Six months ago, I received a difficult diagnosis that I wrote about before: I had a mammogram finding for the first time ever — micro-calcifications in one of my breasts. This was a very sudden development, one that rocked my world and required many medical decisions to be made in fairly quick succession. I had to make these decisions when told that 60% of the time, I could live with micro-calcifications in the breast to a ripe old age and they would never threaten my life. 40% of the time they move on to do not so nice things. On top of that, I learned 50% of women 50 and over have some form of calcifications in their breasts, and that 1 in 8 women receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes. In America. 1 in 8.
With all this data and research I dove into, I felt like I was at the craps table in Vegas. I was trying to absorb as much information as quickly as I could to make the most informed decision possible, still not knowing the outcome. During the few weeks after initial diagnosis when I had to make a decision, I realized I was not prepared to be a gambler at this moment in time for several reasons.
So down the traditional path of surgery and treatment I went, in a city known to be the medical mecca of the United States, Boston. I’ve spent more time in the Longwood area in the past 6 months than I’d ever like to. While I’m grateful for an excellent team of top surgeons, physicians, nurse practitioners and more — I am a strong believer that any health condition cannot be attributed to DNA, genes or bad luck alone.
I’ve learned many things along this journey around the sun for the past six months. And I’m still ‘in medias res’ — my journey continues, and will forever continue because there is a before and after that comes with this diagnosis and it’s never something you can place on a nice shelf in a closet and label it as part of the ‘unpleasant experiences’ in life. But some things I wouldn’t want to forget as lessons learned and here are the top 5:
Healthy Eating: I always thought I was a healthy eater, even wrote that in my last post. While I was a generally healthy eater, I wasn’t a conscious enough one. My diet has changed, I’m far more aware of our food system, what foods heal bodies, what foods do not (i.e. sugar & more). Toxicity exists in our environment to a much greater degree than we are willing to think about daily — and it’s affecting our health. That 80–90% of breast cancer is non-hereditary is just one data point to think about. But not just breast cancer, many health issues are exacerbated by the kinds of foods we eat and don’t eat, among other things. Eating organic when you can, growing your own vegetables, backing off deli cold cuts and meat that is not grass-fed, for example, can be places to start. There’s never a better time to start being healthier. Start now.
The Environment: I don’t have to share data points for each of us to know that our environment is heavily toxic, far more than before. This is the world our kids are growing up in. If you haven’t evaluated what products you’re using in your home or outside of it, it’s a good time to start. We all are responsible for being more ecologically conscious and it will take all of us to address what’s happened and is happening in our environment. Being more green starts with your daily choices, what you eat, moving away from the SAD (standard American diet), recycling, consumption, and more. If we don’t start changing now, consider this: a Harvard-educated PhD (an environmental expert) shared with me that things have gone so far down the wrong path that our kids now need to be taught how to survive the climate changes yet to come — and that teaching survival strategies should ideally be built into the curriculum at elementary school levels and move all the way through college & beyond. If that sounds a bit dystopian, think about it, it is.
Stress: Yeah, that gremlin. The one that can change our DNA and impact our immune system with too much of it. Stress is a byproduct of daily living in 2019. We spend ridiculous time in cars to commute to work and back, we sit far too long in offices when we need to be moving around more, we think we can multi-task: manage jobs, relationships, families, homes, our bodies and more and do this every day — day after day. It affects our immune system, without us knowing. There is so much stress & depression today that we are the most medicated generations of humans than ever before. Stressful lives are not worth the stress. Get rid of the stress as much as you can & balance cortisol levels.
Exercise: One of the harder parts of a 12 hour surgery was having to let go of expectation that I would be back to running after 12 weeks. So I started walking and on occasion felt like Forrest Gump, not exactly knowing where I was going to walk to but just kept walking. And it’s been during these walks I gained more strength to start running again, albeit slowly. We all have to incorporate exercise into our days — every day. Take an hour long walk for lunch breaks instead of eating at your desk. Take yoga classes, meditate (exercise the mind and soul), do energy healing, try kick-boxing, weight lifting — do it all, and if you haven’t done enough exercise lately, step back and prioritize the time for your health & well being. Health is wealth. Your health & well being is the most important priority.
Emotional Wellness: There’s a lot I thought I knew about this, and I’m still learning. Our thoughts impact our health and wellness, and healing does not just happen after surgery or taking medication for any health issue. It’s doing the deep dive. The deepest dive into our conscious and subconscious to address limiting thoughts or experiences that hold us back from stepping fully into our true selves, using all our gifts and abilities. It’s the examined life. The one that helps us grow in our consciousness to realize that we are all one messy human race. We are all energetically connected despite what we are conditioned to believe are our differences. The time we’re living in is transformational. Transformation begins with ourselves. While shocking diagnoses can happen overnight, deep work and transformation is the job of our our lifetimes, and unfortunately that doesn’t magically happen overnight. This is as true for our selves as it is for our institutions and our societies.
I stumbled onto an old photo cleaning out boxes in my basement recently. Here’s one of my twenty-something self. I used to think if I could tap on her shoulders, that younger version of me, give her a few tips on the tripwires or ditches she would encounter along the way, she could bypass them & life would be a bit easier, less fraught with challenge. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned surpasses any list. And it’s this: the greatest moment we have is the moment we’re living in. We are the sum total of all our experiences. It’s not how many times we get knocked down, it’s how many times we get back up. It’s what builds inner strength, depth, fortitude, courage, resilience, empathy and more.
Leadership is not a talent we’re born with or not. Yes, some leaders are inherently charismatic and gifted orators. The truth is leadership is a muscle we all need to flex in order to use. We can all be leaders in changing the world in which we live, from our inner worlds to the outer world. We can bemoan the way we see leadership today, the way the world is and be nothing but aggrieved, disheartened, angry and lash out — or worse, ignore it. Examples of this are everywhere, every day. But never is there a greater time than now to be the leaders we wish to see & be the leaders we wish to be. It is part of what is unfolding right now from a spiritual level to a physical level, and it’s happening exactly at the right time.
Half the battle is showing up.