Living sustainably is an imperfect practice. It is a series of trial and error. It is learning and relearning. It is a challenge, but one that means a lot to me.

When diagnosed with breast cancer, I could feel bits and pieces of my identity begin to slip away with each appointment. So finding new ways to embed sustainability into my life at a time when much fell out of my control was important.

Here are five sustainable habits that allowed me to help myself and the planet through cancer treatment, and beyond.

Waste Not, Want Not

Nearly 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or goes to waste each year, according to the Save Food Initiative by the UN Environment Programme.

During treatment, simply getting out of bed to go to the bathroom or get a glass of water felt like an impossible task. Meal planning to ensure that I both filled my body with nutritious foods and  reduced my food waste was just out of the question.

When I stumbled upon these smoothie cubes from Evive, they felt like a godsend. After checking with my onco-nutritionist, I was comforted to know that even on days when the simplest task felt like an endless uphill climb, I had a healthy snack option that didn’t require a blender.

Switching to pre-made smoothie cubes meant reducing the amount of fresh produce I bought—and tossed—with each grocery shop while still having the confidence that I was giving my body the fuel it needed.

Reuse Your Pill bottles

It was shortly after my cancer diagnosis that I got an inkling of just how many pill bottles I was about to start collecting. A quick Google search on what to do with them turned up… not a whole lot. So I asked my pharmacist.

While she explained that they couldn’t take them back to reuse for other patients in fear of cross-contamination, if I didn’t mind waiting for my prescriptions to be filled, my prescriptions could be refilled using the same bottles. And so began my far-from-perfect routine of throwing my empty pill bottles into my everyday tote bag in hopes I’d remember to bring them with me for my next refill.

Simplify Your Skincare

The night before I started chemo, I stood in the skincare aisle at my local drugstore, frozen under the fluorescent lights. I knew that in the coming days, weeks, and months, I would need my life to be as easy as possible. And well, I was already embarrassingly bad at maintaining a proper skincare routine.

Single-use face wipes were the logical choice, but that just didn’t sit well with me. Instead, I found these face sponges, made from Konjac root fibres. They tout exfoliating, cleansing, and antibacterial properties, and because they’re made from plant fibers, they can be tossed in your curbside compost bin when you’re done with it. It was a great easy option on days when I couldn’t bring myself to do a whole lot more than splash my face with water.

Get Thrifty with Shopping

Shopping for clothes during treatment can be challenging, to say the least. Cancer changes our bodies in immeasurable ways, and deciphering size charts while scrolling through images of perfectly coiffed models can add salt to the wound.

The combination of not fully understanding my new body and not wanting to commit to pieces that I wasn’t confident would still fit post-double mastectomy made shopping second hand the easy choice.

With services like Depop, Poshmark or ThredUp, I could filter, search, and DM from the comfort of my couch until I found pieces that would work for me. Not only would I often be spending less than I would have if I had bought the same pieces new, the ability to ask sellers for detailed measurements allowed me to compare what I was buying to what was already in my closet, giving me more confidence that they would actually fit.

Knowing that I was not contributing to the numerous negative environmental impacts associated with fast fashion, from intense energy consumption to unjust labor practices, made it all that much better.

Remember: Be Kind to Yourself

The adage, “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others,” rings true in so many ways.

Cancer is a lot to process. It is a life-changing experience that can bring about many difficult questions about the ways in which we live our lives. The climate crisis is similarly daunting. The reality of the impacts of climate change presents us with challenges too big for a single person to solve. And in both cases, taking action can feel like an overwhelming, all-or-nothing decision.

But it’s important to remember that the most sustainable swap that you can make is the one that you can commit to. I am a die-hard public transit user, but felt uncomfortable hopping onto a packed bus when immunocompromised, so I opted for car rides instead. For many disabled folks, single-use plastic straws remain the only accessible option. It is okay to not do everything perfectly.

After all, every decision we make comes at a cost, but you must factor your health and wellbeing into those equations. Take care of yourself first, and let the rest follow.

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