Cancer Gave Me Superpowers — How falling In Love With My Broken Body Helped Me Lose 70 Pounds Without Dieting
I’ve had the same ritual for the past ten months. After my morning pee I strip naked and step on the scale. Today the scale read 127 pounds. That meant I’d lost seventy pounds! And to think, I did it without one day of dieting.
I was not overweight as a kid. My mom was a health nut back in the seventies. Her version of a taco salad came with broccoli and mushrooms. When she brought snacks into our house it was a treat, something to be savored. That’s why, when I was twelve years old and my friend Joyce spotted a lone box of Pop-Tarts on the pantry shelf and asked if she could have one, I had no other choice but to lie. I had no idea if I’d ever see a Pop-Tart again let alone a Frosted Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tart.
“No, you can’t have a Pop-Tart Joyce” I said. I had to come up with the reason why. “My dad lost his job. We don’t have enough money to buy food next week, so we’re saving all the food we have,” I told her, patting myself on the back for thinking of such an amazing lie! That evening my mom, who was best friends with Joyce’s mother Dara, got a sympathetic phone call. Dara asked what she could do for our family since my father was out of work.
When puberty hit the only weight I gained was in my breasts, whose humongous size would make me uncomfortable for years to come. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first son that I became overweight. To my mother’s chagrin, my gynecologist was not alarmed when I gained eighty five pounds with that pregnancy, and I went on to gain even more weight in my two subsequent pregnancies. Despite trying weight loss programs like Weight Watchers, and Jenny Craig, I never took any of that weight off. During the long weeks of my breast cancer radiation treatment, I’d come to learn why these previous diets failed. It was all in my mind!
It was once I removed the veil of non-acceptance of responsibility most of us have for the challenges that show up in our lives, that I realized that cancer did not just happen to me. My lifestyle and diet helped create it. Being obese increased my risk of breast cancer and if I stayed at 197 pounds, statistics showed that I would double my risk of a recurrence, especially since I carried all the extra weight in my belly. Once free from the trance of self-neglect, I began to dissect every inch of the body that houses Shari Cherry to discover the underlying origins of my breast cancer. I explored the genetic, metabolic, dietetic, environmental, physical, and emotional factors that led to my disease, and I made a decision to change them.
During my long process of self evaluation, I focused on my incredibly complex anatomy and became grateful for each and every part of it, even the parts that no longer worked as well as the others. The more time I spent meditating inward, scanning my body, the more I fell deeply in love with every single cell, system, muscle and especially my swollen, burnt, painful, raw left breast. I became comfortable with my outer self just the way it was. Even the flab on my inner thigh that chafed when I walked, and, for the first time in my life, those 42 G breasts. It was my new found love, respect, and gratitude for the body I lived in that led me to want to use food, exercise, and stress reduction techniques to heal and serve it instead of make it sick.
Setting my intention to do so meant that I needed to drop the beliefs and thoughts I held in my mind, that it was impossible to change my eating, fitness, and mental health habits. I started reading books and articles about foods that fight cancer and other diseases. I met with a nutritionist, joined a fitness program, and started seeing a therapist.
I began to care about the types and quality of foods I put into my body and I now seek out organic products. My research guided me to embrace foods that fight cancer on the cellular level such as green vegetables (particularly cruciferous ones), beans, mushrooms, and onions. I cut out or drastically reduced disease-causing foods, like refined starches and carbohydrates, sugars, dairy, animal products, and oils. I taught myself to really enjoy grocery shopping. When I shop I keep my focus on the food I’m buying. The concentration I have while shopping shifts my mindset from grocery shopping being a drag and chore to a joyous and rewarding task of gathering nutritious food that fuels and heals my body. It’s that same presence I have while preparing meals that allows me to fully enjoy cooking, and prepare things that end up tasting delicious. I practice eating mindfully, noticing how every bite of my food tastes and how it assists my body.
When I’m eating out, my mind might suggest the chicken parmigiana, but my loving heart orders the baked salmon with veggies instead. I enjoy the salmon just as much as I would or even more because I know eating it helps me rather than hurts me. When I pass by a Dunkin Donuts and think sure, I’ll grab a second cup of coffee that day, my heart reminds me I have cancer-fighting green tea waiting for me at home. I’ll try new foods that I read about, like when I read about the wonderful health benefits of sardines. My thought about sardines was that they were totally gross. Like most people, I never even tried one, yet had strong negative thoughts about them. Reminding myself that thoughts are most often not true, I was persuaded to try sardines for the benefit of my body. I mashed them up like tuna fish and mixed it with mustard and chopped onions. I ate it on a slice of Ezekiel bread with arugula on top. And guess what, it was delish! Could sardines really taste good or has my newfound intense love for myself influenced my mind so I have ease and joy when eating to serve my body? Either way it doesn’t matter, not since sardines taste way better than how breast cancer feels.