When I was diagnosed last year with DCIS breast cancer (stage zero — woot woot) I had a bit of a freakout, then looked around my house. I thought of Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid. All the chemicals and products she came in contact with created a magic slurry that turned her small and then she lived in a dollhouse. As much as I was obsessed with living in a dollhouse when I was wee, thinking I had contracted cancer perhaps from my environmental junk was not living the dream.
In one fell swoop I gathered up all the plastic and recycled it. What about these perfumery supplies, I wondered? I had heard synthetic musk was one of the worst endocrine disruptors and since my breast cancer was hormone receptor positive, who knows?
This is what you do, you probably know (at least if you’re me and grew up believing you could fix things with your mind). You go through all the ways in which you could be responsible for your current situation and then figure out a way to fix it. But then you also probably know that one of the hugest lessons in dealing with cancer is learning to dance with the unknown and probably couple with it, too. Because it’s sticking around for the long haul.
I knew not to go down the internet rabbit hole in the midst of this scary situation. That is a lesson I learned from having bedbugs a bunch of years ago and reading everything I could and flipping out and putting all my shoes and jewelry in the freezer in plastic bags. I went overboard and still felt like I had no control. That really sucked for someone with control issues.
But over the last year I’ve found ways to do better things for myself without getting manic or insane about it (most of the time). Recently I discovered EWG (The Environmental Workers Group) and how you can enter products into their website to find out how good or crappy they are for you (and find EWG-approved items). Yes, this is admittedly a bit of a slippery slope. But I feel a lot better knowing what I’m putting on my body isn’t full of chemicals. I also started getting my makeup from a shop called Follain based in Boston (and on Nantucket). They have a restricted ingredients list and a strong ethic.
I also have a friend who started a website called Be Home Well, where she has curated a great family of products after doing tons of research — everything is nontoxic and sustainable. It’s a pleasure to shop there. When she started it there was no one-stop shop for this kind of thing.
I learned that looking at cleaner living through the lens of self-care rather than a hustle to fix everything makes it doable. And do things one thing at a time. Because stress is arguably as deadly as anything you’re using in your house.
Jenn Sutkowski is not as much of a major eater of cheeseburgers as she used to be but is still an eater of cheeseburgers. Not that cheeseburgers cause any problems at all. Find her seeking magic burgers to cure all at jennsutkowski.com. (This Full Frontal column appeared first in the Newport Mercury.)
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
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