From Cancer to Passion for Health and Wellness
My name is Joanna Stimmel. I emigrated to the USA from Poland in 1992, and I lived in a number of places on the East Coast, before settling down in Los Angeles in 2007. I hold a PhD in German Studies and I have been teaching literature and cultural studies for the past twenty years. I'm also a wife and a mother (the pic here shows me with my 16-year old daughter while traveling in Europe in the summer of 2018), a researcher, a chef and baker, a clean skincare formulator, a gardener, and a cat momma.
From behind the Iron Curtain to the 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 and even if it was annoying to have to learn Russian and to be forced to recite propagandistic poems during state holidays and the like, life was pretty normal, just a bit slower and more earth-bound than nowadays.
After I graduated from college in Poland, I had a chance to visit America. Of course I took it, thinking I’d stay a few months, improve my English, and then go back to the newly democratizing and rapidly changing Poland. When I arrived in the US, I had a suitcase and 200 bucks in cash, which was all the savings my parents could come up with. I realized very quickly that even though I was able to stay with friends, this amount of money would not carry me very far.
Barely in command of English, I nevertheless secured a few small jobs: babysitting, dog-walking, serving as a companion to an elderly lady. The goal I set for myself seemed impossible to reach: I was dreaming of securing a stipend which would allow me to continue my studies. Difficulties abounded, red tape was everywhere, but I persisted and eventually managed to get a university spot for doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh with a fully covered tuition and a stipend to live on. After a year-long struggle and subsiding on Dollar Store food and lots of help from generous friends, my life finally took 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 academic career. Then came our first child, then the move to California, and the second kid to complete our family. Life was good, and I felt I was living the American Dream.
Life will turn out the way it wants to turn out
It all came to a screeching halt in 2014. Now a wife to a great husband and mom to a 12-year old and a 3-year old, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, stage 3. For over a year I battled the disease with all that medicine and complementary modalities had to offer: surgeries, chemo- and radiotherapy, supplementation, and several changes of diet. I was super lucky. I achieved and am still blessed with a remission… and I feel that the cancer, while certainly not “the best thing that ever happened to me,” did teach me many valuable lessons.
Learning from the experience
The first lesson I took from cancer is the importance of keeping oneself informed and advocating for oneself. Being a researcher by profession, I devoured a clinical study after a study, I researched clinical trails and new developments in the science, and I immersed myself in the available literature on the illness and possible treatments. Of course I would never assume that I could know more that trained oncologists, but I wanted to be able to discuss my prognosis and treatment options with them, being equipped with at least a dose of knowledge and understanding.
What followed from the research, was the realization that in order to stay healthy, I needed to change my lifestyle, starting with nutrition and becoming more physically active, working on my stress levels and prioritizing sleep and relaxation, and ending with optimizing my environment: clearing out the chemical toxins from my skincare and household cleaners and the like. I detoxed my house and consmetics, I embarked on a regular exercise program, I started meditating and doing yoga, and I build raised beds right outside my kitchen door and became an organic gardener.
From Research to Teaching about 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, I am healthy, strong, and thriving, and ready to bring all 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. I also hope to learn from you about how you have changed your life for the better following an adversity.
Let's thrive together!