Me, FD, and The Big C

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you know quite a bit about me.  I’m a health nut, but I’m all for the occasional indulgence.  I have a spoiled (but not too spoiled) dog named Luca who thinks she’s human.  I’m a yogi, a musician, a teacher, and a cook.  I’m earthy, but not to the point of dreadlocks, and quirky, but not in the cat lady sort of way.  However, there are still some things you don’t know about me…  My kitchen is an absolute disaster when I cook.  The polished images you see on this blog?  Off-camera, the “backstage” is inundated with dirty dishes and utter chaos.  My garden needs badly to be weeded. Caffeine makes me laugh uncontrollably.  I know, all these things are small and pretty insignificant.  I’m just warming up for the big daddy of all blog confessions.  I am a fighter, I am a survivor, and I have been navigating cancer for four years now.

I guess I’ve been trying to keep cancer in its own little compartment, apart from the sunny place I consider Spoon With Me to be.  If you’ve had cancer, or been close to someone who has, you know the fear that comes with sharing news of “the big C”.  Peoples’ reactions are like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.    I’ll sidestep my least favorite, and most insensitive responses, because I genuinely believe that people mean well and just don’t know what to say.  My favorite responses come from good friends who know that all I need to hear is “What the hell?  That sucks!!!”, and “I’m here for you, now let’s go on a bike ride!”.

I was 26 when I was diagnosed with Medullary Thyroid Cancer (one of the rarer forms of thyroid cancer), and remember feeling paralyzed with fear. Ummm….excuse me!  I’m 26!  I just got married.  I’m not okay with this!  After surgery to remove my thyroid and supposedly all the cancer, I felt cautiously optimistic.  A year later, when the cancer started showing up again in my blood work, I felt like someone had scribbled on the path I thought my life was taking, and I didn’t know where I was going anymore.  I had, and still have, loving family and friends, yet I felt alone and isolated.  Cancer took away much of my self-assuredness, made me skittish about social interactions, and about life in general.  It turned me into a worrier, taking away much of what made “Jenny” Jenny in the first place.  The support of friends and family helped.  Healthy eating and yoga made me feel like I was in at least a little control, but I was still missing something, and I felt ready to find it.

A few weeks ago, I took a grand leap into the unknown, and went on a kayaking trip with First Descents.  I had heard about First Descents through the Mister, who was brought on to help edit their new documentary.  First Descents gives young adult cancer survivors ages 18-39 (the most underserved population of cancer fighters and survivors, b.t.w)  the opportunity to take on a legitimate outdoor challenge–kayaking, rock climbing or surfing, in order to face and conquer fears, and regain the self confidence and direction that was lost to cancer.  I called and signed up for a kayaking camp, the adventure that both intrigued and frightened me the most.

After a debacle of a travel day, which consisted of 11 hours getting to know the Dallas Ft. Worth airport after a missed connecting flight, not making it off the stand-by list for the next flight, and waiting for a torrential downpour to settle down, I finally made it to the airport in Tennessee at 2 am, frazzled and discombobulated.  It was there I met “Pleezah” and “Konvict”, my camp leaders (who drove 2 1/2 hours in the middle of the night to pick me up).  We made a quick stop so that Pleezah could procure a red bull and some beef jerky to keep him awake for the drive into Bryson City.

We arrived at 5:30 am, and I stumbled into bed for a couple hours, and woke up to meet my new camp mates for the week.  I was introduced to smiling faces with names like “Ativan”, “Brave Chicken”, and “Junior High”.   There were 11 of us campers, 3 camp moms, and a chef.  I had missed the receiving of the nicknames, so with others‘ input, I debated and wish-washed over what my nickname should be on the way out the door.  Finally, in all my indecisiveness, I was granted a new name, “Flip-Flop”.  Perfect.  We ate breakfast and headed out to the lake to take on my most feared challenge, the dreaded wet exit, ie:  flip yourself over in your kayak, and get yo-self outta there and swim to shore.  I remember wondering, “What was I thinking?!?”  Brown Claw, one of the kindest and most motivating 23 year olds I’ve met, saw my panic and said “You’ve got this, Flip-Flop!”  And I did!  I flipped that sucker over, got out into the freezing lake and lived to tell about it.  I felt like a shivering, exhausted, unsure rock star.

In the next few days, we kayaked on progressively harder rivers, conquering more and more fear each day.  River metaphors were abundant.  Pick the path that looks like the most fun, and paddle toward it…Look where you want to go–if you’re looking at where you don’t want to go, that’s where you’ll inevitably end up… The only bad decision is indecision.  Our instructors were teaching us to read the river, and we were all soaking it up as metaphors on how to proceed in life.

I don’t know exactly how it happened in the mere week I was there, but I began to feel joyful and alive.  I felt connected to my new FD family, and like I was no longer alone.  The floodgates opened, and I could laugh freely, reach out to others, and rip through the rapids with a fire I hadn’t seen from myself in a long while.  “Flip-Flop” helped re-introduce me to an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long while…myself!

I cannot express enough my gratitude for all that First Descents did to help me launch into my life again!  If you are a young adult cancer survivor, or just want to find out more about this life-changing organization, you can check out their site here.  

Next post:  Back to the food:  A tasty lunch wrap that will give your sad cheese sandwich pangs of jealousy 


In the meantime…check out a few of my favorite summertime eats!

How about some cold “Fauxjitos” or  Fizzy Lavender Lemonade?

Southwest Quinoa Salad–one of my favorite summer side dishes!

Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright Tomato Soup, because tomatoes are almost here, and because every little thing is gonna be alright!



Filed under Musings

21 responses to “Me, FD, and The Big C

  1. Maxine Guest

    Hey Jenny,
    Your openness about your cancer had me in tears but I am so proud of your strength and positive attitude. I felt like such a wimp after reading about your determination to stay strong and fight the fight. We all have a path to follow and you are leading us all with your strong spirit. When I met my Master three years ago I realized we all have a reason to be here and your life has touched so many, especially mine, that I feel stronger and ready to fight harder. I plan to see you soon and I will weed your garden if you promise “no thunder”. You are in my prayers every day. I love you so much and I am so happy to have you for my one and only granddaughter. Keep on spooning! Grandma Guest

  2. Jenn Withee


    On the first day of break I found myself on your blog where I have not been in some time. This post was so beautiful, so powerful. Your strength and courage is incredible, amazing and inspirational. Thank you for sharing in your ever eloquent way with words.

  3. I see am late to the party here but wanted to say how much I admire your courage in sharing this part of your life. What a fabulous experience! Also enjoyed reading through the comments. You obviously have many people who love and support you.

  4. Wow… I just stumbled on your site looking for tasty reciples. Thanks for sharing… you have one powerful story and are doing amazing things to keep the smile on your face. xx

  5. Pingback: Veggie Crunch Wraps with Black Bean Hummus | Spoon With Me

  6. This sounds like a fantastic adventure. I’ve been curious about First Descendents but haven’t yet been able to join one of these getaways. Thanks for this post where you reveal your big secret. Everything you wrote was so very relatable. It certainly takes courage to put that bit of information out into such a public place as a blog. Congrats on finding yourself again, Flip-Flop!


  7. Hey,
    Just get back to the recipes and good luck.
    All will be ok.

  8. As a fellow cancer survivor, your description of fear, withdrawal, and loss of self-assuredness was spot on. I’m glad you (with the help of FD) didn’t let cancer get the last word! Your beautiful life matters. Fight on.

  9. Flip-Flop…huh? lol Lady Jen…you ARE amazing!!! From the moment The Mister first introduced us/me to his Lady…you…we were mesmerized by your deeper spirit. Know prayer are often with you, and him. Was so good seeing you a few weeks ago…dry. 🙂 Grateful for the “baptism” you got in Tennessee…and for your own soul going forward. Now…when do we get you and your man on our patio for a summer meal, minus any dunking. See…we, too, are living dangerously in inviting a gourmand like you to dinner. Expect a call within the next 24 hours…and know prayers are with you and yours. …the Rev and his Lady! 🙂 (Wes and Judy)

  10. Auntie Karen

    You have evolved into such a brave, creative and now fearless woman Jen-Jen (aka Flip-Flop)!!!! The dreaded “c” word is indeed a robber of much….good for you dear one to have made your journey back to ‘you’ and not letting it rob you of anything else! Wish I was living a bit closer as I would exclaim “Let’s go for a bike ride!”

  11. Tom Guest

    You are the most special person I’ve ever meet in my life…I was just lucky to also be your Dad. You had me crying… at the first picture. I’m so proud of everything you do and thank you for sharing your life changing trip with all of us. We all love you and always be here for anything you need. Someday I might need a pair of those super fancy spring loaded shoes you invented when you were about 7 years old…you would disappear for hours in your bedroom and emerge with the most fasinating creations. Now, it’s with food and other ways to express yourself but….you’re still the same amazing girl and I love you!


  12. Liz Stafford

    Jenny baby! Miss you soooooo much, you Strong Beautiful Amazing Woman! Elated that your trip was a blast, and sending much much love and juju your way. Big kisses, give a hug to Peder fer me 🙂

  13. jamielu16

    I have tears rolling down my cheeks! You are such a positive person and amazing inspiration. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  14. Judy Roberts

    You go Girl!! I’m so proud of you and love your courage!

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