From Cancer to Passion for Health and Wellness
Let me tell you my story
Hello! My name is Joanna Stimmel. I emigrated to the USA from Poland in 1992, just after my home country started on its road to democracy. I lived in a number of places on the East Coast, before settling down in Los Angeles in 2007. I have a Ph.D. in German Studies and I’ve been teaching literature and cultural studies for the past twenty years at several universities (Georgetown U, Columbia U, Hunter College, Middlebury College, UCLA, Pepperdine U.) I’m also a wife and a mother of two, a researcher, a chef and baker, a clean skincare formulator, a gardener, and a cat momma.
From Behind the Iron Curtain to Sunny California
I spent my childhood in communist Poland… and it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I remember it very fondly. Life was certainly difficult for the adults – no free elections, no representation, no freedom of speech or travel. But I was just a kid going to school and playing with my friends. Even if I disliked learning Russian and reciting propagandistic poems during state holidays, our life was pretty normal; maybe just a bit slower, and more earth-bound than nowadays.
After graduating from college in Poland, I had a chance to visit America. I came, thinking I’d stay a few months, improve my English, and then go back to the newly democratizing Poland. When I arrived in the US, I had one suitcase and 200 bucks in cash. This was all the savings my parents could come up with. Oh, how quickly did I realize that this money would not carry me very far.
Fighting for a better future
Barely in command of English, I nevertheless secured a few small jobs. I was babysitting, dog-walking, and serving as a companion to an elderly lady. The goal I set out for myself seemed impossible to reach. I dreamed of securing a stipend that would allow me to continue my studies. Difficulties abounded, red tape was everywhere, but I persisted. Eventually did get a university spot for doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh. It came with a fully covered tuition and a stipend to live on. And so, after a year-long struggle and barely making it with the help of generous friends, my life in America was finally taking a turn for the better.
Around that time, I met my future husband. We got engaged, then married, and I completed my degree and started my academic career. Then came our first child, then the move to California, and the second kid to complete our family. Life was good, and it felt like I was living the American Dream.
Life will turn out the way it wants to turn out
And then came big changes. Fall of 2014. Now a wife to a great husband and mom to two wonderful kids, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. For over a year I battled the disease with all the strength I could muster. There were surgeries, chemo, radiotherapy, supplementation, and several changes in diet.
After one year of treatments, I was told that cancer has returned in my lung. Small reoccurrence, but still, I was now officially metastatic. More treatments, more starring into the abyss, more fight. I was super lucky. After two years of fight, I achieved and am still blessed with a remission! I feel that cancer, while certainly not “the best thing that ever happened to me,” taught me many valuable lessons.
Learning from the experience
The first lesson from cancer is the importance of keeping myself informed and advocating for myself. As a researcher by profession, I devoured a clinical study after a study. I researched new developments in science, and I immersed myself in the available literature on my illness. Of course, I would never assume that I could know more than trained oncologists. Still, I wanted to discuss my treatment options with them, equipped with some dose of knowledge and understanding.
Having done all that research, I realized that in order to stay healthy, I had to change my lifestyle. The first step was nutrition and becoming more physically active. I also needed to work on curbing stress and prioritizing sleep and relaxation. Finally, I knew that I had to optimize my environment. I set out to clear out the chemical toxins from my skincare and household cleaners and the like. Then, I detoxed my house and cosmetics. For the first time in my life, I embarked on a regular exercise program. Following the advice of my naturopath, I started meditating and practicing yoga. And I build raised beds right outside my kitchen door and became an organic gardener.
From Research to this Wellness Project
My cancer journey taught me to take better care of myself and my environment. It became my driving force to become “öko”(eco)-logical in my choices and led me to my newest adventure: this blog. You can read more about my reasons and passion for this project in my very first blog post.
Now, five years since my diagnosis, and almost four since being in remission, I am healthy, strong, and thriving. And, if you’re willing to hear me out, I am committed to bringing all that I know and continue to learn to you. I’ll share with you how I keep my home non-toxic, my body strong, my belly content with good food from my garden, and my skin and hair naturally beautiful. I will be blogging here about what I’ve learned during my journey.