Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I found a lump during a quick shower while on a ski trip with my family. I was 36, a mom of three, and acclimating to the hustle and bustle of morning preschool, afternoon kindergarten, and third grade activities when everything changed. I can recall the moment when the diagnosis was confirmed. In the moments between, “You have cancer” and the soft thud of the phone on my maple dresser, my life took on a new meaning, in ways that I have never imagined.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
A deep instinct rose inside–took over. I felt fierce. Protective. Pissed. I thought, “If this is what I have to deal with, then bring it.” Nothing, NOTHING was going to take my job as a mom away from me. Not even cancer.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Well, during my mastectomy, the surgeon found not just the lump in question, but also a two-inch, disc-shaped tumor sprawled against my chest wall. It was later identified as an angry, aggressive cancer, so I was prescribed a personalized, cancer-killing cocktail: six months of chemotherapy, a year of targeted gene therapy-infusion, and a 35-day radiation marathon. A half-dozen surgeries. And all of this was followed up with five years of Tamoxifen and the journey continues to this day.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
The thing that most awed me about treatment was how the drugs brought my body down to its lowest possible point and how my body immediately went to work to rebuild. Months of treatment took me to a place where even turning over in bed was painful. But my body somehow, beautifully, knew how to start healing itself. From new bone cells, increased number of red blood cells, to tiny eyebrows and eyelash stubble. I was watching my body literally be reborn. I would lie on the floor and visualize a healthy body and focus on the million unseen ways my body was rebuilding and growing.
5. How long have you been cancer free?
I hate this question. I don’t believe any of us truly know that answer. I know the date they removed the tumor. I know when chemotherapy went searching for random cells. But I don’t think any of us really know that we are cancer-free. I know this answer sounds negative Nelly, and that’s not me.
6. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Be courageous. Fight hard. Nurture and respect your body as it heals. Your body is so much smarter than we even know. Encourage its health in every way you can. And take the opportunity to learn about ways you can make little changes in your environment and life that will lead to a healthier you and healthier family going forward.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
While I was in my mommy-time-out and undergoing treatment, I used my time to learn everything I could about environmental health–how I could influence my health by changing things in my home environment. After watching my body work so hard to rebuild itself, I knew I never wanted to compromise its health again, at least where I had influence. All my reading and research actually led me to my current career today: speaking to groups and educating others on how they can make little changes in their lives that will lead to big changes in their health. I started an organization called Choose Wiser, and I also wrote a book about the journey called (not surprisingly) Little Changes.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Life is precious. It not only deserves celebrating, but it deserves protecting. There are many, many ingredients in the products we use in our day-to-day lives that can compromise our health and our family’s health, but most people don’t know about them. I can’t say why I got cancer or point to some specific point in time, but I do know that I don’t want to put harmful ingredients into my one, miraculous body going forward or that of my children. Sometimes it takes big events for us to have our “aha” moment, and for me that event was cancer. But I’ve learned from it. I’m sharing what I know with others hoping to inspire them to be proactive about their health. It’s brought me to where I am right now. And where I am right now is an amazing place to be.