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Mindset of Moving: Motivation, Momentum, and the Benefits of Moving

Mindset of Moving: Motivation, Momentum, and the Benefits of Moving

Moving can be stressful. Even if it’s an exciting move that goes smoothly – as mine was – it can still be exhausting. Between packing, sorting out logistics, and the actual move itself, it can be a major time, energy, and resource drain. But taking […]

Why I Moved to Miami: Channeling that Sunshine State of Mind

Why I Moved to Miami: Channeling that Sunshine State of Mind

Miami Life: Good vibes and Sunshine So I’ve been a little quiet on here lately, because I’ve been gearing up for a major move to Miami! It all happened very quickly and with everything going on I had to put my blog on pause. But […]

Stress and my Cancer Diagnosis

Stress and my Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer Diagnosis Anniversary

April is National Stress Awareness Month. It also happens to be the month I was officially diagnosed with lymphoma. It’s the month I found out I had cancer. Months of stress culminated in a cancer crisis in what apparently is a month dedicated to awareness of how stress impacts our wellbeing. No coincidence there in my opinion.
April 1st was my two year #cancerversary of the day the docs confirmed that the grapefruit sized growth in my chest was cancer. This was not a job for the surgeon. His best guess was lymphoma. His best guess was I would need chemo. It was a pre-diagnosis, but the significant activity that came up in the PET scan indicated that I would need chemo, not surgery. In hindsight it’s probably better than they didn’t actually have to cut my chest open to cut out a growth the size of a grapefruit, but at the time, all I wanted was for them to Get. That. Thing. Out. NOW.
We sat there quietly, stunned by the news. Reality began to sink in.  

The Chemo Bomb

Chemo terrified me almost more than the cancer itself. Things did not pan out well for the seven members of my family who went through it (all for completely different non-hereditary forms of cancer…). Not to mention the hair. When the surgeon said well look at the bright side, it might grow back curly, then I started crying. But I don’t want curly hair! #priorities
My mom turned to the doctor and asked how this happened – I was the healthiest person in the family. He shrugged apologetically and said, we have no idea. Well, I didn’t take that one lying down. While it’s impossible to know precisely why I got cancer with any absolute uncertainty, I certainly have my own hunches. Because I know myself and my personal history.
And I’ve learned a lot about how cancer develops and grows. The body is not really the giant mystery we make it out to be. Nor is the manifestation of disease. It’s certainly complex, and there are certainly MANY things we sill don’t know, but science has come a long way and today we actually do understand a great deal.

stress cancer diagnosis

Cancer and my Biological Puzzle

Biology was my favorite subject in high school (legit bionerd right here… I was literally in the science version of Mathletes three years in a row lol!) and I turned to the basics of how the body works to figure out what I needed to do to actually heal. Chemo kills the cancer, but it doesn’t heal the body. Environment and lifestyle matter. Oh, and then there’s that little thing called ‘stress.’
I was a stressed out mess pre-diagnosis. Insomnia, anxiety, and brain fog ruled my life. Not good. Stress impedes the body’s natural healing capacity; my body couldn’t fight the cancer that was growing inside it. Did stress alone ‘cause’ the cancer? No. But it certainly created the perfect environment for it to grow.
And grow it did – to the size of a freaking grapefruit. In the one week between the CT and PET scans, it grew another centimeter in one direction alone. That’s insane. My aggressive form of lymphoma meant it was a fast-growing one; meaning it likely grew to the size it did in less than a year. When (and why) was that first seed planted – those are definitely questions I will never have an absolute answer to. Though looking back, there are pieces of the puzzle that start to fit. The jigsaw is still far from complete, but two years of research and soul searching later, the picture is getting clearer.

stress cancer diagnosis

Not Just Chemo: Pre Diagnosis Risks and Uncertainties

Today, April 5, 2018, is the two year anniversary of my biopsy. Technically it was a minor procedure, but the grapefruit in my chest was compressing my left lung and my heart. Before I went under, the doctors had to come over to inform me that given the location of the growth, there was a risk the needle could puncture my lung or my heart. Did I understand? I nodded. Ok. Well please do you job well then. Just please do your job well. 
But we already knew it was likely lymphoma, and there was a lot of it hiding in there. A grapefruit sized amount of probable lymphoma to be precise. The biopsy would simply determine exactly what type of lymphoma it was. To this day, the replay of the doctor’s shrug, apologetic shake of his head, and admission that technically ‘we have no idea’ why people get cancer haunts me.
To be fair, no one knows with concrete scientific certainty why one person develops cancer and the next doesn’t. Doctors can’t say the know, because technically they don’t why a specific individual got cancer. There is no irrefutable scientific proof to back up such claims and each cancer diagnosis is incredibly individual, so even if they are highly knowledgeable about specific factors and triggers, they can’t say they really know.

stress cancer diagnosis

Stress and Cancer

Since then I have done a tremendous amount of research into the links between stress, disease, and healing. Here are facts that we do know: individual unhealthy ‘cancer’ cells exist in everyone. Mutations happen. It’s the immune system’s job is to eliminate these rogue cells. The body’s systems work to regulate checkpoints and turn off the signals that cause mutation and unrestricted cell growth. Some people have genes themselves that – current evidence suggests – predispose them to certain types of cancer.
But we also know that having a gene does not mean cancer is a forgone destiny. We also know that there are many environmental factors that impair immune functioning and contribute to the development of disease.
Stress has been directly linked to inflammation in the body. It alters the immune response, suppresses proper immune functioning, and prevents the body from tapping in to its natural healing capacity. I examine the biology of stress and research more in this post on my wellness coaching blog.

Self-Diagnosis

I have since come up with a few of my own possible factors that contributed to my diagnosis: stress, insomnia, and polluted air. The fact is stress – and its cousin insomnia – played a major role in my life in the months leading up to my diagnosis. The other fact is stress plays a major role in the development and spread of disease. And breathing in air polluted with grit and toxins certainly does the body zero favors. It places an extra burden on the body’s natural detoxification processes, and an overburdened body becomes a stressed body.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system itself. To me the link is abundantly clear. As I mentioned before, stressed ruled my life in the months leading up to my diagnosis. I also took a step back and examined my own personal history, including past traumatic events, as there are links between stress, trauma, and illness. I have incidents of trauma in my past, including a car accident where the car flipped over. I walked away from the scene, but suffered from PTSD for months after.

Cancer: A Perfect Storm

Stress and trauma can get ‘stuck’ in the body, and add chronic stress to the mix and you’ve got a potent cocktail for a health crisis.
There is certainly a great deal to be said on this topic, and there are absolutely many other factors beyond stress that contribute to cancer development and spread. I see cancer as a perfect storm. A perfectly ugly one.
The body has many checks and balances built in. Any one factor alone will not cause disease as it’s literally the body’s job to keep itself running. But if the body’s ability to do its job is impaired by any number of factors, those rogue cells will take advantage of weakness at first opportunity.

Taking Back Control: Self-Awareness and Self-Care

While I can’t know every little thing going on inside my body, I am now far more conscious of how I treat it. I listen to the signals my body sends me, and prioritize self-care when it says I need to slow down and relax. I pay attention to how my environment and the food I eat make me feel.
There is certainly a great deal of uncertainty, but I am taking my health back into my own control with every choice I make.
Healthy Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Bites – Sugar-Free Better Than Reese’s Eggs!

Healthy Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Bites – Sugar-Free Better Than Reese’s Eggs!

Chocolate and Peanut Butter: The Best of Both Worlds When this time of year rolls around, I get nostalgic for my childhood. The Easter egg hunts, dying the easter Eggs, the cute little Easter dresses, the chocolate rabbits, the jelly beans…. oh and those peanut […]

Keto Fail: Starting Bulletproof, Keto, and IF at the Wrong Time of the Month

Keto Fail: Starting Bulletproof, Keto, and IF at the Wrong Time of the Month

Going Keto: Learning the Hard Way After being a vegetarian for over eight years followed by a crazy diagnosis, I’ve dabbled with different diets to see what works best for me. I can’t say I’ve tried it ‘all,’ but I’ve certainly been around the block […]

Spring and My Cancer Diagnosis Anniversary

Spring and My Cancer Diagnosis Anniversary

Not-So-Springlike Lack of Sunshine Killin My Vibe

Happy Spring! Or at least that’s what the calendar tells me I should be saying. Reality: maybe not quite yet. I don’t know what winter’s deal is this year, but it definitely isn’t moving on without a fight. Winter is making sure to get the last word in here: all morning we’ve been comfortably below the freezing mark and the skies are gray with another snow dump on the way.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t deal with all this winter anymore. So I’ve been trying my darnedest to channel spring vibes in spite of the weather out there. I’ve been doing my best to cultivate that #sunshinestateofmind. Because this time of year also brings with it some loaded memories.

Working for that Springtime Sunshine State of Mind

Yesterday I woke up feeling very Monday. It was the last official day of winter, but Spring most certainly did not feel a hop skip and a jump away. Temperatures stayed low here and we were all bundled up, and personally I just felt super low energy, as did most other people I encountered. It was definitely a very ‘Monday’ Monday.

But I dragged myself out of bed, got myself together, and went out to get some coffee and get sh*t done. In spite of the frigid temperatures and my foggy mind, I looked up to see completely clear bright blue skies and sunshine. I couldn’t help turning my face to the sun. The air was cold and I was covered, but I could almost feel the warmth of the sun penetrating the tiny regions of my exposed skin.

At one point I looked up to see a bare tree with ominous wintry branches hovering above, yet I stopped in my tracks because I could the sun shining through, perfectly framed by the craggy branches. It was almost like the tree was trying to grab hold of the sun to bring it back to life. Almost like it was framing the light just for me. I immediately understood the message: See the light.

Confession

Here’s a confession: I’ve been struggling with this winter. I was fortunate to have a much needed escape to warmth and sunshine in Miami last week, but as soon as I landed back in the Northeast I was greeted with a blast of winter. It was cold and tiny flakes of snow floated around me. Nothing stuck; it was just like winter wanted to make its powerful lingering presence known.

I get it. You’re not done with us yet, winter. Noted. Accepted.

But really I just felt exhausted. And it was a deeper exhaustion than from the poor sleep I had gotten in Florida. I was simply fed up with cold temperatures and gray skies. I just want to wake up and be kissed by the warm sunshine already.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

I do believe I have a touch of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’ve always felt the need to escape the winter weather, but this year seemed to be all the more challenging. I don’t know if it’s a literal physical thing – that perhaps my body is more sensitive after all the craziness it went through – or if it’s just a heavy mental reminder of the dark place I was in two years ago leading up to my diagnosis: feeling trapped by a body that was slowly failing me for reasons I couldn’t explain – in the depths of winter itself. And not feeling like I’ve entirely crawled out of those depths yet.

A Known Enemy

March 22 is the anniversary of my first CT scan – the one that I had called my doctor and demanded I get that afternoon. Mind you, that’s not normal. As the receptionist put not so mildly: “Sorry, but you need a reason to get a CT scan. You need insurance approval. You’ll never get it done today.” But my uncle had passed the night before from cancer and I knew I couldn’t just let this instinctive sense of urgency go. I had to figure out what was going on.

As scary as it was to find out, it helped to know the source of my increasing discomfort and decreasing energy and health: a growth the size of a grapefruit squeezing out the other organs in my chest. I hadn’t wanted to be right about needing that CT scan, but I received an ironic sense of comfort just knowing the demon I was up against. A ‘known enemy’ kind of thing.

Spring is meant to be a time of renewal and rebirth. But while the longer days do give me hope and do add some much needed lightness to both my day and my mood, I’m still thrown back into that scary space I was in two years ago – in the depths of winter, shrouded by the uncertainty of life.

sunshine light hope spring

The Light in the Darkness

When I stood underneath that tree yesterday and looked up, I was reminded that this is all temporary. Winter will in fact – eventually – give way to Spring. Change is the only certainty in life, so even if it happens more slowly than we would like, we can at least have faith in a brighter tomorrow, hope for a better future. We just have to remember to see the light. It is always there.

Just as I got through the scariest, most difficult time in my life, I would get through this winter. If I could conquer cancer, I could conquer anything. As long as I just remember to see the light. Focus my mind on the good and the positive.

I kept moving forward. And then I looked up again, outside of the shadow of the tree. All there was above was a clear blue sky surrounding a great ball of white light. It struck me to my core. Once we see the light, we must remember to Be the light. Be the light that shines hope into other people’s dark winters.

And this is Spring’s promise to us: there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Have faith. Have hope. Have courage. See the light. Be the light.

 

 

 

 

 

Key Lime Avocado Mousse – Raw, Vegan, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free 5-Ingredient Recipe

Key Lime Avocado Mousse – Raw, Vegan, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free 5-Ingredient Recipe

Key Lime Pie Vibes I just spent nearly a week down in south Florida, and Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day. I’m pretty sure there could be no more perfect time to share this refreshing green recipe. Key lime pie is named after key limes from […]

How I Shift My Perspective

How I Shift My Perspective

In need of a little perspective The other day I woke up with a super long day ahead of me. I had my scheduled planned out to the minute as I was scheduled to fly down to Florida yesterday for a desperately needed escape from […]

Life (Im)-Perfection: Masterpiece in Progress

Life (Im)-Perfection: Masterpiece in Progress

This Art Called Life

There’s a meme I’ve seen going around on Instagram that says “You can be both a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time.” It’s a Truth very much in line with the title of a post I wrote in August: Life After Cancer: A Masterpiece in Progress. It means more or less the same thing. Life isn’t about perfection. Masterpieces aren’t truly flawless. Beauty and perfection are subjective.

work in progress, masterpiece, perfection, perfectionism

Since I’ve seen this meme floating around the social media sphere, I thought I’d return to this train of thought – I figure it’s good timing as it’s been over half a year since I published the previous post.

Plus, the notion truly speaks to the name of my blog: This Art Called Life. As soon as I read the phrase that became my blog name, it just resonated with some deep part of my being. Every bit of me just said ‘Yes.’ Life is art; life is a masterpiece. Yet life is a continual work in progress. Life after cancer most certainly is.

Progress not Perfection

None of us ever have life completely figured out. When we’re young, we think adults have it all figured out. And when we’re young adults, many of us think we really do have it all figured out.

And then life swoops in with some reminder that we shouldn’t get too cocky. We continue to learn, we grow through the mess, and with each step we think we’re getting closer and closer to figuring it out. Yet eventually most of us realize that ‘figuring it out’ isn’t the point, and none of us ever really will. The point is simply this: living.

Living. Being. Doing. Improving. Because as humans, we are all perfectly imperfect works in progress. We are all continually learning, growing, and evolving, and the moment we lose momentum is the moment when things begin to fall apart.

change, transformation, progress, perfection

Motion vs Stagnation

Because we are meant to be in motion. If we are not in motion, we are stagnant. If we are stagnant, we are not truly living. As conscious beings, we need goals and growth. So the idea of ‘figuring it out’ is actually counter to our nature: figuring life out implies reaching an end point. But when it comes to life, the only end point that truly exists is death. So if we reach a point where we stop growing, we stop living and begin to simply exist. Simply existing is not living. It is a life unfulfilled; a life not truly lived.

Once we let go of the notion that one day we might figure it out or achieve the ideal of perfection – another unattainable endpoint – then we can truly allow ourselves to live.

As a still-in-the-process recovering perfectionist, I’ve clearly confronted failure many times. And this notion of ‘letting go’ is very much a work in progress for me. But every day I am given gentle reminders that perfectionism only leads to procrastination and ultimately paralysis. Again, we return to the idea of stagnation; of being stuck.

Perfectionist ideals keep us stuck.

perfect life beach sunset

Addiction to Perfection

Many of us are addiction to the ideal of perfection. We envision a perfect life: a perfect body, a perfect partner, a perfect home, a perfect family. We filter our lives to make them look perfect on social media feeds. We filter our photos to make the images that construct this curated life look as perfect as possible.

Yet none of us truly look that way or live that perfect life we portray. We all have ups and downs and imperfections. We are all human after all. But we see the edited, filtered versions of everyone else’s life and we get sucked into the black hole of comparison.

I do it myself, particularly these days when it comes to post-chemo hair growth. And putting the pieces of my post-cancer life back together. I lament how short my hair is in comparison to other girls’ and compare the amount of time it has taken them to grow it to a certain length. I compare my seemingly lackluster life to theirs. But this helps me make absolutely zero progress in my own life. It does nothing to boost my mood or bolster my mindset. If anything, comparison holds us back or even causes us to take a step back.

perfection fear

The Underlying Cause of Perfection

What underlies perfection is fear – fear of being judged, of being rejected, of being not good enough. But fear is just a mindset – one that can be replaced. Perhaps it’s not the easiest thing to shift our mindset, but that’s the other beautiful thing about our malleable humanity: we are designed for constant growth and change. We are built to evolve.

And frankly the world would be quite boring if everything was perfect. We are drawn to the messy realness of others because we identify with it. Messiness is the human condition. Not perfection. Our imperfections are what make us unique – and they are what make us beautiful.

While this ‘ideal’ of perfection is not attainable nor even truly desirable for us as individuals, life in a sense is perfectly designed for our individual evolution. Everything happens for you – the good and especially the not so good – in order to help you grow and evolve.

This is not always an easy notion to accept – particularly when you’ve struggled with the shittiness of something like cancer. Or the senseless death of a loved one. Or a tragic accident. But perception of our circumstances and experiences is what most directly influences our experience of life. We eventually adapt to the new status quo. And if we allow ourselves to see the opportunity in crisis, we can actually experience tremendous growth.

path transformation courage trust belief

Transformation

Letting go of perfection isn’t a simple process, nor is it easy. Perfectionism resides in fear, and transformation stirs up those fears and conjures them to the surface. The desire for change doesn’t always prepare us for the reality of change: what we must let go of to allow change to happen.

So why do we desire change in the first place? Because we know things aren’t working as they are. We know the status quo isn’t serving our highest potential. We can’t expect different results if we don’t change the way we do things. Change is both inevitable and necessary to our growth.

Yet change is scary. Shedding limiting beliefs frees us from false boundaries we created around who we can allow ourselves to be. But Freedom forces us to confront the terror of the unknown.

The path of transformation isn’t always clear and the endpoint might be out of sight. Living in full authenticity – in your own genuine truth with passion, purpose, and total presence – requires letting go of the known to allow space for transformation. Letting go requires trust in the process, belief in possibility, and the courage of stepping into your powerful wholeness. It can be scary, but the process is powerful.

As a wellness and life transformation coach, I see the magic happen when clients begin to let go of who they were to allow themselves to transform into who they might be.

First, we must embrace possibility – the possibility of change, the possibility of improvement, the possibility of transformation. The possibility of living the life we truly desire. Ultimately, we must believe in possibility.

horizon possibility future

Paleo Flourless Chocolate Cake

Paleo Flourless Chocolate Cake

The Magical Mood Boosting Powers of Chocolate Cake Chocolate cake makes everything better. Fact. And what makes the most better-making chocolate cake even better? Making it paleo. And making it on a Monday. I woke up with a serious case of the Monday Blues yesterday. […]


Life in Progress

My One Year Cancerversary

My One Year Cancerversary

The Preliminary C Diagnosis: Looking Back

A year ago today I received a call when I was at work. It was the director of the Lymphoma center at Columbia. I went into the bathroom to take the call. Gently but without mincing any words, he informed me that the preliminary results of my needle biopsy were in: I had lymphoma.  (more…)