You were diagnosed with breast cancer as a young mother. Tell me about your cancer journey.
I was first diagnosed with invasive carcinoma of the breast in 2001. I was 31 years old. Trent was 10 months old. I had a mastectomy and was told that I did not need chemo at the time. We decided to have another child. During my pregnancy, with Taylor I began having back pain. This continued after her birth, and six weeks later, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer with wide spread disease to my bones and liver. I began a very aggressive treatment plan. I was 33 years old. The first three years were the hardest with chemo, radiation, hospital stays, physical therapy and juggling care of the kids and me.
In 2005 the cancer returned to my brain, and I underwent Gamma Knife radiation. 2007 ended with a recurrence in my brain and two brain surgeries. In 2009, they said I was NED, No Evidence of Disease. I have remained this since then.
What was the most difficult part of battling cancer while raising young children?
The most difficult part in the beginning was not being able to pick up Taylor; one of the tumors on my spine had compressed some vertebrae, and I was not allowed to lift anything in the beginning. I watched others raise my children while I was stuck in bed, the hospital or at the doctors or chemo or radiation appointments and wondered if I was going to be around to see my kiddos do all the milestones. I set goals… If I can just live until Trent goes to kindergarten, till Trent goes to middle school, till Trent graduates from High School. My latest is to see both my children happily married one day. Then I am sure my next will be grandbabies.
Since being classified NED, you’ve become a strong advocate for nontoxic living and cleaner beauty products. Tell me about your work with Beautycounter.
During my cancer journey, my friend Lynda Frank and I began looking into complementary treatments/lifestyle changes that we could make to help our journey. We started with diet, then essential oils, moved on to household cleaners and had this ah-ha moment that our skin is our largest organ so really we should focus on that. It was very hard to find anything that would work and smell good and was good for you. We found a few things we changed to. Lynda passed away in 2009, and I just threw in the towel and went back to using all the crap products that were easy to find and worked. Survivors guilt is a real thing, and it sucks.
Then in 2016 a friend reached out to me and said, ‘I think I found something you are going to love.’ It was Beautycounter. I was hesitant because my generation seemed to be inundated with MLMs. But then I learned more about Beautycounter and their mission to get safer products into the hands of everyone by advocating for change and making education one of the key factors of their company. And the products worked and smelled good. I am now a huge advocate of educating people about what they put in and on their bodies, almost annoyingly so. I share information about healthy living on my Facebook group and page. Being an educated consumer is so important!
Tell me about some of the other work you've done in the community to raise awareness.
I began volunteering for an awesome non-profit called Cancare. Cancare is a peer-to-peer, faith-based organization. They match cancer survivor to new survivor. I get at least one new referral a month that has been newly diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Hope is something that everyone needs, and sharing my story with newly diagnosed patients helps give them hope that they can survive this.
My current passion is providing safer products to ladies undergoing chemo. I organize sponsors to donate $35 per bag to put together beauty bags with safer products. My friend and fellow cancer survivor Stacey Schwinghammer delivers the bags to UT Southwest.
What does healthy mean to you?
Healthy to me is doing the best you can in the world you live. Progress not perfection and 80/20 are what I describe as my healthy. Stress is not healthy, and it can be very stressful trying to find healthy products and food for yourself and your family. You can’t beat yourself up when you buy a product and later find out it had fragrance in it, or sometimes you want that Butterfinger in the grocery store line, so buy it and eat but enjoy it - don’t stress over it. Moderation is a good word for my life as well. I exercise and eat right the majority of the time. I joke that my full-time job is to stay alive. I exercise four times a week, meal prep healthy foods and keep my weight at a healthy level. I still will have a burger and fries (my favorite thing on any menu!) and save my dessert calories for homemade yummies.