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When Cancer Throws You a Curve Ball

Life Lessons -

I took 3 weeks off to be with family through the holidays and to make big plans for Living Homegrown.

Part of my look forward to 2015 involved looking BACK.

As I did that, I could see how much this website has changed as my life perspective has recently changed.

It made me realize that I needed to come clean here.

Come clean as to where I have been and where I am headed – especially as I see so many of you going through similar struggles.

I think the lessons I learned from my own recent struggles are in line with what many of you are struggling with every day – especially when it comes to:

  • Determining what is important
  • Setting goals
  • Connecting to your families, your gardens and your food.

I never wrote a blog post on my recent battle with cancer before, but that’s what this is.

Cancer threw me a major curve ball and I have been determined to use the lessons learned to shift my life’s focus.

Now, this website is NOT about cancer (nor will it be) so don’t worry!

You don’t even need to be cancer survivor to relate to my struggles. Everyone has struggles!

The truth is…

We all run up against obstacles in life. Sometimes, even little things like a runny jam can feel big when presented at a particularly bad time.

How we choose to handle these things (big and small) makes all the difference.

I’m hoping that by me sharing here, it will resonate with whatever struggles you are up against now or in the future.

Together, we can take on 2015 with a new perspective!

The C word:

So, let’s cut to the chase.  A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

What started out as a routine mammogram quickly changed direction when my doctor said, “We see a little something here that we want to check out further…”.


You know how people say they were so startled, that their heart skipped a beat?

I think mine literally stopped…for like a full minute!

There were biopsies, tests and more suspicious spots found and more tests. And before I knew it, I was diagnosed with multiple cancers and facing a life-threatening fight that included several major surgeries.

I mostly kept this news quiet because my focus needed to be on the fight itself and on my immediate family coping with this situation.

Although I had months of recovery and physical therapy, I was one of the lucky ones because my cancer was found early. And I obviously came out okay because I am still here.

I am so very, very grateful for that.

The Gift:

Fighting cancer was every bit the hell you think it would be. You have to crawl out of a deep, dark hole both physically and emotionally.

But it was also a gift.

I know that sounds totally crazy but bear with me here…

I think when you go through something horrific, you can either go the “woe is me” route OR you can reflect on the lessons learned and plow ahead.

I went for the lessons…big time.

I figured that I better pay attention to what the universe was trying to teach me.

What I learned changed my perspective, my life and my even my business mission.

Four Lessons Learned:

Actually these “lessons” were things I thought I already totally knew.

In fact, I even had the first quote sitting on my desk WAY before I ever had cancer!

BUT, the reality was that I was only playing these things lip service. I wasn’t truly LIVING them.

So, if I could have a conversation with my younger self, I would sit my butt down, look myself in the eye make sure I caught on to these things just a little bit earlier.

I would say this…

1) Savor Life’s Moments

LifeLessons -

Sure it means enjoying hot cocoa with the kids on a cold winter day, or taking note of the beautiful sunset.

But it is more than that.

It also means savoring the bad with the good.

Yes, even the really bad.

Because in order to truly enjoy the happy moments, you have to fully appreciate that not all of life is perfect.

The imperfection is what makes us human.

Be thankful that you are here to feel ALL of it – the good with the bad.

2) Don’t Sweat It

Don't Sweat Small Stuff -

Yes, yes…you have heard this before and yes it sounds good in theory. But do you really do it?

I didn’t.

However, I now have a different measuring stick upon which to compare how big or small something is. Oh I wish I had this comparison before.

It would have saved me a lot of anguish!

  • Cancer = BIG
  • Being There For My Kids = BIG
  • Running Late for an Appointment = Small
  • Someone Else’s Agenda or Pettiness = Not even on the radar!

Everything should be compared to the big scheme of life. Do what matters most in YOUR life, not someone else’s mind.

A good measuring stick is to think, “Will this matter in a few years?

3) Life is Short, So Live Your Passion

LifeLessons -

We really don’t know how long we have on this earth. So why not spend it doing what you love?

Find your passion –  that thing that gets your blood racing – and DO IT.

It can be as simple as spending more time with family or as fun as teaching people to make jam or as noble as volunteering your time to a worthy cause.

No matter how simple or complex, the act of you following your passion will have an impact on the world. You owe it to yourself and others to do what you love.

If you don’t do it now, then when?

Don’t wait.

4) Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes:

LifeLessons -

So many times in your life you will want to try something new and you will freeze up for fear of not doing it right.

Don’t do that to yourself.

Everyone has to start at the beginning.

Don’t feel that you have to be perfect. Waiting until you know it ALL will mean waiting TOO long.

Dive in. Make mistakes. Learn. And then dive in again.

This holds true for everything including:

  • Love
  • Parenting
  • Chocolate soufflés
  • And wild-yeast fermenting…tee hee

Sometimes it works perfectly.

Sometimes there are bumps in the road.

But it is ALWAYS worth the try.


The Bottom Line:

So, I am not waiting.

For the past year, I have been diving more fully into living my passion right here with you.

As we move into 2015, I’m hoping you will continue to join me in learning some new food crafting and preserving things this year.

I’m going to be presenting some of it a new way and I won’t sweat it if I make some mistakes. It will be still be fun.

I hope you will dive in with me & ask lots of questions.

Together, we can totally rock 2015!


We all have life lessons in our heads. What are yours?

If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger yourself?

Please, tell me in the comments…



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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.


  • Karen Findlay says:

    Thank you for sharing your story… great reminder about where to focus your energy.

  • Karen Rink says:

    Congratulations to you and your positive attitude thru your very trying times. You are a wonderful role model for the rest of us!

  • Linda Anderson says:

    Dear Theresa,
    I am sorry to hear of your battle with cancer and appreciate what your saying about life’s lessons, good or bad. I’ve never battled cancer (or at least not yet in my life) but have been dealt some life altering blows. My darkest time was the death of my 18 year old son, and the loss of my sister’s son and his family of four. No words can describe the despair. But, by faith and prayer, my sister and I have both made it back to enjoying life again and are grateful for each and every day, and the knowledge that God has a plan.

    • theresa says:

      I am so very sorry for your loss Linda. I have no words. I am sure despair does not even begin to describe the heartache. I am so impressed with your ability to plow ahead. You are an inspiration. God bless.

  • Lynn says:

    I love you, Theresa. There. I said it. It’s one of my goals — to tell people that inspire and move and impact me just how much they mean to me and that I am grateful for them. I’m so glad you were born and that I know you. I wish you many, many more days of truly living homegrown. Thank you for this post.

  • Theresa ~ you know how much I admire you and value our friendship, albeit a long-distant and rather occasional one. This post is BIG and I love your reminder of the following rules:

    Being There For My Kids = BIG
    Running Late for an Appointment = Small
    Someone Else’s Agenda or Pettiness = Not even on the radar!

    Here’s to a BIG, BOUNTIFUL and BEAUTIFUL 2015 ~ with friendship, Debra

  • Sue says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and the things you have learned.

  • Oh, Theresa, I’m right there with you! Thank you for sharing your insights. My advice to my younger self–stay present, cultivate hope and relax knowing all will be well. It might not always be happy or easy, but there is a rhythm to life that always seeks balance in the end. Big love to you!

    • theresa says:

      Those are excellent lessons Jenny. I especially love the part about stay present. I’m adding that to my list this year.

  • Donald Wiley says:

    You are correct in seeing what is important in life. My wife is going through a different “C” right now, and it really makes us enjoy the NOW.

  • Love your writing! I also took a break from blogs due to “C” but love the connection with others who enjoy life on the other side. Happy gardening to us all in 2015!

    • theresa says:

      Thank you Elena. I’m sorry you have been in the same boat, but I’m glad that makes our connection stronger. Happy gardening indeed!

  • Tracey Kruger says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this; it is just so exactly what I needed to see right now. Thank you for your positive attitude, and for choosing not to give in to the feelings of despair and helplessness. May 2015 be a wonderful year for you, and for all of us.

    • theresa says:

      Thank you Tracey for telling me. I sat on this post for months, wondering if I should actually post it. I worried it didn’t fit with my mission. But it is my honest self, laying all my cards on the table. I’m glad it resonated with you. Happy New Year to you!

      • Kim says:

        I don’t think any other topic could “fit in with your mission” more! I’ve been going through reconstruction for a year and have relearned the 4 lessons you posted as well! I kept putting off canning my Granny’s recipe for pear conserve (& I’ve never even tried canning) that I’ve carried around since 1976! Well, I did this past year! In the middle of operations! Cause you absolutely cannot put off what you want to do! Not sweating, not waiting, diving in, yes we will rock 2015! Thank you for the post!

        • theresa says:

          High five Kim!!! You go girl. That is exactly what I meant. No waiting, no way.

          I am so happy you made that recipe. Your Granny would be proud. As am I!


  • You are such an inspiration. Love you, lady.

  • Robin says:

    You know I love ya’ sista & I’m so grateful to have you in my life. I look forward to more days together as we continue to “Dive in. Make mistakes. Learn. And then dive in again.” No matter what happens, we’ll never “fail” ’cause we’ve always got each other. Thank goodness! xoxoo

  • Rachel says:

    I’m plowing ahead, too! I was diagnosed with metastatic appendix cancer last year, had the “mother of all surgeries” in June, and have been slowly and steadily recovering since then. A near-death experience sure makes you rethink your priorities and what’s important in life.

    • theresa says:

      Dang Rachel, way to be tough. I bet that WAS a mother of a surgery.

      Yes, when the stuff hits the fan like that it shines on light on what is truly important. Stay positive my friend, that is the best medicine of all.

      Hugs to you.

  • Jeanie Rule says:

    Beautiful, real, inspiring article – just like you. Thank you for sharing, Theresa! Biggest loves to you!

  • Heidi Strauss says:

    Beautifully said – went straight to my heart and brain. Will do! (or at least try very hard).
    Thank you for sharing and helping all those who read this.

  • Sue Goetz says:

    “Little things”. “big things”, “passion”, “mistakes”…embracing them all. Thank you for the reminders to do so. Oh and the part about telling my younger self something; still thinking about that. Not sure she would listen 😉

  • Theresa – You ROCK!! What a wonderfully inspiring post. Thank you very much. WE are so lucky to know YOU and be able to appreciate all of your passions that that you are here with us to enjoy them too. HUG! 🙂

  • Larry says:

    I had the big C in 2000. They gutted me like a fish. A lot of men would probably kill their shelf because they would not feal like a man any more. I probably would have except for my wife. I live each day to the fullest. It is not how mush time you spend with the ones you love, but the quality of the time you spend. Tell them you love them each day and at night befor you go to sleep. Never go to bed mad, always make piece befor turning out the lights. My wife always gets mad when I say [ life is a bitch and then got die ]. I guess this is how I can deal with what I have been through. Peace my friend.

    • theresa says:

      I think your lessons are spot on Larry. I especially like: Never go to bed mad. I think for myself I would add: “Even when you know you are right.” (Tee hee)

      Your wife sounds pretty awesome too. You are both so lucky to have each other. Peace to you and your lovely wife.

  • Julie says:

    What a fabulous message, Teresa, and one the I plan to do a better job embracing. I hate that you went through this, but I’m so glad that you’re well–your words are such a positive influence. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Kathleen says:

    Beautifully said. Perspective is everything, isn’t it? It’s important for us to walk in one another’s shoes.

  • Judy says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I just lost my sister to cancer and feel so lost without her, we were very close. This is what I needed, thank you again.

    • theresa says:

      Oh Judy – I’m so very sorry for your loss. I’m sure you miss her every single day. I’m honored that you found value in my post.

  • louis desena says:

    Theresa-you are an wife has been fighting lung cancer and a bout of brain cancer since 1995.i was present when the first diagnosis was presented to us.ripped my hearth out-cryed like a baby.–every 3 months its
    another mri— you hold your breath-hope for a good report.–every day that I awake I “thank god for this day” and I pray that one day soon—science and medicine will find “the cure”–for “all cancers!!!”-remain strong–positive-
    place your trust in the lord jesus.

  • Keri Gee says:

    You are such a gift. I am so choked up right now after reading about what you have gone through Theresa. I love you and miss you. It’s been way to long since we last connected. I can muster at least one lesson right now …Don’t ever stop having fun just because responsibilities feel like a 24-hour job.

    • theresa says:

      Oh thank you sweet Keri Gee. Miss you too! OXOX

      That is a an excellent lesson to add to our growing list. Love to you and your beautiful family. 🙂

  • Dennis Kroll says:

    Thank you for sharing and reminding us of what is really important. Almost 6 years ago my wife was diagnosed with olfactoryneuroblastoma. We both had a wake up call of what really matters – she as she fought the battle and I as the caregiver, trying to be the rock she could anchor to (not telling her of the times I went down to the workshop and sobbed). She is cancer free at this time. Blessings on you and your family.

    • theresa says:

      Wow Dennis – It makes all the difference to have the support that only a spouse can give. Kuddos to you for being strong for her. I think people forget that when a family members gets cancer, really the whole family feels it. I’m so glad she is cancer free now.

  • Nancy Tidd says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey and your words of wisdom. A number of years ago my husband and I received a pillow with the following printed on it: “Don’t be so busy making a living you forget to make a life!” That was life changing for us, we took a step back and realized what was important – family, friends, living more simply (gardening, canning, etc.), enjoying life and nature and each other.

  • micah says:

    Wonderful story. Provided a new way to see things. The doctors believe I have lupus and are running more tests. Thank you. Sending prayers!

    • theresa says:

      Sorry to hear about the possible lupus Micah. I hope they get to the bottom of whatever ails you. Sending prayers to you too. 🙂

  • Vickie says:

    You have always been an inspiration for me! In fact, I am pursuing getting my Master Food Preserver’s certification this year, and it was your example that made me pursue this! I am so glad you beat the cancer, so you can continue inspiring more people. Thanks

    • theresa says:

      Hi Vickie – I am so honored that you find my story inspiring. Thank you so much for telling me that. And high five on going for the Master Food Preserver certification! You go girl!

  • Dee Nash says:

    I didn’t know. I loved this post as much I adore you. Yes, we all need to savor the life we have because it’s the only one we have. Hugs from Oklahoma, and yes, please keep sharing. ~~Dee

  • Hi Teresa, I was just thinking about you the other day because I have immersed myself in reading about the 2015 herb of the year, savory and I was reading your wonderful and now classic The Herbal Home Companion. Love your recipe for Beef Stew with Bay and Savory. A timely recipe for sure. Would it be OK to share the recipe with my readers? Glad you have won your cancer battle. I always take one day at a time, one moment at a time! Life is too short not to enjoy it, but with herbs it is that much better! xo

    • theresa says:

      Thanks Nancy. Sure you may share the recipe. I only ask that you mention me and link to this website in exchange. Thank you!

      Yes, herbs are still a big part of my garden and home. (And lemon verbena is still my favorite)

  • narf77 says:

    I think your message needs to reach everyone. Finding joy in the bad things that happen to you is the real secret to happiness. You survived something terrible and learned how to live in the process. This is a wonderfully enlivening post full of hope and joy and I just want more people to be able to see this post. Thank you for your open honesty and for posting this 🙂

  • Candy says:

    What a positive outlook you have! So gracious, giving and full of life! I want to adopt your principals and live them in my life, every moment of every day. As a recently widowed individual, now single parent and “do-er of all things necessary”, I find it difficult to not sweat everything. It’s just in my personal make-up to worry about the details. Since losing my husband to multiple-cancers, I have learned and continue to try and live each day, that one moment at a time is all that really matters. The dogs and cats appreciate the additional attention. My high school aged son, not so much. But, this too shall pass and he will come to appreciate his strong, self-sufficient and now very independent Mother and the “awesome” title she has earned, coming out the other side of the Big C with a strong desire to live life to the fullest

    • theresa says:

      Oh Candy – you so speak the truth. He will see it when he is older.

      I’m sorry for your loss. All words feel inefficient for me to say. But I am proud of you for pushing through and being there for your son. Keep on living life to the fullest!

  • I arrived here via the Road to Serendipity. Narf shared this wonderful post.

    I have two dear friends and a sister in law who’ve gone through all these stages of breast cancer and are now on the healing side. Thanks for sharing your words and your progress and your goals for next year.

    Your words speak volumes. Thanks for sharing them.

    If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her not to take life so seriously. I would let her know that things do get better, to trust in herself and not to waste a minute of time with people who are unkind. Great blog.

  • Laura Bell says:

    Well said, Theresa. I love the part about savoring life’s moments. Whether good or bad, how we feel reminds us that we are alive. And we should never take that life for granted.

  • Natalie says:

    Wow, Theresa! You’ve always inspired me, but this post takes it 10 steps further! Thank you so much for your powerful words and willingness to be vulnerable enough to share your story–you continue to amaze me!

  • Oh, wow, Theresa! I had no idea! Though I’m not surprised you quietly battled – and triumphed – all while managing everything else on your plate. Thank you for sharing your story. Your insights are well earned, my friend.

    My husband’s aunt passed away this Christmas after a four year battle with cancer. She was incredibly upbeat and positive throughout; even at the very end. She had a note on her fridge that read, “Life isn’t about surviving the storms. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I’m trying to keep that in mind and to learn to dance in the rain. And, like you, to let go of the little things (running late is a big trigger for me).

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. Love the redesign of your site!


    • theresa says:

      I love that quote Andrea!

      Yes, we all have our triggers don’t we? LOL Running late used to be mine. I work at not letting that one freak me out so much.

      Thanks for your kind words, my friend. Glad you like my new digs!

  • Lisa R says:

    Thanks for your honesty, Theresa! It’s a powerful force! Blessings as you continue on your journey!

  • Deborah Hinnenkamp says:

    I have put off reading this but seems so appropriate at this time. Our youth pastor was diagnosed with colon cancer. He is young. He currently is at the Mayo Clinic here in Minnesota. But I weep and pray for you all. Be BLessed. And may the Good Lord Bless YOu and Keep you, may He extend His healing Hand from heaven and cure you all.

  • Lynn says:

    Isn’t it funny how you can chose to read something or not (busy life means hitting delete more than I’d like), then read and discover it was a meant to be message?

    Compared to you and all the people who’ve battled disease here, or lost loved ones, my junk is small. But it’s junk nonetheless and your sharing is powerful and right on the mark! Thanks so much for reminding me what’s important. I so look forward to exploring your new way of doing things this year- with you and everyone ;-D

  • Margaret says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Theresa. Have never had cancer myself,but lost my Dad in 1992 due to cancer.Then one year later my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer.She survived and is 91 years young.My youngest son was diagnosed with leukemia 42 years ago .He is 46 now.Cancer is a horrible thing and will strike young and old alike.
    If I could do my life over again,I would certainly enjoy my family each and every day that I had them with me.I. would tell them that I loved them each and every day and more times each day.Each and every day would be a day to celebrate the joy of just living with them. The miracle of life is a reason to celebrate.

    • theresa says:

      Thank you for sharing that Margaret. I’m so sorry for the hardships you and your family went through. And thank you for the important reminder. I’m gonna go give my kids a giant hug. 🙂

  • Misty says:

    Thank you! I also went through cancer, colon cancer at 40. I love your frame of mind. This was inspiring!!

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