all ready to stretch, strengthen and relax…..
Photo Creds: my strong, brave, fierce yoga teacher who captured me as I fell. Yoga is a practice.

Your Results Are Positive: The 90 Second Phone Call That Changed My Life

FullSizeRender (7)When I woke up on the morning of April 9th, 2015, I immediately called my doctor’s office to see if my results were available. They weren’t. I puttered around at my table until the phone rang at 12:14 pm. It was my OBG. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I answered the phone. She wasted no time delivering the scariest, arguably worst, news of my life. In under 90 seconds, I’d been diagnosed with cancer. My innocence was shattered in a matter of seconds. The color in my face was first to go, followed by the life-force draining out of my body. I was light headed and in fight or flight. Time was standing still. Blinking my eyes several times, I wondered: had I heard her correctly? Shaking, confused and bewildered, I called my boyfriend Doug and whispered into the phone, “my results are positive for breast cancer.” He asked, “you’re joking?”

Two weeks prior I was lying in bed feeling my sore and swelling breasts as my period approached when I found a grape sized lump on my right side. I was unconcerned and scheduled my slightly overdue annual. My OBG did not appear worried stating statistics were in my favor and what I felt was likely a fibroadenoma. She wrote me a script for a mammogram and prepared me for the possibility of an ultrasound. She encouraged me not to worry and sent me on my way after I shelled out $165 for a less than 15-minute appointment. When Doug offered to go with me to my next appointment, I confidently thanked him for offering and assured him I’d be fine–women get mammograms all the time. As Vivian in Pretty Woman said, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Regrettably, it was my mistake, and there was no shopping spree to follow.

I suppose I was slightly nervous about the unknown, but after squeezing both my breasts pretty hard to simulate the pain potential of said x-ray, I reasoned I’d be okay. My experiment proved fruitful, and I did not experience pain that some women speak of after having a mammogram. During my exam, I tried to read the tech’s face while she was taking images of my breasts. Nothing. Her poker face was solid. Once she had taken all the pictures she needed, I retreated to the waiting room to learn the radiologist wanted to get an ultrasound. At this point, even though my doctor had prepared me, I started to panic. As the tech scanned my breasts, I carefully watched her body language in another attempt to determine what she was seeing. Striking out again, I waited on the table, feeling exposed, for the tech to come back in and tell me the radiologist wanted to do a needle biopsy. The doc was only in on Monday and Tuesday, and it was Tuesday. I could either have the biopsy right then and there or come back next week.

Waiting another week for results sounded like torture, so I opted to have the biopsy on the spot. The techs mouths were moving, but what they were saying didn’t register. Were they talking to me? I found myself answering yes and no as I dialed Doug. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to have him there with me. Why did I go alone? As I was on the phone, the techs were shoving papers in front of me to sign. Did they know I wasn’t present? Physically I was sitting in the exam room in a chair, but no one was home. Could someone please slow down to make sure I know what’s happening? I had no idea what I was agreeing to or not. During the call to Doug, the techs told me my procedure would be over before he arrived.

They treated this outpatient procedure as no big deal, and I’m confident saying neither of them had ever had one. As my friend and GiveForward co-founder, Desiree Vargas so eloquently put: “Biopsies are not “mammograms with a needle.” The best way I know how to explain what it feels like, beyond Desiree’s account, is it’s like having dental work performed [on your boob]. It’s not that the pain is excruciating, but it is terribly uncomfortable and awkward. Upon completion of the biopsy, I was told the radiologist surgically inserted a piece of titanium into the biopsied lump. Wait a second! Did anyone inform me this was going to happen? I’m not sure I want titanium in my body. It was too late.

Once the biopsy was over, tears streamed down my face. I felt violated, scared and alone. The pain was over, but I was shocked, confused and in a world of fear. The techs said I was strong. A phrase I’d become very familiar hearing over the upcoming months. They said a lot of women did a lot worse than I did. So… Couldn’t they have waited ten minutes for my boyfriend to get there for a little moral support, well aware this procedure left people feeling uneasy? Instead, as a consolation prize, they sent me on my way with the cutest little pink heart ice pack.

With the heart tucked into my bra to alleviate pain and swelling, I somehow found myself at my boyfriend’s staring out the kitchen window aimlessly as I dialed one of our friend’s who had been through breast cancer twice. I put on my best “everything is fine” voice and left a message. She texted me back later, “Honestly, they are so proactive with any kind of spot they find, just about everyone I know has had a needle biopsy.” I wanted to believe this so badly, but something about the radiologist’s demeanor left me lacking confidence that everything was going to be fine. Doug also assured me I’d be okay. I wanted to believe them both and did my best to manifest a positive outcome. Totally I thought, attempting to convince myself and block the radiologist’s cold and disconcerting bedside manner out of my head. I’d be fine. I had completed another 100-day ski season, been upping my yoga, decreasing my sugar, and was what appeared to be a very healthy young woman. Of course, I’d be fine.

Two days later my doctor called, “I’m sorry, your results are positive for breast cancer.” She asked me if I needed anything. If I needed anything? I needed my results to be negative. She asked me if I was going to be okay. Okay? No, I’m not okay. Cancer? At 33? Are you kidding me? We hung up. In less than 90 seconds, I received information that would forever change my life.

IMG_4844Carly Hana (Lotus) Przysinda grew up in Rochester, NY and currently resides in Vail, CO where she enjoys skiing, mountain biking and hiking. Prior to living in the mountains she lived in Boulder, Denver, NYC, Chicago and South Florida. Lotus attended her first FD white water kayaking program this summer in Jackson, WY after being diagnosed with IDC triple negative breast cancer on April 9, 2015. She chose an integrative healing path and has avoided surgery and radiation. As a nutritionist, Lotus opted to incorporate a mind, body and spirit approach to healing and encourages others to do the same regardless of what treatment path they’ve chosen. Follow Lotus on her blog at

Please ask me how I’m doing (not how I’m feeling)

Please ask me how I’m doing (not how I’m feeling)

Next time you see me, email me, text me, yell at me from across the street, bump into me at the grocery store I have a favor to ask. Please, pretty please, do not ask me how I am feeling. In particular I would appreciate it if you didn’t squish up your face, cock your head to the side, raise your voice two pitches and add ten extra Es to the word feeling: “How are you feeeeeeling?”

I know the intentions behind it are only good. I know you are concerned about me. I appreciate your concern. I appreciate you reaching out. I want to connect with you. I want to tell you what’s going on in my life. Battling Stage 4 cancer (or any stage of cancer for that matter) can be a lonely life and I want you to be a part of it. But this question hurts my heart, wears down my spirit and makes me feel less connected to you. So let me try and explain why that is and what you can ask instead so we can have that meaningful moment that I hope and believe we are both craving.

You see, I not only spend a good amount of time every day fighting for my life, I am also fighting every day to feel really alive. I hate days when I get even a mild cold because it makes me feel weak when all I really want to feel is strong. Strength and wellness give me hope. Illness and weakness make me feel like I’m dying. Any reminder that I am not the strong, healthy, vibrant person that I work so hard to be is like a dagger in my back. “How are you feeling?” is just one of those reminders.

You see, I am fortunate enough to be on a protocol made up mostly of immunotherapies which come with little to no side effects so most days I actually do feel pretty good. In fact, if I didn’t have cancer I would bet that I would look like one of the healthier people you know. Every morning I wake up and meditate for 30 minutes. Then I do Qi Gong for 20 minutes. I follow that by taking a bunch of vitamins and drinking a part green, part protein shake. Then I’ll usually do about 30 minutes of yoga or go for a quick run before I get ready for the day. Throughout the day I eat a lot of veggies, drink more green drinks, avoid processed food, meat and dairy and try to drink plenty of water and herbal tea. I end every day with more Qi Gong and another 30 minutes of meditation. And over and over again, from the moment I rise until the moment I go to sleep I repeat the same mantra: “I am healthy. I am well. I’m alive. I will survive.” All of these things help me to feel healthy and strong and alive, which, in turn, makes me feel safer in a world that is trying to convince me that I might not “make it.”

When you come along and ask me how I feel in an instant I go from feeling like a super powered, cancer butt kicking badass warrior woman who deserves your support and admiration to a sad, sick person who only deserves your pity. You don’t ask Superman how he’s feeling, unless he’s just had a bad run in with some kryptonite. You ask Batman about his latest nemesis, not what bumps and scratches he got in his last fight. And for that matter you wouldn’t ever ask a healthy human being how they are feeling. You would ask them how they are doing. “Doing” is active. It implies that the person at the other end of the question has some active agency in their life. “Feeling” is passive, and it automatically implies weakness and illness.

When someone asks me how I feel it makes me feel like less of a human. It makes me feel less alive. It makes me feel like despite all of my hard work to be alive, to engage in life, to be as healthy as I possibly can be that I am still just my cancer. My experience with First Descents, just two weeks after I finished my first year of treatment, was the first experience since my diagnosis that reminded me that I am more than my cancer. I am a rock climber! I am a challenge accepter! I am strong! I am powerful! I am brave! Cancer is a part of my life but it does not define me.

But you are worried about me and I get that. I appreciate it even. As I said, I want to connect with you as much as you want to connect with me, probably more so. So, if you want to know about my life here are some questions I’d love to hear:

  • How are you doing?
  • What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?
  • What’s making you feel really proud right now?
  • What’s the best lesson you’ve learned recently?
  • What have you been pondering most as of late?
  • What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced lately?

These questions acknowledge that I am a human being, experiencing a full, complete and engaging life and that there is much more going on than just cancer. And even if the answer to some of these questions are cancer related at least they leave space for the conversation to be about something else. Sometimes I want to talk about cancer and sometimes I just want to be seen as a regular person. And if I talk to you about the challenges and difficulties that cancer has brought I want to do it from the perspective that we are on the same level, that we are both humans who have gone through suffering as part of the basic human experience. “How are you feeling?” almost always feels as if it’s being shouted from a pedestal of healthiness down to sad, little, old, sick feeling me. I can’t connect to you when you are so far above me.

So this holiday season as you go home to friends and family if you have someone who has been dealing with cancer or any other kind of illness think about the ways that you can connect with them in a way that is empowering to them. Remember that their lives are not limited to their illness and they are still active participants in the world with lots of interesting thoughts to share. All you have to do is ask the right question.


Dating After Cancer

DATING AFTER CANCER | By Susan “Hawk” Rafferty

About a year after my initial ovarian cancer diagnosis, I was finished with treatment and decided that my “new normal” should also include dating. As an introvert, I have always found dating to be unnerving, but doing so as a recent cancer survivor seemed terrifying. I was very thankful that, through FD, I had a great community of fellow survivors to whom I could reach out about my many concerns: Would anyone want to date me with the high probability of recurrence? Would anyone want to date me with my short hair, scars and lack of fertility (or depending on the guy, would that be a point in my favor?)? What do I share about my cancer experience and when do I share it? After major surgery and chemotherapy, does my body even work the same? After several great conversations with fellow single survivors on the perils of dating after a cancer diagnosis, I decided that I would handle it the way I handle most things in my life- I would wing it!

I was pretty surprised when I quickly met a very good looking, smart, interesting guy who also had a dog. We seemed to enjoy each other’s company and started dating very casually. After he saw pictures of me with longer hair, he asked why I decided to cut it. I took a deep breath and said something along the lines of, “yeah, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, but I am ALL GOOD now. Totally healthy. No big deal….just short hair and a really big scar. I’m super lucky, but ready to get on with my life”, which I most likely followed up with a few tired clichés about all the awesome things I learned on my journey, something sarcastic, and a big smile. He commended me on my great attitude and that was that.

A few weeks later, I started feeling really tired again, and a blood draw and CT- scan revealed that my CA-125 was on the rise (which is bad), and that I had new tumor growth. The doctor explained that, “if the cancer is back this soon after finishing chemotherapy, you are either platinum resistant, and your condition would be considered terminal OR, the tumors are benign and you are fine. We’ll know more when we do your surgery in six weeks”. When on a walk with our dogs, I casually mentioned that I needed more surgery because a scan revealed some new tumors. He stopped, looked at me and said in a very serious and not at all amused tone, “I thought you said you were fine?!”. Oops. Yes, that is exactly what I said. Needless to say, things quickly fizzled.

When I told my friends about his reaction, most said “he’s a jerk”, or “you’re better off knowing now that he’s not supportive”, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. I misled him by seriously downplaying my cancer experience. Everyone has their own relationship with cancer, and I don’t fault someone for not wanting to embark on a new relationship with someone who has or had cancer. In hindsight, I downplayed it to about the seriousness of a bad case of the flu.  I realized that I needed to be much more thoughtful about how and what I share when telling someone about my experience with cancer and that it needs to have some semblance in the reality of what actually happened. It was a good lesson to learn. While my story is my own, and it is up to me with whom and what I share, I need to be very thoughtful and balanced about what I tell someone I am dating.

Several months later, and after a surgery that thankfully revealed “borderline” tumors, I met and began dating someone else. After a few dates, and when I felt comfortable, I braced myself and told him about my experience with cancer. I was much more forthright, and I didn’t downplay the significant role that cancer had and was still playing in my life. I was more than a little shocked when he didn’t seem fazed by it.   In fact, he was very supportive. Although that relationship eventually ran its course, it was such a gift to see that there are people who are not scared off by a cancer diagnosis. I have learned to be more careful and thoughtful about what I share with the person I am dating. As time has passed, I am getting better about letting my guard down and really sharing the impact.


fd Susan aka “Hawk” is a member of the First Descents Alumni Advisory Board, an avid roller hockey player, lover of traveling and the outdoors, and a champion for rescue dogs (she has fostered dozens and is mom to two Great Danes). After being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and completing treatment, Susan attended her first FD Rock Climbing Camp in Estes Park, CO in the fall of 2010, and has attended several programs since.

FD Healthy: Sugar & How it Affects Our Bodies!

Fruit Harvest Selection in Bowls

Fruit Harvest Selection in Bowls

The human body needs carbohydrates (also known as sugar) to stay healthy, this is a fact. We have evolved to naturally crave high sugar food as a survival mechanism; our early ancestors depended on sugar-rich fruits to not only give them an immediate energy supply, but to also assist in fat storage so they could continue to have an energy source when food was scarce.

This craving for sugar that was once depended on for survival, is now playing a key role in rising levels of obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention dozens of smaller ailments involving kidneys, joints, skin and more. This is because the amount of sugar we consume has increased so drastically that our bodies are no longer equipped to process it. To give you some numbers:

  • In 1822 Americans consumed an average of 45 grams of sugar every five days, or the amount of sugar in one can of coke.
  • In 2012, Americans consumed an average of 756 grams of sugar every five days, that’s 130 pounds of sugar a year.

This is a huge growth that translates to major stress on our bodies and their abilities to function properly, and we need our bodies to function properly in order for us to fight off disease and illness (like cancer!).

There are many types of sugars and alternative sweeteners that we have developed over the years, but here I want to focus on the ones found most often in our food: glucose and fructose. These two molecules are the base of most of the sugars we use, particularly in processed foods. All carbohydrates break down into sugar in the body, that includes all grains and grain products (breads, pasta, rice, oatmeal, etc.). This is not to say that all carbohydrates are bad, as mentioned before, we need them to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is just to emphasize that all carbohydrates, whether from grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, milk or processed sugars, break down into simple sugars (glucose, fructose, & lactose) in the body.
Sugar blog 1Glucose

Glucose molecules are absorbed through the small intestine directly into the bloodstream. From there the glucose molecules attach to insulin molecules and after a small portion is stored in muscles and the liver immediate use, the rest is transported into all of a body’s cells (all cells require glucose). This presence of glucose in the bloodstream is what determines our blood sugar level. If it is too high or low, our body cannot function; therefore we have insulin to regulate that level. Unfortunately insulin is only equipped to deal with a certain level of glucose, and the amount of sugar we consume on a daily basis tends to be beyond what insulin can handle. When insulin is triggered too often by the presence of sugar, it either responds less accurately or stops responding all together. This means we have high blood sugar, and no way for that sugar to get disbursed to its proper organs and cells, a problem that then causes type II diabetes (insulin resistant diabetes).

Another important interaction is when glucose gets transported to our cells, because although our cells require glucose, the amount they require to function is very minimal. When we consume more sugar than we need, the body has no immediate use for it, so our cells will store it as fat for future use. However, we rarely will need to use those fat stores for energy because we continue to consume sugar and the process starts all over again. Human cells have an amazing ability to store as much fat as we can give them, the cell walls will just keep expanding as long as they need to. Unfortunately, once sugars are turned into fat, it becomes very difficult to get rid of them again since those are the last stores of energy your body will try to use. It usually requires a long, high-intensity workout to use up all the sugar stored in your liver and muscles and to then tap into those fat stores.

sugar blog 3This cycle of insulin release and fat storage only happens when we eat carbohydrates, not when we eat protein or fat. In fact, when we consume carbs with protein, fat and/or fiber, it actually slows down the rate at which glucose is converted to blood sugar. This is why naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables are better than processed sugars, because they come with built in fiber supplies, as well as vitamins and minerals.


The other most common form of sugar is fructose. Where glucose can be metabolized by insulin from the pancreas, fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. The problem with this is the liver is a busy organ and gets overwhelmed when too much fructose is present. If it can’t properly process the amount of sugar ingested, globules of fat will begin to grow within the liver and can eventually cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. When your pancreas and liver are in overdrive, the stress causes the whole body to become inflamed and not function properly.

Fructose is found naturally in fruit, but with fruit you are also consuming fiber, as well as various vitamins and minerals. The fiber will slow down the metabolizing of sugar so that it is at a level the liver can handle, and the vitamins and minerals are beneficial for your overall health. Keep in mind this is good when fruit is consumed in moderation. Too much fruit consumption will still negatively affect the liver. Dried fruit is a slippery slope because without the bound water found in fresh fruit, it is easier to consume large amounts of it. For example, if you are eating fresh apricots, you may eat one or two, but with dried apricots you may eat eight or ten in a sitting. That is a lot of sugar with none of that bound water that is beneficial for digesting the sugar. The USDA recommends eating 2-3 servings of fresh fruit a day.

Sucrose (table sugar) and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Although glucose and fructose have varied properties and are metabolized differently, they are most often found together in sugars & sweeteners. What makes these sweeteners different is the amount of glucose vs. fructose found in each one. The chart below shows a basic breakdown of how much each molecule is found in our most commonly used sweeteners. Notice that sucrose (table sugar, what we are most familiar with), honey, and HFCS are all very similar in molecular make up, meaning our bodies process them in similar ways.

Just to be clear, the 50/50 ratio of glucose/fructose in table sugar also goes for cane sugar, raw cane sugar, powdered sugar and brown sugar, so simply trading out the amount of ‘high fructose corn syrup’ or ‘sugar’ in our grocery cart with the same amount of ‘raw cane sugar’ or ‘honey’ is not going to greatly alter the effects of our sugar intake. The overall consumption of all sugars and sweeteners should be lowered, and although I personally believe honey and raw cane sugar to be better choices based on their lack of processing, that doesn’t mean it is healthy to eat large amounts of them. Sugars off all kinds should be eaten in limited moderation.

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Bio PicMy FD name is Kitchen Ninja (Kinja). I am from Auburn, AL. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. I am currently Sous Chef at Linger in Denver. My passion is creating nutritious food for others and spreading knowledge of health through food and cooking.