When I was younger, preparation for bikini/wedding/holidays or frankly any season, inevitably meant a new workout regimen. Endless hours were spent scouring magazines for the hottest new fitness fad, hoping it would get me beach-ready. Unfortunately, because of this silly commitment, I became the proud owner of Jane Fonda videos, the Thigh Master, the Bowflex and the Shake Weight. Bring on summer of 2014, then 2015 and now 2016 where my focus is flipped from looking pretty to being well. And now my clothes fit without all the gizmos. How have I done it? Give a round of applause for a plant-based diet, a little yoga and a lot of walking.
I wasn’t scared of the painful side effects from surgery.
I wasn’t scared of fatigue and emotional drain from a packed schedule of cancer doctor appointments.
I wasn’t scared of humongous machines filled with radiation.
And I wasn’t scared of chemotherapy … I was petrified.
When I was first diagnosed, I only knew a few people who went through cancer treatment. And I didn’t know much about their experiences, so I really had no idea what to expect. I feared the worst when I was told I needed chemo; my stomach sank and anxiety filled my chest. I imaged myself regularly hugging a toilet, unable to leave the house and participate in life for 16 weeks of treatment. But this wasn’t my experience at all. In fact, my first chemo treatment was just me, my husband, two nurses and an IV.
As the hours set in after my initial cancer diagnosis, I went from feeling disbelief to craving information. I wanted to know more. So rather than jump on the internet, since I was warned to stay away, my husband and I drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore. I purchased a few “you have cancer” books and quickly learned that any piece of literature, story, infographic or even a soundbite could bring me to tears if I wasn’t ready. Since unfortunately others have been and will be touched by cancer, below is a short list of books that provided me information without scary statistics and overwhelming tales. These delivered inspiration to move forward and take care of myself, while I let my medical and support team take care of me.
Ten years ago yesterday, I was first told that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, aka cancer. As I look back, I wonder what would my life be like if I didn’t have cancer.
Where would I be? Would I’ve been a stay-at-home mom with four kids? Or possibly a business woman traveling cross-country while my husband stayed home and managed family life?
Do I even begin to play that game, dreaming about what could’ve been before cancer changed my plans? How do I know that even without cancer, life could have been better? Maybe something more daunting would’ve appeared, and I surely don’t want to think about that.
So, when I’m down or feeling a little sorry for myself, I try to think of what I’ve gained from my cancer experience or (insert horrible situation here.) I’m not suggesting we all rewrite a modern version of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. I just think finding positivity clears the mind of the stress and angst of a tragic life event.
These are a Few of My Favorite Things – After Cancer Came to Town
You hear it all the time, cancer brings about a special bond. Those who understand the frightful conversations dealing with a life-threatening diagnosis can provide relevant advice or tough love. I’m grateful for these cancer friends, otherwise known as my angels, who have taught me about cancer, strength and grace. Some guided me tremendously during the early moments. Others have grown with me beyond cancer and continue to be a shining force in my life. In fact, I’ve played both roles, as well, mentoring, motivating and educating those about the “big C.” Treatments debated and tears often shed, but many times we commiserated about the silly stuff.
It’s also worth noting, that other relationships intensify because cancer brings them to a life-altering other level. My husband and I dealt with frightening decisions in a short amount of time. This taught us how to not only communicate but also work well together under such duress.
I often stressed over the wrong things in childhood. I took every self-help magazine quiz to improve my teenage self-esteem. While I was a confident kid, I had my moments, which trickled through my early 20’s. Beating cancer and thriving with it at 31 catapulted me into a different mental state. With every intense work project, fearful presentation or uncomfortable life situation, I drew upon my cancer survivor skills and thrived. Take that, cancer … you made me better.
Adapting to Change and Evolving with It
It’s one thing to adapt to change, but completely different to evolve with it. Being thrown this curve ball at age 31, when I was just asserting my adulthood taught me how to play ball successfully. If one strategy works for years, it doesn’t mean it will in the future. So when my cancer life began, my old life had to be adapted. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but I’ve learned to grieve any loss and move forward.
New Boobs and Bod
Ok, so here’s the silly, yet surreal part. While I would never wish the surgeries, IV cocktails, shots and scans on anyone, my body looks better. I had bigger boobs, but I never loved them. My post bilateral mastectomy ones fit well in clothes and I don’t even have to wear a bra. Even more exciting, the past year eating clean, sleeping more and practicing yoga has tightened my body and improved my energy level tremendously. I wish I would have embraced a clean lifestyle way back when, instead of counting calories for all those years.
Timing Means Everything
My husband and I wanted to be pregnant within the year after we were married. Our plan had to be altered because I was diagnosed just three months after our wedding. I would have never wanted to wait four years to have a baby. But, thankfully, I did. Kyle is our everything. Since every second/minute/year carries different possible outcomes, had we not waited four years, our baby would not be our precious, silly, thoughtful, caring and creative, Kyle.
Have you or someone you love experienced any life altering moments that redefined your life?
I’m thrilled to be a recipient of the 2014 Pink Power Mom award.
The Kids II Foundation’s, Pink Power Mom network is a nonprofit organization that honors eight women annually who have used their breast cancer battle as a catalyst to make a difference in the community. I’m honored that I was selected because of my efforts with Pretty Wellness. As a winner, I will receive a sizable donation for my charities of choice, so that I can continue to advocate for meaningful breast cancer treatments and resources.
My 2015 donation will be awarded to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. As a former Disney/ESPN employee, I have fond memories of supporting the V Foundation. I participated in many fundraisers and sat on a departmental committee to help build awareness and raise funds to support their mission: curing cancer. On the day I was diagnosed with stage IV disease, one of the executives reminded me that I am not a case study and recited the wise words of coach Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up…Don’t ever give up.” It uplifted me and was the reminder I needed to embrace my positive spirit in the face of hardship.
Another charity that is near and dear to my heart is The Get in Touch Foundation, founded in my hometown by fellow cancer survivor, 2010 Pink Power Mom, author, and friend, Mary Ann Wasil. The foundation’s goal is to provide initiatives to educate girls and boys about early detection. Their Girls’ Program/Daisy Wheel tool has been implemented in 26 countries and teaches children about how to do their own breast self-exams. I sat on the board in the early stages, now years later I’m amazed at the progress and global reach of their efforts.
Here is the official press release for more information on Kids II, Inc. and the Pink Power Mom recipients.
I’m excited to join the sisterhood of this amazing group of breast cancer survivors and can’t wait to meet them at the award ceremony in early 2015.
June 1 marked National Cancer Survivor’s Day. Being a two-time cancer survivor, I thought a lot about what this meant to me. What lessons did I learn that made my life better and can be applied to my friends, family and the greater community?
The first time around, cancer gave me confidence. I shopped for wigs with enthusiasm, bought new makeup to highlight my smile (rather than the thinning eyelashes) and had chemo parties to make the IV treatments enjoyable. I conquered breast cancer with positivity and grace. So, when I jumped back into my fast-paced corporate lifestyle, no monumental presentation or top-executive meeting could rock my world. I knew I could master it, because I overcame the greatest battle of all – I beat the big C.
Though the confidence was powerful and definitely a badge of courage after surgery and chemo, my approach to life was to “get back to normal.” I enjoyed forgetting that I once had cancer. My workaholic ways and successful career momentum reinforced that “I was back.” What I know now after my second round of breast cancer is that I missed the bigger lesson. Rather than go back to my normal life, I should have recognized the importance of taking care of myself. Like many in this world, I probably just thought that overhauling my routine was too hard. What I realized is that making a few small changes, little by little, eventually equals big changes in my health.
20 Simple Lessons on How to Take Care of Myself I Learned from Surviving Cancer
1. Being bald, I noticed my eyes and learned they were truly beautiful. Wow – maybe I am pretty after-all.
2. Feeling tired, drained, nauseous and pain can be a downer. It is ok to be in a funk. Accept it and don’t beat myself up over it.
3. Even having cancer, I can be happy, have fun and laugh a lot. The first time around I was a newlywed and vowed to focus on silly little activities to keep us laughing. Who would have thought?
4. Cancer brings clarity, which makes life a tad bit easier. I didn’t care that I lost my breasts and hair because I just wanted to live. Nothing else was important but that.
5. Grappling with mortality reminded me to be grateful for everything in my life ranging from my relationships to my personal assets.
6. Sleep is ever so important. Cells can’t revitalize unless my body sleeps well. Farewell to the 3-hour slumbers I would subject myself to so I could wake up and work on a presentation or send emails at 4 a.m. Now, I sleep at least 7.5 hours and even nap, too.
7. Move around: walk daily and find an active hobby. Studies continue to support moderate exercise to prevent many diseases.
8. Eating whole foods, rather than packaged artificial items will give me more energy throughout the day.
9. My favorite foods changed, whether it was from treatment induced cravings or eliminating items for long periods of time. I learned that I don’t need Diet Dr. Pepper, Hostess Snowballs and gummy Coke bottles in my life.
10. Staying hydrated will help any toxins eliminate themselves.
11. Water doesn’t have to be boring. Add mint, basil and some fruit and it smells and tastes yummy.
12. Drinking hot water and lemon first thing in the morning, helps rehydrate and balance my body’s alkaline-acidic state for better overall functioning. I also have tons of energy since I’m not dehydrated. I now look forward to this drink instead of my mocha.
13. Don’t trust the Internet. Let it be a tool to help gather information, but go to experts to help answer the important questions. This applies to all areas in life.
14. Every patient/person needs a buddy, one who will attend hard doc appointments or monumental events to ask assorted questions or lend themselves for support.
15. Ask questions often. I politely call or email doctors and nurses (or business associates) when I have a random question or concern. It’s their job.
16. Doctors don’t always agree. Get second and third opinions.
17. Some people say the wrong thing, others say nothing…but that’s not important. Cherish those people who make you feel good about yourself.
18. Ask friends and family for help. They want to be there. Give them ideas to help them help.
19. Nature, music and animals are truly soothing. Building a steady relationship with the outdoors is invigorating.
20. I can get through anything because I have a true, non-toxic, loving and supportive best friend. He’s been my rock, my chauffeur, my cancer counselor, my roommate, my partner and my true love – my husband. Love and treasure family and best friends.
These lessons I learned from cancer, but can be applied to any aspect of life. What life lesson do you hold most dear to your heart?