1. What's the first thing you thought when you were told that you had cancer?I felt shock, disappointment and grief since my mother, godmother and a close friend all died from breast cancer. So while I had an overwhelming fear this wouldn’t end well, I also simultaneously felt resolve and conviction I would get through this and be okay.
2. Who did you call first when you were diagnosed? My dear friend, Meredith. I knew she’d listen, be levelheaded and would help me map out a targeted course of action to get through this. I also knew she’d be one of my biggest advocate’s throughout treatment and recovery. She was the mama lion I needed.
3. If you could say one thing to someone who's just been diagnosed with cancer, what would it be? Right now it’s like this – you have cancer. No amount of wishing it away will change the reality, so stay present and breathe. This is a path that’s been well trod upon so trust the proven knowledge of treatment, recovery and healing. But more than anything trust yourself in having the fortitude to move through this challenge and reclaim your life.
4. Tell us something positive that came out of your path through cancer. From the beginning of my illness on I decided to engage in a daily photo-making practice using my iPhone and seek out images that would connect me to gratitude. I didn’t set out to make a book about my experience with cancer, but my story and the body of artwork I was making caught the attention of a publisher. I’m thrilled that my book, 10 Mile Radius – Reframing Life: Capturing Joy on the Path Through Cancer comes out in the spring of 2017.
5. Who has given you the most strength and support during your treatment? My many dear friends who came through for me. I truly could not have done this without them. Friends are the family you choose. Their genuine concern and kindness showed me how deeply I am loved and that unto itself was a true healing.
6. Do you see the world differently now that you've gone through cancer? I see myself differently having gone through this. I innately knew my response to this challenge would define who I am. So I cut away what wasn’t essential and consciously connected to life in the most authentic way. As a result, the world met me in incredible ways and broadened my compassion for myself and all around me.
7. Suggest one thing the medical industry can do to make the process of cancer treatment better. Everyone is unique and has their own backstory and needs they come to this experience with. It’s paramount for their healthcare team to personalize the treatment and not just treat the disease. I feel so seen and heard by my doctors and am positive this is a good part of why my recovery and outcome has been so solid.
8. What advice can you give about managing the financial costs of cancer? I feel fortunate right now to receive subsidies from Covered California/ Obamacare that helps cover a good portion of my healthcare policy. I also annually apply for and receive some additional financial aid through my hospital network. I’d encourage people to utilize the social workers and patient advocates that can help direct them to these additional sources of financial assistance and spend the extra bit of time and effort to pursuing this.
9. What did you do to overcome moments of fear or isolation? I made a concerted effort to stay connected to my social life and work as much as possible. I can understand how easy it’d be to hunker in and hide from life; going through cancer is exhausting and quite a burden to carry. However, my effort to go with the flow and step up for myself paid off in myriad ways. My relationships deepened and my appreciation for life opened me up even further to my own healing. I may have had cancer but I chose to live with a continued sense of well-being.
10. Offer one piece of personal advice to the family or friends of a cancer patient. Show up for them. Listen to what they need and give how you can. Be real. Be practical. Be kind. Have open-hearted communication so everybody involved is considered. Being the caretaker or advocate for a cancer patient can be exhausting and holds a lot of emotional charge so take good care of your needs too.