On Friday I wrapped up my very short but incredibly meaningful two-week rotation at the John Theurer Cancer Center in Hackensack, New Jersey. The commute wouldn’t have made it sustainable for me to stay any longer, but I wish I could have. I valued pretty much every moment of the experience.
One of the things I was told about the dietetic internship before starting was that I’d probably be surprised by what I loved and what I didn’t. Having had some counseling experience before starting my rotations, I wasn’t sure how much this would apply to me, but it has. Not across the board, of course: there are some rotations I’ve suspected wouldn’t be for me, which turned out to be true. And I’m reasonably sure that I’ll love my GI rotation, which starts tomorrow.
I could never have guessed how much I would love working with seniors, though—a passion that emerged only as I was completing my rotation in long-term care. And while I thought oncology would be meaningful to me for personal reasons—having watched a loved one go through chemo and radiation therapy years ago—I didn’t expect to enjoy the work in as many ways as I did.
It was intellectually stimulating and deeply interesting. I loved observing how teams of practitioners—doctors, nurses, social workers, researchers, and dietitians—came together in patient care, especially when handling a complex case. Most of all, I loved getting to know the patients and their families.
The big downside of this rotation, my commute aside, was feeling crummy for most of it: both the cold I started with and the seasonal allergies and fatigue that plagued me for the rest of my time at JCTT. I was so tired after my last day that I fell fast asleep on my commute home. It was an easy rotation insofar as my engagement goes, but it was difficult physically.
Over the years I’ve gotten good at recognizing traces of body judgment or body dysmorphia in how I relate to my appearance and shape. In recent years I’ve become aware of a related tendency, which is to feel easily exasperated and frustrated with my body when it’s not at “peak performance.” I’ve always been prone to stress, digestive troubles, allergies, and picking up bugs, which makes it easy to judge. And since I’m not twenty-five anymore, peak performance looks quite different than it used to. My energy reserves get depleted a lot quicker than they did even five years ago.
I have a ways to go with accepting my body’s energetic limits. I know my boundaries, but I resent them; there’s always a part of me that wishes I could do more. Illness can feel oddly triggering, the way fluctuations of the scale used to. Working in the health/wellness space, where boundless energy is often presented as an ideal, doesn’t always help.
I’ve developed a lot of strong muscles when it comes to avoiding self-comparison about the way I eat. It’s important for me to exercise that same strength in resisting the temptation to compare my health and stamina to other people’s. My body is its own quirky, lovable entity. Sometimes I wish I’d given it an easier time when I was younger, rather than pushing its limits with overwork and self-starvation. I often wish it weren’t as sensitive and responsive to triggers as it is.
But if my time at JCTT has reminded me of anything, it’s the supreme importance of meeting our bodies where they are, both in sickness and in health. I’ll continue to encounter physical challenges as my life goes on. Some will be irksome, others more serious. In those times body respect and self-care will matter more than ever. I can cultivate those capacities right now, by choosing not to dwell on the fact that I’ve been strung out. Instead, I can rest and give thanks to my body for getting me through another rotation, which is exactly what I’ve been up to today.
Giving thanks for this body of mine, and celebrating your bodies, too. Happy Sunday. Here are some recipes and reads.
Dreena Burton’s recipes are always no-fail, and I love the looks of her new sweet potato pasta sauce.
A simple recipe for spicy, garlicky broccoli steaks.
Laurel’s chipotle sofritas bowls look so colorful and tasty—not to mention they’re packed with plant protein.
Isa’s garlicky white bean and asparagus soup is on my spring cooking list.
I think I’m going to celebrate getting to my final community rotation by making Kathy’s irresistable glazed donuts.
1. I’m guessing that a lot of you are familiar with the basic lifestyle patterns observed in the world’s so-called blue zones, but if you’re not, here’s a good recap.
2. The New York Times examines the link between pain perception and anxiety.
3. If I’ve ever appreciated simple and intuitive recipes and cooking, it’s been throughout the last eight months. But I do like to have my hand held by a cookbook author, too—especially if it means I’m less likely to mess something up—and I could understand some of JJ Goode’s case for long recipes. Even if I’m unlikely to re-enter that mode anytime soon.
4. Many religions ask for periods of abstinence or other special considerations around food. This topic can be under-discussed in our dialog about eating disorders, though in the last couple years I’ve seen many more personal testimonials about having an eating disorder during Ramadan. Likewise, I love Kimberly Robins reflections on reconciling eating disorder recovery with kashrut, or Jewish dietary law.
5. Undark takes a look at the difficulties associated with patient-matching, or matching patients with their appropriate medical records.
I had a delicious and lightly sweetened treat to share last week, but my rotation took priority in the last seven days. The good news is that I’ll have it ready to share with you tomorrow. Till then, be well.
First, a heartfelt thank you for the kind, supportive words about Power Plates this week. I’m so grateful for them, and to those of you who have been cooking and sharing on Instagram, I can’t tell you how much joy it gives me to see the recipes take life in other peoples’ kitchens. It’s been interesting to observe the feelings that have come up since the book came out. I felt a little jittery before the release, which is probably normal, but the…
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Hi Gena, I was so happy to read this one, because I have been wondering how the cancer treatment rotation was for you. Also, of course, I am not surprised how much you love working with elders. Our friendship is beautiful testament to how gracefully you reach across generational lines. I also loved your thoughts about being kind of your body, our bodies, when they do not perform as “optimally: as we would like. The gentleness and presence is all. And, i would add, you have a strength you may not recognize, to be doing as well as you are doing, given your difficult history. you came back from that, with much hard earned wisdom and strength. Your difficulties are the evidence of where you’ve been from the beginning of your life, and to me they tell of triumph. The recipes look yummy–i will check a few of them out–now off to read what the reads are–but wanted to let you know this.. Much love–
I am really looking forward to the reading and the recipes. I will look at them this week as I go about my business. Thank you! And I hope you are feeling better too. It must have been a taxing two weeks.
Your comments about dealing with your body’s physical limitations as you age are really important. It’s gotten to be one step forward, two steps back as I have gotten older. I would add though that age isn’t the only thing. I often look around at some of my fellow hikers who seem to go farther and faster than me-and they are older! It’s hard not to make comparisons and to feel bad but your point of meeting yourself where you are is critical. I have to remind myself each time that we are all created differently and that getting older must be a welcomed thing, with its own meaning just for me.
Thank you again. I am so pleased to know that you got a lot out of your oncology rotation and really, I am looking forward to your GI stint! That’s my favorite topic practically:)