Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #21, Curing “Burnt Toast” Syndrome

Before I found out I had cancer, I presented to my local chemist with some puzzling symptoms, one of which was a terrible pain in the ball of my right foot. The pharmacist behind the counter diagnosed me immediately with gout – an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joint. Horrified at finding out I had something with such an unglamorous name, I asked him what caused it.

“Burnt Toast Syndrome.”

“I beg your pardon?” I imagined I’d contracted a terrible disease caused by too many toxic enzymes in my overcooked breakfast. “What exactly is Burnt Toast Syndrome?”

“Burnt Toast Syndrome” he explained, “is when someone takes responsibility for the happiness of everyone else, and always puts themselves last on the list. In other words, I think you always takes the “burnt piece of toast” so nobody else ever has to feel inconvenienced, disappointed or unhappy. Am I right?”

He was right.

Burnt Toast Syndrome didn’t give me cancer. But after I found out I had cancer, it became pretty clear Burnt Toast Syndrome wasn’t going to help me get better.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

I had to learn it was important for me to take the “freshest piece of toast” more often, and leave the burnt one for someone else, because sometimes others need to learn when to put someone else’s wants and needs before theirs.  I also needed to make my own happiness and comfort a priority as well as that of my family and friends, and stop seeing personal sacrifice and self-denial as noble, or a sign of my love. Teaching others to respect my health and happiness wasn’t wrong, and allowing the people in my life to experience disappointment or inconvenience as I moved myself up my list of personal priorities wasn’t selfish or bad. Having cancer was an opportunity for me to learn to practice self-nurture, because I could hardly expect others to take better care of me than I was prepared to take of myself.

In fact, making martyrs of ourselves may be one of the factors which promote ideal conditions for problems like cancer. If you constantly put yourself at the bottom of the list, you’re bound to become sick – if not physically, then perhaps in some other way.

You don’t get a different result by continuing to make the exact same choices. Today, it’s time to cure yourself of “Burnt Toast Syndrome”. Looking after yourself properly and partaking of good food and healthy, fulfilling activity isn’t wrong, selfish or bad. Listen to what your body is telling you. Something you’ve been doing isn’t working. Time for a change.


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3 thoughts on “Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #21, Curing “Burnt Toast” Syndrome

  1. I think I might know a thing or two about Burnt Toast Syndrome – it has a lot to do with my ongoing tug-o-war with fibromyalgia. Thank you for this insight. If we don’t look after ourselves no one else will…..and if we keep putting our need and priorities last – we are sending the totally wrong message to those around us. They will let us keep making these sacrifices and will perpetuate the same behaviour in their actions. We end up becoming our own enemy. We have to wake up and take back our lost ground. Then once it is recovered we have to guard it jealously from all marauders. Thanks Jo.

  2. Hello,

    I just started on a course specifically designed to empower women. The facilitator was excellent and she taught me not only to throw away the burnt toast but to share what is not burnt. In doing so, you’re showing equality. I just thought I’d share because I don’t eat burnt toast anymore but I also would never leave burnt toast for someone else.

    Kindest Regards,


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