I can't think of many things crazier than resigning from your dream job, working for the best bosses. And doing it twice! First, leaving ESPN in 2014 and now, St. Jude, the very place that saved my life. This time I've really upped the ante, embarking on an entrepreneurial journey--funded by my savings. Why, that IS crazy, you say. Wait for it. I'll explain myself in a minute and tell you where this boldness comes from.
After nearly five years fundraising and raising awareness to find cures and save children, I am leaving ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to focus more time on a bold vision--not unlike the dream of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, who made his legendary commitment to build St. Jude, here in Chicago. It's in this city of dreamers and doers that I will remain, with an abundance of love and gratitude in my heart for ALSAC/St. Jude staff and its supporters—who make miracles happen every day for the patients and families we serve.
I am a St. Jude miracle. Without them, I would not still be living to tell my story. What many of you may not know, however, is that my battle with cancer was just about over before I got to St. Jude. That--before I became a St. Jude survivor--I was given my last rights at a local Chicago hospital after a staph infection took over my body and sent me into septic shock. My family prayed for hope by my bedside over Thanksgiving nearly 24 years ago. The thought of what my family went though brings tears to my eyes to this day.
If not for the miracle performed by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin -- who was called by my parents to perform Anointing of the Sick after they were told there was no hope left -- I would not have survived, or had the opportunity to receive treatment from the world-class institution that is St. Jude after we left that hospital in Chicago. Since my last chemo treatment on December 2, 1996 I have been cancer-free. For that, I am eternally grateful. All these years, I have been able to live my best life. Because people like you care--and show your love and support when families like mine need help. For all these reasons, I have spent the past twenty-three years fundraising and sharing the St. Jude love. I am shameless when I really love something and think it will make someone's life better. (See also: The Avett Brothers, G Adventures solo travel and meditation.)
Well, now it's time that I REALLY pay it forward and share the love.
In the many years since finishing treatment, I have dealt with long-term health side effects that have mostly been a nuisance, but become part of my new normal. (Who needs that second lung anyway? It’s my built-in excuse to never run a marathon.) However, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that a lot of my health struggles weren’t related to my diet of mostly healthy food, with the occasional pizza/taco/dessert/wine. #treatyoself
My body was at war with itself because of gut dysfunction, likely caused by my treatment--yes, over 20 years ago--and exacerbated with improper nutrition for my body. Who knew? Not me. On top of that, I had several serious health scares this past fall and finally read signs from the Universe.
Grateful for the incredible care and guidance from Deep Roots Natural Medicine in Chicago, I have taken care of business, if you will, and have never felt better in my entire life--even pre-cancer. I consume health and wellness content like a Kardashian loves cash and feel like I have unlocked a secret that I can't wait to share with all of you, and the cancer survivors we all know and love.
I did not know it was possible to feel this well, and operate on turbo power -- outside of in video games. Why did I not know about cancer's hidden side effects, or how to take better care of myself all these years?
Well it’s because, as I have learned, there isn’t a whole lot of survivor health data, and definitely not much data that correlates our wellness activity to health outcomes.
And – let’s be honest, it’s really overwhelming for anyone to know how best to take care of themselves and actually feel well. (And...well...pizza is REALLY good.) But what if we were reminded that our time on Earth is finite? And given the (not so) secret code to find our super power and live our best life? I promise, it's accessible to you and not inside a hidden level. I now know my why.
But why does it take a life or death situation for us to wake up and take control of our lives? Tomorrow is not promised. We can live our best day, TODAY.
And I swear it won't require living like the Instagram Influencers you see sipping weight loss teas, consuming CBD-infused everything 24/7 and promoting luxurious wellness weekends in Ojai (although that does sound pretty nice). You should still eat pizza and indulge of the experience of living. (After all, I am pretty sure pizza is required to be happy as a human. #facts)
This whole idea IS pretty crazy. But so is the fact that nearly 1.8 million American people will be diagnosed with cancer this year. A third of them will die. Of those lucky enough to "beat" cancer, which is about 15 million strong, we suffer from treatment-related disorders that are, in many cases, treatable. I would argue that it is far crazier for me to NOT do something about it, now that I have realized I hold this super power.
It's go time.
Recently, Top Chef star Fatima Ali passed away--at age 29--from Ewing's Sarcoma, the same disease I fought as a teenager. After she put up her best fight against the disease--TWICE--and gracefully accepted her fate, she wrote the most beautiful farewell message for us in Bon Appetit.
"When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living. When that choice is yanked away from us, that’s when we scramble to feel." -Fatima Ali in Bon Appetit
I have seen so much good in this world since my cancer diagnosis. In many ways, it has been a blessing in (a bad redhead wig) disguise. There are so many caring people in all of our lives. We all have the ability to show we care about one another AND both feel better as a result. Isn't that the whole point of this thing called life--to love one another and be happy?
LOVE BETTER. LIVE BETTER.
Let's get to it.
I would love to hear your thoughts, and/or how Empowered Wellness can help you or someone you love.
P.S., If anyone wants to share the love or watch as we work towards launch, you can do so by following along the @pow4you journey. Of course, if you are interested in investing in this crazy idea of mine, please contact us.
WHY IS CANCER.
I ask myself those questions on the daily. I truly wish I knew why my life was spared after battling cancer as a teenager, and I am still living in this beautiful world, while others have not been as fortunate. At this point, it seems like everybody knows somebody with cancer. It is the absolute worst.
My heart breaks every time I hear about another person diagnosed. No matter the outcome, cancer is devastating for the person diagnosed, and their loved ones. It affects the entire family, and its wounds are tough to heal. With so many smart people researching cancer, and so much money going into research, why haven't we found a cure yet? Or understand why cancer strikes some people and not others? Why, for some people, treatment works and for others it doesn't? Cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the world. Talk about not fair.
I know, I know, life isn't fair. Sometimes the bad guys win.
But what if we could do something more to empower these cancer-fighting superheroes? To have a better shot to experience a healthier, more fulfilling life. To use their superpowers to do great things and change the world. Heck, maybe even cure cancer!
For those of us who battle against cancer, our bodies are just destroyed by all the toxic stuff that kills the disease. Just because you finish treatment doesn't mean you are in the clear. I have suffered from long-term side effects for the 22 years since I had my last treatment. Granted, none have been life-threatening yet. But they have all, in some way, negatively affected my quality of life.
I know how damn lucky I am to have survived cancer. To have had all these years to live my best life. But why me? I am no more special than any of you.
Weeks ago, I met a couple who lost their teenage daughter to Ewing's Sarcoma, the same bone cancer that I fought. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and devastation of losing a child. I thought about what she could have accomplished, had her life not been cut short. I fought back tears hearing them talk about her, willing myself to stay strong. Why me. Survivor's guilt is REAL Y'ALL.
And then, just days later, I heard the news about the passing of "Top Chef" star Fatima Ali, who lost her battle -- her second battle -- to Ewing's Sarcoma at age 29. Another young person with her entire life ahead of her.
But this time when I heard about Fatima, I was home alone. (Snuggling with my dog Penelope, on the couch with coffee.)
This time there was no stopping the tears.
In the essay Fatima wrote before she passed away, she described falling in love with working in the restaurant industry. Working insane hours in a high-stress environment that I can’t begin to comprehend. Upon reflecting back on that experience, she said something so beautiful, and so true. “I think it really makes you understand what a human is capable of. We’re so resilient. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change anything.”
We are so resilient. All human beings are, not just those going through cancer treatment. Our time on this Earth is finite. Why not live every day as if it was our last, and take better care of ourselves and each other?
That is what I intend to do.
In due time, I will share my cancer journey with you. But for now I will tell you what I have planned with the time I have left.
There are SO MANY PEOPLE out there struggling through their cancer and post-cancer journey. They feel alone. They are overwhelmed. Exhausted. Devastated. Finding it hard to put one foot ahead of the other. Some of the more fortunate ones are given a resource guidebook, or sheet of paper that tells them how to support themselves or their loved one during treatment. Maybe they are even assigned to a nutritionist or therapist who can support them.
That's a start. But we can do better.
I will do better. It’s not enough for me to fundraise for cancer research and treatment—although I am still committed to doing just that—I need to do more. To continue to pay my good fortune forward and take care of people. To connect them to people and resources available to help them heal. Because they are out there. We will make them accessible to cancer fighters who need it most.
THIS IS MY WHY.
I have learned so much about wellness as a survivor, with the great fortune of time and resources. Now I want to empower YOU with this knowledge, and the resources to know how to heal YOUR body.
If there is one thing I have taken away from my experience (and this is PAINFUL to admit), it's just ...
... that I wouldn’t change a thing.
In many ways, my life is better because of cancer. Because of the good I now see in the world. And that’s because cancer has connected me to the most wonderful people I could have ever dreamed to meet. With the biggest, most generous hearts I will ever know. (If you don’t believe me, start by reading about St. Jude.) But I will share more love and gratitude for them later.)
There are infinitely more good than bad people in this world. I am sure of it.
Ever since I made my intentions known to a select few to create this platform--Empowered Wellness—so many doors have been opened by these very people who will help make it a reality, to support all the cancer-fighting superheroes who need us to find their superpower again.
So let’s get started.