Forty and Fabulous

Forty and Fabulous

The idea of this article started a couple of months ago. October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and my 40th birthday, I knew I wanted to write about how and what I was feeling. Each time I tried to sit down and write about it, I had so many emotions it was to hard to put into words what not only this month means but what turning 40 means.  It took me until this morning, two days after my 40th birthday,  to actually put into words my emotions surrounding it.  I started to ask myself:

Am I growing or dying –  because I am doing one or the other.  Am I living a life full of positivity and possibilities or am I wading in the pool of pity?  Am I just existing or am I working towards serving a purpose?  What is my purpose?

I’ve thought a lot about the last 39 years and the reoccurring theme has been the faces of all of the doctors that have said I wouldn’t make it, who looked at me with pity, and the dumb founded look they each had when I said I would prove them wrong.  A third of my life has been taken up by cancer.  40 is just a number but it represents the years of struggle that have made me who I am.  40 represents the years I have put into achieving happiness.  It represents the years it has taken me to truly understand what living moment to moment joy feels like. These past 40 years have taught me to be fully present in the now, but it has taken me this long to understand that most of us believe that the next moment must be more important than this one.  Most of us go through life unconscious of the power we have to create our best life.  Now, 40 years into it, I finally understand that I can miss my whole life thinking that way.

I have come to realize that the purpose of my 40 years – over 12 with cancer – is to help others live with adversity and not let their challenges destroy their chances of living their best life.  I used to say that “Cancer is what I have, not who I am” – I even used that motto as the title for my e-book.  While I still believe that cancer and my adversity does not define me, my journey with cancer is what has helped me to become the person I am today.  At the age of 27 when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t question if I would live, but how I would live.  My family and I have worked hard throughout this journey to make each day count and to be a point of inspiration and hope for those that cross our path.

Happiness is a choice. Living a life full of love and laughter is a choice. Today, standing at the beginning of a new decade of life, I am recognizing the work I have consistently put in to create the best life for myself and my family.  I often say that the present is a gift and we should live each day as if tomorrow is not promised.  While it may not be promised, tomorrow offers the opportunity to improve upon the day before and to plan for the day ahead.  We must each find our reason for being, what drives and inspires us.  The future and all of the possibilities it represents is my motivation.

Pink Warrior in the Spotlight – Robyn Stewart

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We are honored to feature Robyn Lisa Stewart, a two time Breast Cancer survivor who is always smiling.  She volunteers with girl scouts, fundraises every year to help with Breast Cancer research and funding and enjoys connecting with friends.  Robyn resides in Southborough MA with her family.

Q: Please tell us a little about your cancer story and journey

A: I have a complicated health history. In my 30s I tested positive for a genetic disorder called Cowdens Syndrome. Basically, my tumor suppressing gene is broken which leaves me at a greater risk for different types of cancer. I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and then again in 2015. I maintain constant vigilance – it is just a part of my life at this point.

Q: Tell us how you are involved in your community?

A: I am a registered adult volunteer with Girl Scouts. Both of my daughters are involved in this amazing organization and I have had many opportunities to work with their troops on meetings, projects, and community service over the last 6 years.

Q: What are some of your favorite ways to spend down time?

A: reading, water aerobics, hiking, and connecting with friends!

Q: Tell us about your family (spouse, kids, pets, etc)

A: My family means everything to me. Bruce and my two daughters, Autumn and Joely are my biggest cheerleaders! I am also very close to my parents, Phyllis and Joel, and are so thankful that they live right around the corner. Not right around the corner, but equally in my corner are my sister, Karyn and brother, David.

Q: What does Breast Cancer Awareness month mean to you? How do you celebrate? How do you act as an advocate?

A: Breast cancer awareness month offer me a chance to reflect on how far I have come. Also, it is a chance to honor others who have not been as lucky or continue to fight. I try to participate in a walk or event each year to do my part, in a small way, to raise funds to help fight and cure this horrible disease.

Q: If you could offer one piece of advice for a newly diagnosed person, what would it be?

A: You do not have to do this alone – any of it! People will ask you “how they can help” and they mean it. A diagnoses can be a really isolating time. Don’t let that happen to you. Throw yourself into your safety net of friends and family. You are stronger than you think (but having that net makes sure makes life so much easier!)

Pink Warrior in the spotlight – Helene Palmer

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We are honored to feature Helene Palmer as our first Pink Warrior on the night of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Boston and the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Helene is a two time cancer survivor, advocate and an amazing woman and friend.  Helene epitomizes advocacy with 21 years of volunteering for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, chairing the Bicycles Battling Cancer ride as well as chairing and volunteering for others.

Q: What is your current town and state?
A: Groton, MA

Q: Please tell us a little about your cancer story and journey.
A: Mum died of breast cancer at 55. I was being followed by a breast specialist since I turned 40. My second mammogram in June 2014 revealed stage one, non invasive and invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the left breast. After two lumpectomies failed to reveal clear margins, I was advised I would need a mastectomy. The plastic surgeon suggested a double but I was waiting for the oncotype test and genetic tests to make the decision for me. It was taking so long I swear I heard mum’s voice saying “Just do it.” I chose the double and was glad I did, there was new DCIS on the right that hadn’t been there three months before. I avoided radiation and chemo and after three reconstructive surgeries I am enjoying being a Survivor. I also caught a malignant melanoma on my shoulder 7 years ago, Stage 0, re-excision but no treatment required since I caught it early, so I am a double Survivor!

Q: Tell us how you are involved in your community?
A: Chaired the Marlborough Relay for Life then went to work for the American Cancer Society for 3 years. Since then I sold Daffodils and fundraised, walked and volunteered for Making Strides Against Breast cancer (21 years!). Joined the Bicycles Battling Cancer (BBC) ride as a volunteer in 2012 and was diagnosed two days before the ride in 2014 when I was supposed to ride 100 miles in memory of 20 years since we had lost mum. 2017 will be my third year Chairing BBC.

Q: What are some of your favorite ways to spend down time?
A: Riding my bike, hanging in my hammock.

Q: Tell us about your family (spouse, kids, pets, etc)
A: My cat Lola was a great nurse through all the surgeries, you can’t feel stressed or worried listening to that purr. My family in England had met all my friends here so they weren’t worried about who would take care of me, my family of friends all stepped up and helped out with everything. I saw their personalities shine in the different ways they took care of me, it was amazing.

Q: What does Breast Cancer Awareness month mean to you? How do you celebrate? How do you act as an advocate?
A: Early detection saved my life, twice! So anything that brings awareness and education to the forefront is good for me. Now as a Survivor I do any publicity I can to help ACS. I am very open and shared a lot of my diagnosis and journey, and battle with depression and have needed therapy several years after treatment. It helps show that young women can be diagnosed and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.

Q: If you could offer one piece of advice for a newly diagnosed person, what would it be?
A: Make notes, bring someone with you to office visits, if only to have a shoulder to cry on. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip but should have talked about the emotional and physical impact it was all having on me. Go to support groups, even if you don’t feel like talking, just listen, you are not alone.

The Force is with you

“When the flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” Alexander Den Heijer

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Last weekend I allowed someone to speak to me in a very demeaning way. I allowed it for about 5 minutes until I realized I could change the circumstance in which I was being talked to. I could have chosen to be combative but what I chose, was to smile, nod, and walk away without any hurtful words. It left this person knowing I had the power of how  they could treat me.  In that moment I knew I had stepped into my light.

You are your own source of light. I have been working on this concept for years and I am finally understanding how my light is mine , and mine only. No one can dim that light. No one has that power over me unless I give it to them.  A truly hard concept that I work on daily.

What I am learning and what I practice everyday is the control piece of this puzzle. Fighting Breast Cancer for over a decade I have felt many times lost and that I am no longer in control. What I am realizing is that nothing has that much power over my life. Not even Cancer. I control how I react to everything and anything. That includes how I allow people to speak and treat me. That is where the true power and light shines.

For most of my life I have worried myself sick, forsaken my health for others, and been the source of my own obstacles. OUCH! Yes I openly admit and take responsibility of getting in my own way, I have given my power to others without knowledge or recognition. SO what does this mean? I am taking my power back because no one can shine the light for me. I have to be my own source of inspiration, my own advocate, and yes my own light.

Some may say selfish, some may say surviving, I am moving towards THRIVING! You see my fabulous friends, we choose. We choose to be happy, to be sad, angry, hurtful or helpful. We manifest our life.

Months ago I couldn’t have written this article with such passion. Why? I wasn’t living it.   I was trying, but didn’t fully understand the one common denominator in all of my turmoil, was me.  I was allowing everyone and every situation to control me.

I can be the masterpiece and a work in progress. I can be both. The force is already with me. The force is with you all.

 

All My love to you Fabulous Fighters,

xoxo-Fab

 

 

Healing is not linear

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There were many times within the past twelve years when chemo wasn’t working, when my insides were screaming for relief and I wondered what the answer was. When you face a chronic illness, at first presentation, we may think that the path to healing is in a straight line. I have illness A and we treat that with medicine B. The shortest distance between two points is not always that straight line. In the last twelve years I have learned that healing is not linear.

The best way for me to describe it, is to liken it to a Ferris Wheel. At the start of the ride, you are at the bottom, with your doctor, and you discuss the plan of action. For me it was surgery, chemo and radiation. You then ride the wheel up and around a few times, just taking everything in, not knowing where you are going and not caring as the doctor is in control. At some point, without notice, you come to a stop at the top. There is no explanation, you just stop and stay there for some time. You look around, take in the sights, and then begin to wonder when the ride will move again. At this point, when you are wondering what is going on and how much longer you will be there, you notice that the sky looks different, the view is not quite the same and neither are you.

When we think of illness and healing, often we just think of the medicine that will cure the illness, but what about the parts of you that change forever? Beyond the physical aspect of healing your body, whether it be thru traditional medicine, naturopathic practices or both, the mental healing that must come is of the utmost importance. When I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I was waiting to be seen by the plastic surgeon before my surgery. As I sat there, alone, terrified, and thinking I was keeping my cool, the woman sitting next to me asked “What are you in for?” I stated that I was having a partial mastectomy. She leaned over, put her hand on my hand, looked at me and said “99% of this will be your mental fight.” I immediately teared up as they called my name to be seen and she wished me luck. I never saw that woman again, but her words have stayed with me and I think of her as a Guardian Angel of sorts.

99% of this will be your mental fight. She was so right, yet at no point in the last twelve years has a doctor spoken to me about the emotional and mental aspect of fighting this disease. At one point, early on in my treatment, I did mention to my oncologist that I felt like I as in a deep, dark hole. The oncologist mentioned something about depression, offered more medication and then recommended a support group. You have issue A, here is medication B and we all follow the straight line. I wasn’t looking for more medication, I was looking for guidance on how to put one foot in front of the other and how to regain some semblance of a “normal” life.

I wasn’t interested in the support group, it just didn’t seem to be the thing for me. I did, however, see a posting for a free yoga class and that seemed like something that I wanted to explore. I learned two things at that yoga class: yoga was not my cup of tea at that time, and that there were other avenues I could explore in addition to traditional medicine to heal my body and my mind. I met a lovely woman who opened my eyes to the world of raw food and healing through food. On the way home from yoga class I stopped at a book store and bought my first raw food book. I was intrigued and empowered by the idea that I could have more control over my healing journey. I was inspired to get into pilates, literally using a DVD for twenty minutes a day. I felt myself slowly, but surely coming up out of that deep, dark hole.

It was a shift in focus. I was no longer staring at point B, while holding onto to point A and the straight line. I began to see that there were multiple avenues and options that could all work together to heal my body and my mind. My healing journey began to look Wheel with memore like a wheel, with me at the center and multiple lines radiating out toward the ultimate goal of health, healing and wellness. As my journey has progressed over the last twelve years, more and more spokes have been added to this wheel; some dropped off as they no longer served me. This is an ongoing process, one that I work on daily. The physical and mental aspects of healing are multidimensional and change constantly. We are ever-growing beings, always learning and striving to be better. The more that I learn, the more options I can create for myself along this path to health and wellness.

“The path isn’t a straight line, it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things that you thought you understood and see deeper and deeper truths.” unknown

All my love to you my Fabulous Fighters,

Xoxo- Fab

Til’ It Happens To You – Keeping Things In Perspective

There are events in life that you will never forget; you remember everything about that moment, what you were wearing, who you were with, how you felt and what happened.  When you look back on these events all of the memories come flooding back in an instant, including what you were feeling at that time.  Some of my events include the birth of my daughter, my cancer diagnosis, being sexually assaulted and the 9-11 attacks.

On 9-11 2001, I was working at a salon, clueless as to what was unfolding in our country until a client came in and asked if we had heard the news.  She explained that a plane had crashed into the world trade center.  We turned on the tv seconds before the second plane hit the second tower.  As the news unfolded that this was not just pilot error and was instead an attack by terrorists, Boston was being repeatedly mentioned.  Dave was working in Boston.  I was terrified for him, for us.  I called and pleaded with him to come home, he couldn’t, but he was safe.  I will forever have a unique bond with the people that were in the salon that day.

When something tragic happens we start to lay blame.  On that day, it started with blaming the pilot, he messed up somehow.  Then, when word came out that it was in fact a terrorist attack, our country lay blame onto an entire religious group.  In reality, it was a sect of a religious group, radicals if you will, but it didn’t matter, for many it became a blanket reaction of anger, fear, and contempt.

When something happens to us personally, or on a more local level, like assault or a cancer diagnosis, we start to ask questions.  What were they wearing? Were they drinking? Is there a family history? Are they a smoker?  We are trying to make sense of a tragic event, but in the process we minimize the person and the event.  We seek to lay blame, for with blame comes a logical sequence with which we can better process and understand.

Until you are in a person’s shoes, it is impossible to put it all into perspective, their perspective.  We are so quick to judge, to lay blame and to choose sides.  We are more concerned with voicing our opinion than listening to those who need it the most.  Why do we do it?  We are terrified.  We want to put as much distance between “it” and ourselves as possible because we cannot think about it happening to us.  If someone else or something else is to blame, it makes it easier to believe that it won’t happen to us.

Tonight, on the eve of the anniversary of 9-11, I will be performing at the Be Brave Gala, an inspiring event to honor and encourage survivors of domestic and sexual violence.   One of the numbers I will be performing is Lady Gaga’s “Til it Happens to You” and it goes something like this:

‘Til it happens to you, you won’t know

It won’t be real (how could you know?)

Not it won’t be real (how could you know?)

Won’t know how I feel

We cannot understand what someone is going through, until we have experienced it ourselves.  Even then, our perspective will be different, because we are different.  We cannot know how someone feels, we can only guess and empathize with what we think they are going through.  We do not have to understand in order to react with compassion and empathy.  We can put our fear aside and instead try to support them in any way that we can.  Let’s use this anniversary of 9-11 to remember those who have fallen, show support to those who fight every day, and exercise compassion for those who are going thru something that we cannot understand, until it happens to us.

“We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” – unknown

 

Namaste my Fabulous Fighters,

XOXO

Fab

Sabotage

Sabotage quote

While I have been talking a lot about how I am holistically healing my body, I haven’t been sharing too much about how I am healing my mind. I have been working on the negative self talk that plays like a record in my head. It’s the little voice that doubts, worries, criticizes and over-thinks. I finally understand just how damaging these thoughts are and how much I am sabotaging myself.

Its taken a lot for me to actually recognize this and speak about it. I’ve done it most of my life without being aware that I’m actually doing it. Like most people it’s the little things, for example when you walk by a mirror and say,” Man I look like shit today!” We don’t think that is a form of self sabotage but it truly is.

Recognizing and accepting what I am really doing is a huge step. How do I change the negative talk and self doubt? It is a process for sure. Some of us are so used to doing this negative talk, it is automatic and we do not recognize that we are doing it. So in order to change, we must be super aware of how we talk to ourselves, and aware of the thoughts that are running through our minds. In the moment I notice the negative self talk, I stop myself and I give myself two positive comments. For every put down, I give myself two put ups.

Sometimes the best I can do is say to myself that I am doing the best I can, and that is ok. I do not need to place mountains of pressure on myself and expect superhuman feats at all times. Sometimes doing my best is more than good enough and I am learning to accept that.

Beyond changing my negative self talk in the moment, I have also been working on the real root of this criticism and self sabotage. I have discovered that the inner voice of bullshit is screaming “I’m unworthy of a healthy and happy life.” It is this belief of unworthiness that creates the negativity. For me, the root of this feeling stems from being sexually assaulted in my early teens. About 10 years after the assault, and about 17 years ago, I went to a hypnotherapist to deal with my emotional stress from the trauma. We locked the feelings and pain away where they couldn’t hurt me. I felt better after those sessions and confident that I could move forward in my life leaving the past in the past. For 17 years, those feelings, though buried deep in my subconscious have haunted me, yet I was unaware of it. Within the last year, some events in my life have brought everything back to the surface and I realized that I had never really dealt with the trauma and that in order to truly move forward, I needed to do so.

While I have worked diligently on the most obvious and outward emotional blocks that have come from such a traumatizing experience, I am just now realizing that this overflowing current of self doubt and unworthiness has been a persistent presence in my life. So how do you overcome a core feeling of unworthiness?

The first step is to identify and recognize that you believe you are unworthy. Next, is to work on changing that belief through your daily thoughts and actions. Stop the negative self talk, find gratitude for who you are, and focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t. I am working daily to build the belief in myself, it is not easy and some days are better than others.

Dave and I have worked to surround ourselves with people who truly value and appreciate us and who love us unconditionally. These healthy relationships help me to realize that I am worthy of love and happiness and not just expected to give without reciprocation. We have had to weed people out of our lives whose love and attention were conditional. With conditions comes a feeling of unworthiness, for if the condition is unmet, you are not worthy of their love or attention.

These changes are not easy and you may have to “fake it” until you truly start to believe. Tell yourself that you are worthy, that you deserve happiness, love and health. Interrupt negative self talk and replace it with kind words and compliments. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, why are you saying it to yourself? The golden rule tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated, but unfortunately most of us treat others far better than we treat ourselves. Learn to love who you are, faults and all. Stop standing in your own way. I have come to realize that it isn’t who I am that holds me back, it’s who I think I am not.

All my love my Fabulous Fighters

XOXO,

Fab