Author Kris Carr shares advice for living with cancer and living large in spite of cancer
By Mia James
A new voice among young cancer survivors—a group gaining notoriety for their bold, outspoken determination to live fully in spite of their diagnoses—belongs to Kris Carr, award-winning actress, photographer, filmmaker, and, since her 2003 diagnosis of epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (an extremely rare vascular cancer), cancer survivor. With the release of her book, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips (Skirt! Books, An Imprint of Globe Pequot Press), this September, Kris is reaching out to young women facing a cancer diagnosis with everything from practical tips like handling insurance and whether to work during treatment to sharing such important elements of her own well-being as nutrition and yoga.
But even with cancer ever present, joy, an indomitable spirit of youth, and a healthy dose of reckless abandon resound throughout Kris’s book. Shod in her ubiquitous cowboy boots, Kris celebrates her family, her friendships, the beauty around her, and the freedom to thrive. She’s supported in her quest for wellness and to be “juicy and courageous,” as she writes, by a unique group of women—all of whom have faced a cancer diagnosis themselves and have become strong advocates for young survivors. Dubbed her “cancer posse,” the group includes Erin Zammett Ruddy (“Cancer’s Glamour Girl,” Women&Cancer, Summer 2007) and Marisa Acocella Marchetto (“The Word Is Vixen, Not Victim,” Women&Cancer, Winter 2006). These women add their own insights to Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. Also included in this powerful network of support is musician and breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow (“Gratitude and Grace,” Women&Cancer, Fall 2006), who writes the foreword to Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. Of Kris’s precious contribution to the community of young survivors, Sheryl says, “And thank God she is one of those women who has the courage and the generosity to share her experience.”
In the following interview, Kris shares with Women&Cancer some of the forces behind Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, her commitment to wellness and happiness, as well as some tips for anyone determined to, as she says, “replace the word patient with the word survivor.”
W&C: Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is a collection of tips for handling the challenges of cancer, but it also reads like a memoir. Tell us about your choice to combine both advice and personal experience.
KRIS: Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is the book I had wished was available when I was diagnosed. By writing a tips book that is part memoir, part how-to guide, I knew I would reach a much broader audience, especially since I included other women and their amazing survival stories. The book is chock-full of advice, tricks, and secrets and is bound to be a great support for anyone navigating the disease.…Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips really is an advice-from-the-trenches girlfriend’s guide to cancer. I write about everything from second and third opinions and dealing with insurance to beauty tips, nutrition, spirituality, dating and sex, and planning for the future—including having babies! My hope is that [the book] will inspire people to go deep, feel, giggle, and blush, to rise to the occasion of a difficult situation and triumph.
W&C: Your optimism, humor, and take-charge attitude toward your diagnosis set the book’s tone, but you’re also honest about some rough spots. When you hit these low points, what are a couple of key things that get you back on track?
KRIS: We all hit low points, bumps, and earthquakes, and each of us has a choice about how we will deal with those rough spots. For me, I sit in the fire when the pain or doubt come; I make sure to let it in and deal with it and then I move on. I walk, pray, dance, do yoga, read something really inspiring, or chat with my mom or my husband. Nature is also a great salve; it helps me get out of my head and into my heart. Truth be told, I hate to suffer, yet in the heart of the discomfort there have always been jewels for me. That’s why I describe cancer as a catalyst and not a gift;…it can make you really take stock and redirect the stagnancies in your life.…Being human is messy. Like it or not, life is a terminal condition; cancer patients are just more aware of it.
W&C: You and your fellow young survivors are strikingly youthful and loaded with energy. On the other hand, you all possess wisdom and insight far beyond your years. How has your cancer experience inspired both of these qualities?
KRIS: Cancer has this uncanny way of making you both childlike and wise beyond your years….We’ve all been to the edge, so we have the perspective. Cancer has made each of us grow and realize what is truly important in our lives. I love and cherish the other women in the book; they have taught me so much, and I am blessed to have their friendship. When we get together, we talk about really normal and sometimes outrageous things. Cancer barely comes up. But when it does, it really isn’t a big deal—it’s just another thing that we deal with and that makes us fabulously unique.
W&C: Your book is of course loaded with advice. Is there one outstanding thing you’d like to tell other survivors?
KRIS: Yesterday you were a normal civilian; today you are a cancer survivor. (That’s right, you’re a survivor the day you are diagnosed!) When you are saddled with those three mind-bending words—you have cancer—your universe is thrown into a freefall. There’s no sugarcoating it: cancer is a devastating blow, one that takes time to process…. Some days I really understand the need for kindness and self-compassion. Other days I frantically try to push against the river, or I just break down and sob. If yoga teaches me anything, it’s to be flexible. Cancer is a strong wind that can completely uproot you if you don’t sway with it. Create your own posse as soon as possible, and keep adding to it as time goes on. There is a lot of crap you have to cope with, and your posse can help. Plus, you’ll find yourself trading valuable tricks of the trade. Remember to keep your feet on the ground and your spirits high. Get educated and be an advocate for yourself. Relationships will change as cancer has a wonderful way of renovating your little black book! Go with the flow and, if you need to, set boundaries. Above all, always remember to cherish yourself; and if something doesn’t feel right, listen. Everything you need to know is already inside you. |
For information about Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, including her book tour this fall, visit www.globepequot.com/kriscarrtour.
In addition to her book, Kris has produced an accompanying documentary about her experience, Crazy Sexy Cancer, which first aired on The Learning Channel on August 29, 2007.