by Susie Merz

The other day I ate a piece of chocolate cake. Fluffy and sweet, swirls carved into icing sprinkled with dark chocolate shavings. It was to celebrate getting through another check up with the oncologist. The cancer continues to be in remission, everything looks good, see you in another four months. Great. I'm going to eat cake.

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My relationship to food has been evolving since having cancer. Early on in the recovery process, it took a while to actually have an appetite again and fathom that food could be enjoyable. That joy was then cut short by fear. What if I eat the "wrong" things? What are the "right" things? I felt an intense need to evaluate every morsel I ate. I felt anxious if there wasn't anything green on my plate. If I ate a cookie was I essentially putting out a welcome mat for cancer to return to my door?

What I came to realize is that it's not really about the food. It's about being afraid, of being sick, of dying. It’s about trying to control an outcome. It’s about learning what it means to let go and live with an unknown as big as when cancer might return, and settling into doing my best and knowing that it's enough. That if cancer returns it's not because of what I did or did not eat.

At this point, my eating is generally healthy, in the broad sense of what that means these days. And yes, part of doing that might always be the equivalent of keeping my fingers crossed. But mostly, being able to appreciate my food, including sweet treats, is about caring for myself. It’s about trying to live from a place of enjoyment, not fear, no matter how long my remission might be. And, as an unexpected bonus, I have come to love cooking. It's no longer a chore (most of the time) but a thrill to find a new recipe, for example, one that involves some bizarre combination of cauliflower, chickpeas and millet, and yet comes out tasting amazing.

So back to the chocolate cake. It pleased me almost as much as the cake itself to have eaten it guilt-free. Of course it's possible that next week or next month the fear of recurrence will be more in the forefront, and I will worry over food choices again. But in the meantime, yes, I think I will have another piece of cake.


Susie Merz first came to Callanish as a retreat participant in 2015 and has since joined the staff team as a clinical counsellor. She has worked as a therapist for over 14 years, both in nonprofit agencies and in her own counselling practice.