Little did I know how much life would change. And for the better. These are my 10 lessons in 10 years as a breast cancer and autoimmune survivor. Plus a love letter. I hope this gives you some encouragement with the health challenges you are going through!
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Dear Holly, August 16, 2010
August 16, 2010
Dear Holly –
Today is the last day of your life as you know it. You know… your perfect and wonderful life.
That perfect life of climbing the corporate ladder and being super successful in your career.
That perfect life of being a rockstar athlete.
That perfect life of living in sin with your boyfriend.
That perfect life of not having a care in the world.
Because tomorrow, everything is going to change.
Your life will never, ever be the same.
Tomorrow is your 39th birthday.
A day that is celebrated, but it’s not a milestone year.
It’s something way bigger.
In 48 hours time, you will hear the words, “You have breast cancer” and “Will you marry me?” and this is just the start.
If surgery, chemo, and radiation weren’t bad enough, you will endure health challenges for the next 10 years.
A diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an Autoimmune Disease.
Daily issues of migraines, joint pain, IBS, chronic fatigue, and cognition decline.
Health challenges so bad you clean up your diet and lifestyle to hope for improvement.
Which it does. But it’s not good enough.
The debilitating fatigue is so bad it forces you to resign from your career.
And you will hit rock bottom yet again.
But you will continue to fight.
You will continue to find your fortitude.
Every. Single. Day.
And you don’t just find your own fortitude, you create a platform to share it with women all over the world.
Women who are just like you and are suffering and not sure where to turn or what to do.
You will name this platform after your Mother’s life mantra, as you watched how she handled her own health struggles and challenges with grace and grit.
You will learn about the power of gratitude.
And also share this with the world.
Because the world needs more people who lead with gratitude.
You will rise in the face of adversity and turn your mess into your message.
You will wake up every day thanking God for your gift that you can share with others.
And in 10 years, you will be celebrating a bittersweet day., surrounded by your amazing family who has been your rock and your support.
Your 49th birthday.
Your 10-year breast cancer survivorversary.
Bringing home your first puppy.
And mourning the 1-year anniversary of Mamma Fortitude’s passing.
Through everything, always remember…
Every day is a blessing.
Every day is a gift.
Every day is a chance to grow.
Cheers to the next 10 years!
10 Lessons – 10 Years
Lesson 1 – Your Faith is Everything
I’ve always had faith. I’ve seen though that it’s times like these that people either run to or run from God. He’s either your strength and support or he’s abandoned you. Regardless of how you feel, He’s always there. Always. I also learned to meditate and that combined with prayer and Bible study has really deepened my faith.
Lesson 2 – Fortitude is Your New Lexicon
My mother was the one who taught me all about fortitude. She was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease when she was pregnant with me. Addison’s Disease is a rare Autoimmune Condition where your adrenals glands don’t work and you need to take Cortisone to keep you alive. To this day, it still puzzles doctors, but back then, it was a complete mystery. They told my mom that she would never deliver me to term. They said she wouldn’t live past 30-years-old. She proved them wrong… and then some.
Throughout her life, her health had continued to worsen but she never let that get the best of her. “It builds fortitude,” she always said. The Addison’s had caused her health to progressively decline over the years and she was in and out of the hospital more times than anyone can count. She had many years of good health. And many times of failing health.
It never mattered to her how bad she felt, she was always full of love, happiness, and gratitude. She lived every single day to the fullest because she didn’t know when it was going to be her last. She never let her sickness get in the way of her enjoying life and being with those she loves the most.
When I was first diagnosed, I had to go through all of the stages of “grief” that is completely normal after receiving such a life-altering diagnosis. But then, after about a month, something happened. I felt a peace about everything. I can’t explain it. And I had no idea what it meant. But I knew deep down that breast cancer was my gift and that I was not only going to be ok, but something amazing was going to happen because of it.
I not only learned about finding my own fortitude but the gift of sharing it with others.
Lesson 3 – Marry Your Best Friend
When I was going through breast cancer treatment and attending support groups, I can’t even begin to tell you how many women were going through a divorce. It was heartbreaking to watch.
I don’t know what happens behind the scenes in other’s homes. I wondered… was their marriage on the rocks already and this was the tipping point? Was the husband a first-class a-hole and left his wife during her darkest hour? I also watched many women become extremely bitter and angry and impossible to be around. While this isn’t an excuse, it’s certainly understandable. Regardless of the why, regardless of anything… it was always difficult to watch.
Hubby Carter and I have certainly had our share of moments. But he proposed 2 days after my diagnosis and has been my rock every day ever since. He’s been by my side, he’s been my support, and he was my strength in my darkest hours. I thank God every day that Carter is my husband and is so supportive. I know it’s a blessing that many women don’t have.
I also know that I try and take my own share of the burden as much as I can. I don’t let my health challenges define who I am. I don’t play the victim. Marriage is never going to be 50/50. Someone is always going to give more than they get. And that’s part of the partnership. But it’s also not fair to Carter for him to shoulder all of the burdens. I step up as much as humanly possible.
Lesson 4 – A Healthy Lifestyle is Non-Negotiable
I always thought I lived a healthy lifestyle. I was a competitive athlete and mountain bike racer for goodness. But there’s a HUGE difference between being healthy and being “clean.” After about 5 years of suffering from serious side-effects, I cleaned up my diet and soon thereafter cleaned up the toxins in my home and beauty routine.
I also learned that the emotional side of a healthy lifestyle is just as important… if not more! Prayer, meditation, mindset, gratitude, forgiveness, emotional healing… these were the most difficult for me to embrace but had the greatest impact. Go figure.
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Lesson 5 – Your Priorities Will Change
I was the Chief of Staff of one of our nation’s top federal agencies along with the stress and headaches, I became a wife and stepmother and was going through cancer treatment. I quickly realized that I’m not superwoman. I had to make some serious lifestyle changes if I was going to find my own balance and my own new normal.
The first big change was when I stepped down from a high-stress management position and took on a lower stress position as a data analyst. Years later, I had to face the epic decision to resign from my corporate life and focus 100% on health and family and had the chance to grow Pink Fortitude to the business it is today.
When life “forces” you to change priorities, it’s a difficult pill to swallow. But more often than not, it’s a sign that these doors are closing and others are opening for a greater cause and reason.
Lesson 6 – You Will Redefine Beauty
I was bald from chemo, in chemical menopause, blasting out the walking farts, and pretty much an overall hot cancer mess. I was also newly engaged and trying to be a sexy fiance to my betrothed.
I had to redefine beauty.
My bald head had no hair, but the brain inside tells humorous stories that make others laugh.
I don’t have eyebrows or eyelashes, but my eyes are wider and more perceptive.
I have scars on my chest, but my heart has never loved more.
And speaking of beauty, I strive to use skincare and makeup that minimize toxins and help me to feel beautiful inside and out.
Lesson 7 – Put the Best in Your Body
Speaking of better beauty options, I also changed the food that I eat. I went gluten-free and dairy-free. I even went vegan for a while and now only eat meat a few times a month. I also made a choice to purchase organic and Non-GMO groceries as much as humanly possible. We aren’t 100%, but we make the best decisions that we can.
Your food is what fuels your body and it’s either going to supercharge your engine (good fuel) or cause you to be stranded on the side of the road (junk food).
Lesson 8 – You May Not be as Productive But You Can Still Make it Happen
For years, my energy level and cognition got worse and worse. Healthy lifestyle changes made it better, but the aftermath of my illnesses still left me a completely different person. In addition to chronic fatigue and pain, my brain was broken. It became something of a combination of swiss cheese and a black hole. Brain fog, cognition issues, memory issues, and focus issues. The struggle is real.
Even if I couldn’t be as productive as I once was, I was bound and determined to figure out a way to still be productive and still make it happen. Even on my worst days. Once I adopted this productivity system, I never looked back and I’m much happier… even if I forget what I did that day!
Lesson 9 – You Are Stronger Than You Think
God doesn’t give you the storms to drown in. He gives them to you to dance in the rain. He gives them to you so you can see the rainbow when it comes out. He gives them to you so you can appreciate life on the other side.
But it takes going through those storms to understand this.
We all go through something.
Life isn’t 24/7 rainbows and puppy kisses.
The hard times are inevitable.
We used to be a society where we pulled ourselves up from the bootstraps and made it happen. No questions asked. Now we live in a day and age where victimhood is celebrated. How did we get here and what good does this serve?
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather rise above the crisis. The view is certainly better.
Lesson 10 – Begin and End Each Day with Gratitude
Did you know that there is science backing the power of gratitude?
Did you know that gratitude and negative emotions cannot occupy the same space in your mind?
Gratitude was the biggest game-changer for me. I begin each day with gratitude. I end each day with gratitude. And it’s fully present in between.
Gratitude does build fortitude. And I know you’ve got both!
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Love, hugs, and cheers to the next 10 years!
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