Lisa Hardin is a successful Tulsa business owner with a full, exciting life. In June 2017, she received a call that changed her life forever. She had uterine cancer.
Your doctor calls with a diagnosis. What happened next?
It's never good news when it's the doctor on the other end of the line. All I heard was a fog-horn blaring in my head. The first thing I did was cry. Then I scheduled a full hysterectomy two weeks later. I knew nothing would ever be the same again.
After surgery came chemotherapy. Was it what you expected?
After doing a ton of research I thought I knew it all. They send you to a required ‘Chemo Class’ before treatment to learn about the process. What they don’t tell you is your hair falls out in huge clumps which is traumatizing. They also don’t tell you that because your hair follicles are dying at a rapid rate, your scalp feels scalded as the hair falls out like someone is pouring boiling water on it. The worst is the enormous weight gain from the combination of chemo and steroids. Most people think you automatically lose weight with chemo, which is true for many cancers, but not with mine. It was a real shock.
You continued to exercise through chemo. Why?
I’ve always worked out and didn’t want to stop. My oncologist encouraged me to continue my exercise plan, even on days when I didn’t feel like it. He said, ‘Lisa, don’t get down. Because if you get down, it takes three days to get back up."
I was mentally and physically destroyed after chemo, so I reached out to a personal trainer, Steve Alexander, to help me gain back my strength. Some days were spent on the floor just trying to get up. Steve stayed on the floor with me, through my tears, and helped me get strong again. He saved my life.
Did you adjust your diet during this time?
I was sick and not eating. I went back to my pre-cancer diet of healthier choices such fruit smoothies to help with my nausea. I did my own juicing at home but kept gaining weight due to the steroids. I embraced a medically developed Ketogenic weight loss program and have thankfully lost the chemo weight.
How did having cancer effect your business?
I didn’t tell my clients about my cancer except for a select few. My oncologist divided each of my chemotherapy treatments into three separate treatments, always on Friday. This allowed me to not be as sick and take the weekend to recover. I also added a second office at home for days when I felt too bad to drive. But I tried to keep my usual routine of working out, putting on my work clothes and makeup, and getting to work every day. I took 20-minute power naps and got a great wig that matched my hairstyle. I did everything I could to seem as normal as possible.
Which is harder: physical or mental stress?
They are both hard at different times. When you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s like a black curtain is dropped in front of you. You can’t see the future because all you see is the cancer. People are talking about their new houses and their upcoming vacations, and you are just trying to survive. I’m constantly worried with every ache and pain that the cancer is back, so it’s always on my mind. Cancer changes who you are, it changes your perspective on life, and how you handle day-to-day issues. When you get through the cancer journey—you are a different person.
Does volunteering help in your healing process?
Volunteering has been cathartic. I need a checkup every three months and I would dread going to the treatment center. I would become anxious and physically ill just sitting in the parking lot. Last January, I started volunteering each Friday to turn that negative response into a positive experience. I’ve met some of the best people that I love dearly through volunteering.
Poison, Bald and Still Standing
To commemorate her last cancer treatment, Hardin posed for a photo shoot without her wig.
She says, “It’s hard to lose your hair. You are fully aware that it will grow back, but it’s still traumatic. Instead of my bald head being a negative, I wanted to celebrate that I had made it through cancer, and I was alive.”
Formerly a brunette, she now sports a short platinum blonde hairstyle and wears bright red lipstick. She says it’s because she is a completely different person than before her cancer battle, but also as an icebreaker when she visits with patients at Oklahoma Cancer Specialist and Research Institute.
Last year she started a podcast called "Poison, Bald and Still Standing" that discusses her cancer diagnosis and surviving chemo to help others with their cancer journey. This year she plans on starting a support group for cancer survivors.
She says, “There many groups to support you when you are going through cancer, but none to help you live again after you are told you could die.”