When I hit my 40s, I was happy, healthy and very, very busy. I was a caretaker for someone I loved. I was writing books. I took up golf, learned about scuba diving and participated in my first triathlon, doing lots of TV work, creating my clothing lines… I was really living life, taking care of myself, eating well and getting regular massages was a part of my regimen.
But I started feeling tired after spin classes, my breathing was becoming an issue and I had to stack 5 pillows under my head when I slept, and a cough made voice overs problematic…last but not least, I had developed an uncontrollable itch. At first I blamed my gluten filled diet, and three days before I was to appear on the Montel Williams Show, I recall standing at Whole Foods grocery store and deciding then and there that I needed to be gluten free. I had been feeling so terrible, I really had to dig deep to rethink how I was taking care of myself.
So I started buying rice cakes. I bought all these wonderful flours: tapioca and buckwheat and others. I made the cookies I craved with the new ingredients, and (although they were a little drier), the new cookies… and my new diet… were just fine. I started feeling better, less itchy, less puffy.
But my energy still wasn’t right, and I had a pressure in my chest that made it hard to sleep. My chiropractor would touch my neck in a certain place, and I’d cough every time. Having a past history as a massage therapist, I knew my body was trying to tell me something.
But I was having trouble getting doctors to listen. Some of them mentioned hormones. One doctor started a conversation with, “I know you’re in the media, and you’re used to having a lot of attention, but…” I actually walked out of his office.
When I sat down with the fifth doctor, I said, “Pardon me… I don’t want to seem overly pushy or stubborn or anything, but I want to have a full set of blood tests, and I’m not going to leave your office until you give me a complete chest x-ray.”
I’m not sure if she agreed with me, but she said she could tell I was very serious. “I feel there’s something in my chest,” I said. And I had to find out what it was despite her additional prescription of Nexium for acid reflux (just in case).
The diagnosis was stage 2 Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma —a form of lymphatic cancer that is thankfully often curable with chemotherapy (and radiation). What I had felt in my chest was a quite a few tumors and one about the size of a banana. When the doctor called, she said, “Thank God you were persistent.”
What is the lesson I learned here?
It took a few months for me to ask this question, and the answer didn’t come immediately. A little time and distance has given me the ability to think about what this diagnosis told me.
- I realized that I was going too fast, that I needed to make some changes in my life. I was trying to rush through treatment, and I had to rest. I took a step back one day when I realized that I looked forward to my PET scan because I’d have the opportunity to take a 90-minute nap. This was really an eye opener, and I had to train myself to slow down.
- I recognized that I needed to ask for help. I never ask for help… Rarely do I say to a friend, “Oh, please come with me.” But during treatment, I asked 14 of my best girlfriends to be my cancer buddies, and all of them are dear to my heart because they were there for me when I needed them most.
- I understood the power of persistence. If I had listened to the first doctor, or had given up after the third, my situation might have gotten a lot worse before it got better. Thus, even though my persistence was sometimes frustrating, I listened to what my body was telling me and used my voice to tell others.
I hope you can take my lessons and apply them to your own lives, to learn how to slow down, ask for help and speak up. You alone have the power to make your life what you want it to be, and I wish you all the strength to do so.