I never in a million years would have thought that having a life-threatening disease would turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. My breast cancer diagnosis in May 2008 was not just a life-altering event but, even more so, a life-enhancing event. WHO KNEW?
WHO KNEW that on the other side of my journey I would emerge a better, stronger, healthier and more vibrant person than ever before? As frightening as the words “you have breast cancer” were, I managed to overcome the shock and fear of it all, thanks in part to my experience as a consultant. Who knew that would come in handy for confronting a horrible disease?
I approached my breast cancer diagnosis just as I would a consulting project. First, I gathered all the information I could about breast cancer – the diagnosis and treatment; I conducted interviews with survivors who had been through what I was about to go through, as well as with my own medical team. Next, I sorted the information and performed an analysis of the situation. After that I determined the solution, or in client terms, a recommendation, and then finally devised and executed an action plan.
My action plan consisted of taking an integrated approach to my cancer treatment, combining Eastern Medicine practices (acupuncture, Chinese herbs, etc.) with the conventional Western Medicine practices (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation). While my cancer treatment was delivered by doctors at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Mt. Sinai, I personally focused on nutrition and exercise to stay strong and healthy throughout my treatment.
Early on, I enlisted the help of a nutritionist and a doctor of integrated medicine, which I believe made all the difference in the world. I especially followed my nutritionist’s advice on how to eat to keep my white blood cell count high and build up my immune system. My nutritionist and integrative medicine doctor were great! Both studied under Dr. Andrew Weil, and they helped me endure my chemotherapy and other treatments minus the severe side effects that commonly occur from cancer drugs.
I learned about nutrition, the role of nutrition in disease management and, overall, how to live a healthier lifestyle by making the right food and lifestyle choices. Working with them had a profound impact on my approach to my health and wellness that will last forever.
For the most part, I believe my integrated approach was successful and accomplished my goal of staying strong and healthy and not feeling like a cancer patient while I was going through treatment.
On the upside of my journey, I emerged with a new identity and a new found passion – serving as a health and wellness lifestyle advocate for breast cancer survivors. In this role I help survivors cope and manage life post-treatment, empower them to become their own health and wellness advocate, and teach them to adopt lifestyle practices aimed at cancer prevention and survival so they “thrive” after treatment ends.
I have shifted my consulting focus to breast cancer survivorship and I get to do what I love and enjoy every day. I work as a consultant on Project CARE, an NIH/NCI-funded research study aimed at understanding the impact of stress management and wellness education on breast cancer survivors who are within 12 months of completing treatment.
I guess amazing things can happen when you grab life by the horns, make lemonade out of lemons, and follow your passion.
Rhonda, a 4-year survivor
Rhonda is a breast cancer survivor and the founder/CEO of Breast Cancer Partner, an organization that provides health and wellness education programs and resources for breast cancer survivors. Since her diagnosis in 2008, new windows of opportunity have opened up for her beyond her wildest dreams. She serves on the Patient Advisory Council at Baptist Health Breast Center, was a first runner-up in MORE Magazine’s 2010 Beauty Search Contest, and last year, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, appeared on NBC6’s South Florida Today Show and in The Miami Herald about Breast Cancer Partner and her new passion.
PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION
As a part of our mission to make The Journey a powerful voice for everyone in our community, we invite each of you to consider joining the conversation and sharing your journey with comments and feedback. You don’t have to be a breast cancer survivor, you can be a caregiver, or a friend, or a concerned citizen. What we are looking for is meaningful and helpful conversations that will encourage other people as they travel along their journey. Sharing is caring and very cathartic. I sincerely urge you to take part.