Recommendation: The Forward Podcast

the forward podcast lance ArmstrongChances are, you already have an opinion of Lance Armstrong.

I was familiar with him when I pick up his book, “It’s Not About the Bike” in a Singapore hostel library in 2010.  It was a hot, rainy day, so I spent the afternoon devouring the book and found his story incredible and inspiring.

The subject of Lance Armstrong created a household divided. My husband, a french national, grew up watching and spectating Le Tour de France and concluded he was doping, because no one could achieve what he did without performance enhancing drugs. I, a proud American, and lover of an inspirational comeback story, defended Armstrong and concluded my husband was just jealous, that an American was superior. So, when the scandal broke in 2012, I had to eat some of my words. I wanted to believe this incredible athlete clawed and scraped his way from rock bottom (a serious cancer diagnosis) to sky high (winning Le Tour de France multiple times). After much thought, I decided was still a fan, he’s still inspiring and his comeback is still incredible. Sure, he lied, but raise your right hand if you’ve ever lied. Next, raise your left hand if you’ve ever made a mistake. Yup, everyone in the room just raised both their hands. As Bill Burr says, “Lance Armstrong raised $500 million dollars for cancer research. That’s what that lie did.”

However, in 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer. I would occasionally think about Lance Armstrong and was baffled that someone with metastatic cancer would take such a risk by taking performance enhancing drugs that could potentially fuel cancer cells in his body. It all seemed irrational to me. Even so, as a (former) endurance athelete and cancer surivivor, I can’t help but look at Armstrong as a role model. While he’s no longer associated with Livestrong, he is the embodiment and icon for what it means to continue to persevere through tremendous adversity.

Recently, I have become reacquainted with Lance through his podcast, The Forward. I was surprised to find him a great interviewer.  I look “forward” to his podcast every week. The name, The Forward, came from his cycling buddy. When he and his friend were out on a ride and would come to an intersection, instead of saying, “Lance, go straight.”, his friend would say, “Lance, go forward,” And this has stuck with him because that’s the way he wants his life to go. Isn’t that what we all want – to keep moving forward?

On his podcast, he has also talks about the word, suffering and how he believes it is the most interesting, definitive word in the English language. I think I agree. Suffering is a word that scares me, but has also taught me more than I can begin to describe.

Now, if you’re a cancer survivor, athlete and/or a lover of podcasts, you should check out The Forward. Here are a few good interviews to start with: Simon Illa, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rahm Emanuel, Bo Jackson, Michael FrantiEduardo Garcia (shout out to First Descents) and Dave McGillivray.

Pausing, Slowing Down & Reducing the Noise

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As featured on curetoday.com

In his book “Information Anxiety” (1989), Richard Wurman claims that the weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person in 17th-century England was likely to come across in a lifetime. I am curious how that statement would change given the speed of information and life in 2017. Of course, I am so grateful for the significant impact this surge of information has created in the cancer world. However, the biggest downside of the increased velocity is a world with so much noise.  Add cancer to this equation and it’s no wonder anxiety accompanies the disease.

Gandhi said, “There’s more to life than increasing it’s speed,” and it took a cancer diagnosis in September 2014 for me to understand the meaning of this quote. Information overload and busyness has become a chronic disease in our society. It seems as though everyone wants to move through life as fast as possible and news pours on us before we can formulate our own thoughts. I think it’s quite sad. None of us will be on our deathbed wishing we moved through this world more rapidly. Everybody and everything wants our time and attention, which are two of the most precious commodities for a cancer survivor.

Illness did not just force me to slow down – there was a chunk of time where it pretty much stopped me in my tracks. I went from endurance athlete to bed ridden in a matter of months, which was humbling and an experience filled with valuable lessons. As a result, I learned that the slower I go, the more I can actually accomplish well. Slowing down allows me to live with quality, in the moment.  And most importantly, decreasing my pace has made me acutely aware of the outside noise that distracts us from the life’s most important things, which aren’t things at all. They are our relationships and health.

I am very fortunate that I did not have (or want) to jump back into a busy life after going through active treatment. My life gives me the option to say, “no,” which I do often. When I’m in a particularly noisy period, I don’t just slow down the intake of information and activities, but do my best to pause all together in order to put all my time and attention into my personal self-care. I give myself the time and space to do my favorite things which include writing, yoga, reading, sleeping 8-9 hours, taking naps, meditating daily, writing my prayer and gratitude list, taking walks (gasp) without a device and reduce my time on the internet.

Whether you’re a cancer survivor or not, EVERYONE could benefit from slowing down, pausing and reducing the noise to enjoy the only guarantee any of us have, which is the present moment we are in.

Read all my articles with Cure.

The Power of Words

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As featured on First Descent’s Outliving It http://outlivingit.com

 “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you,” was a phrase uttered in my household growing up. This was usually preceded by an insult or verbal nastiness from a cousin or sibling. With all due respect to the adults who doled out this prescription…Worst. Advice. Ever.

Words do hurt and have the power to evoke the strongest emotions. Chances are, if you’re reading this, cancer has been one of the most powerful, painful, transformative, definitive words of your life. It’s a word that takes less than a couple seconds to say, but it’s effects permeate a lifetime.

Through personal trial and error, I’ve found that after spending some time thinking about the vocabulary, it is possible to transfer some of the control from cancer to myself, which is a welcomed feeling considering how powerless cancer makes me feel. I’ve also learned that the vocabulary is different from person to person. If you’re not sure where to start, below are a few of the guidelines I’ve created for myself when talking cancer. Hopefully some of these will get you inspired to create your own list.

I have chosen to not to claim cancer. Don’t want it. Never have. Never will. Therefore, it’s not “my” cancer, but “the” cancer. “I don’t have cancer,” but “there is cancer inside my body.” Sure, it’s a play on words, but this is how I make sure cancer knows it will never be mine no matter how hard it tries. Like, ever. Also, something about the word “patient” makes me feel helpless, which is why I refer to myself as a “survivor”, which makes me feel powerful.  This is a label I attached to myself the day I was diagnosed and not the day I heard, “no evidence of disease.” There are many definitions to “survivor” but it’s pure context is, “to endure or live through (an affliction, adversity, misery, etc.)” so I am surviving no matter my current medical status.

One of the many things cancer has taught me is that most people do not know how to respond when I tell them how it has impacted my life. I can easily predict the deer in headlights look as the person searches for the right words. Naturally, they respond with a cliched, pre-packaged, canned and sometimes offensive response. I totally get it. I used to be this person. I still am this person sometimes. Cancer is so awkward and uncomfortable. However, what I have found useful is to tell my friends and family what’s up, ahead of time, if possible, through an email message, so they have time to process and formulate a response.  In addition, I’ve also found it helpful to tell them what they can say to encourage and support me. Doing this has made it easier on both of us. Our friends and family want to be a source of encouragement and support and it’s unreasonable that we expect them to say the right thing when they have no idea what we need or want to hear. Here’s a couple suggestions I’ve used in the past:

Instead of saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” I ask that they say,  “I know you have the strength to get through this,” because I do. The former invokes feelings of pity, while the latter makes me feel strong and supported. I also asked for my supporters not use battle language or tell me to beat it, stay strong or positive. My feeling towards these phrases is that they imply if I just try a little harder, then I will be healed. Being the recipient of these words only invokes feelings of guilt if I don’t beat it or have the inevitable and normal periods of weakness or negativity. Cancer is not a matter of trying hard enough. And when all else fails, I enjoy the honest simplicity of, “I don’t know what to say.”

And for the love of all that is holy and sacred in this world, please, I beg of you, to not saying that someone, “lost the battle” if they pass away. We don’t describe death from heart disease, freak accidents, natural causes etc. in this manner. Using this phrase implies if the person only fought harder, they would have not died.  Loser’s lose which is the exact opposite word I would use to describe someone who’s been through cancer treatments. Those impacted by cancer endure surgeries, toxic chemicals, crazy side effects – cancer survivors are hard core, bad-asses. The strongest of the strong. Not defeated losers. In fact, in the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore wisely says, “Death is but the next great adventure,” which seems like a fitting description for those in the First Descents tribe, who have passed on.

Again, these are the terms that work for me. Just like every cancer is different, the words we find comfort and power in will be different. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your vocabulary and once you’ve built your dictionary,  tell your support team.

This blog was featured on First Descent’s Blog, www.outlivingit.com. First Descent’s is a non-profit that offers young adult cancer survivors (FREE) adventure trips where they learn the healing power of community and nature through participating in activities such as kayaking, rock climbing and surfing. In September 2016, I attended a First Descents Surf Program in Santa Cruz, California. Read about that here.