My organic living “Aha!” moment: Confronting my mom’s cancer

28 Sep

By Mariah Andrews

My organic “aha!” moment was literally a wake-up call.

I got the call from my sister Fran at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning eight years ago. My mom was in the intensive care unit at the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics. She had nearly died from heart failure the night before.

At the time we didn’t know whether Mom would live or die, or what caused the heart failure.

We soon found out: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the disease-fighting network in the body known as the lymphatic system.

Me (third from left) with my sisters and mother in 20XX.

Me (second from right) with my sisters and mom.

A series of “Aha!” moments

My first organic living “Aha!” moment was learning about one of the risk factors for non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma: chemicals.

Mom came from four previous generations of women who had all lived to be well into their 80s and even 90s. And there was literally no family history of cancer on either side of Mom’s family. Yet Mom was diagnosed with terminal, stage IV cancer at the young age of 53. What was the deal?

As I began to research non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I learned that one of the risk factors for the disease was chemicals — specifically chemicals that were used to kill insects and weeds. When I read this factoid on the Mayo Clinic website, I couldn’t help but picture crop dusters gliding serenely overhead as they rained a mystical yellow cloud of pesticides down on the Iowa farm fields where Mom grew up.

The crunchy lifestyle

My second organic living “Aha!” moment came about when I learned about how wellness guru Kris Carr has thrived with cancer for 10 years: an organic plant-based diet.

Kris Carr is the author of Crazy Sexy Cancer, Crazy Sexy Diet and Crazy Sexy Kitchen. Her story is crazy sexy awesome: she’s a stage IV cancer survivor who transformed her life by switching to an organic, plant-based diet; using organic personal care products; and combating stress with various mind/body practices, including meditation, aromatherapy and yoga. Thus far, Carr has managed to stave off the growth of her Big C for more than 10 years, all while igniting a global wellness revolution that’s helped thousands of people find better health and happiness.

I've always been a "crunchy" mom, but organic living has become even more important to me. Here I am with my son, Gus.

I’m a proud “crunchy” mama, because I believe organic living saves lives. Here I am with my son, Gus.

Prior to reading Crazy Sexy Diet, I considered myself fairly “crunchy granola.” Tofu, kale and hummus were regular items in my family’s weekly dinner repertoire. I could breastfeed my infant with one hand, while shoveling organic plum puree into my toddler’s mouth with the other. And my favorite weekend activity was shopping at the Kansas City Farmers Market armed with a large fair trade coffee, wearing a baby on my front and a bundle of stained canvas shopping bags on my back.

But as I read Crazy Sexy Diet, it dawned on me that my crunchy lifestyle was just that — a lifestyle. Before, I ate tofu and kale, bought fair trade coffee and locally-grown sprouted chickpeas because it was the correct thing to do. After, I ate organic food and used organic products because it could actually save my life — and the lives of millions of others — in the long run.

“Holy guacamole” moment

Finally, my third “Aha!” moment was really beyond an “Aha!” moment. It was more like a “holy guacamole why are we all running around all stressed out and sick” moment. Kris Carr taught me that how we live our lives is just as important as what we put into our bodies. I realized that beyond Mom’s exposure to chemicals and the Standard American Diet, she’d led a pretty darned stressful, complicated life.

When I finished Crazy Sexy Diet, I decided to live more consciously — and with true purpose. I eventually changed my job so I could work in an area I was really passionate about — healthy eating and living. My family and I moved to a smaller town, and began to further simplify our home, work and personal lives.

As it turns out, the true wake-up call wasn’t about Mom’s cancer, or how she got sick. It was about promoting health, peace and happiness in my own life.

What was your organic living “Aha!” moment?

Read more organic living “Aha!” moments here.

About the Author: Mariah Andrews is the digital media marketing mama for Frontier Co-op, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia. She loves her job because it melds all of her passions – digital media, writing, cooking, green living and even yoga – into one sweet gig. Mariah is the author of the kid-friendly green cooking blog Green Swamp Soup, and once won a blue ribbon for her homemade bagels at the Iowa State Fair.

2 Responses to “My organic living “Aha!” moment: Confronting my mom’s cancer”

  1. Beth Kelly September 28, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    I too had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and survived it. It’s been 15 years now, and I feel great! Hope your Mom made it too…

    You’re absolutely right about lifestyle and diet. I’ve simplified my life (moved into a much smaller home) and try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible. That goes for avoiding negative stressful people, too. And diet – well, except for the occasional piece if chocolate , I’m strictly organic and read my labels carefully. Fortunately, we have a great grocery store, as well as a Whole Foods Market, relatively close by. Of course I haunt the farmers markets, in season.

    I was saddened to read about your Mom and sincerely hope she is better by now.

  2. Mariah Andrews September 30, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Dear Beth,

    Thank you for your comment. I am thrilled that you survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and have been well for so long! It’s also heartening to hear about your diet and lifestyle changes — I know from my mom’s experience that it’s not easy to make big changes like these when you’re faced with such a debilitating illness.

    I’m sorry to say that my mom passed away just this last July. She survived (and sometimes even thrived) with her disease for eight years — five years longer than her doctors first predicted. Those were precious years for me and my family. They taught us to live in the moment, to love unconditionally and to be grateful for all of the little gifts in life.

    –Mariah

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