Finding The Perks To Beat The Odds

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUhQoeatU8Y

TED 3

“Finding the Perks to Beat the Odds” is the title of my recent TEDx Talk (link above). The title was not chosen by me, but rather by the TEDx committee. When I first heard the title, I was a little dubious. After all, what kind of a message do I want to convey? I mean, do you think I actually BELIEVE that finding the perks of having cancer helped me to overcome the disease? You betcha!

I remember when I was doing my under-graduate degree in Psychology many moons ago, I was fascinated by stories about the mind-body connection. I remember one study in particular of a person with multiple personality disorder, who was diabetic and required insulin as one personality, but was perfectly healthy as another. (You can read more about it HERE.)

Is it really possible that the mind is powerful enough to turn disease on and off in the body, as this study suggests? While the study cited above is rather dated, recent research confirms the power of the mind-body connection. Best-selling author, Lissa Rankin, in her book, “Mind Over Medicine”, presents hundreds of examples of how the mind-body connection can be used to induce healing. While it may sound rather “woo-woo”, the underlying premise is actually based on Science. It is a well-established fact that the stress response can wreak havoc on the body, and disrupt its healing mechanisms. So when we are under stress, from let’s say for example, being diagnosed with cancer, the body is catapulted into “fight or flight” mode. This is NOT the ideal state for healing. The time that the body is best able to do the job of healing itself is when it is in a relaxed state. (Which is precisely why babies and teens sleep so much….in this relaxed state, they are better able to grow!) So if you want to put your body into the perfect healing mode, you must RELAX! Anything that you do to help you to relax, and turn OFF that stress response, will help your body to heal. That’s why things like practicing gratitude, gardening, meditation, and yes…blogging the perks of having cancer, were all important parts of my survival plan!

(Note: if you need help in designing your own survival plan, please sign up for our free kickstart cancer survivorship program at www.cancerplan4life.com)

survive and thrive

 

Introducing……..Cancer Plan 4 Life!

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I think one of the scariest parts of the whole “cancer journey” for me, was when treatments ended. Don’t get me wrong! I mean, being told at 44 that I had stage 3 breast cancer, and that my odds of surviving for 5 years was just over 50%, REALLY struck terror in my heart. But as long as I was getting my treatments…mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation…I knew that something was being done to kill the beast. However, once my year of treatments ended, I felt like I was on my own to figure things out. Even though I was declared cancer free, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I had watched too many others do their “survivor victory dance”, only to have that very same cancer that they beat, come back with a vengeance… months, years or sometimes even decades later. I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I said to my doctor, “I know I am cancer free right now, but how do I keep it from coming back?”

“Just keep doing what you’re doing”, she replied.

“Keep doing what I’m doing!” I heard a voice inside my head yell, “Aren’t 90% of all cancers related to lifestyle and environmental factors? DOING what I am DOING may have been what caused me to get cancer in the first place!” (Before getting cancer, I assumed that my odds of getting cancer were low because it didn’t “run in my family”. I have since learned that only 10% of cancers are inherited.)

Heck no! I wasn’t going to keep doing what I was doing. I wanted to make changes that would reduce my risk of a cancer recurrence! So I set out on a quest to learn all I could about a cancer prevention lifestyle. My search led to me to a fabulous blog: The Savvy Sister: Simple Changes for Healthy Living. This cancer survivor, Susan, really knows her stuff! She is a nurse, and avid researcher.   She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to finding reliable health tips for beating cancer. I simply fell in love with her…..well not with HER really, but with her blog. So I asked her to marry me. There I go again, what I mean is, I asked her to “marry” or join the content from both of our blogs. I was blogging right here, at “The Perks of Having Cancer”.   In general, my blog deals with the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of survival. Susan’s blog is about the physical part of survival. We married the two, and gave birth (ok, somebody stop me!) to our baby/book, 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It” , a resource for body, mind and spirit. And the rest, as they say, is history.

fooling aroundSusan and Flo goofing around at a cancer prevention session.

Not to sound braggy, (I just made that word up), but our book is awesome. Read it for yourself, I am sure you will agree. But what is even awesomer (made that one up too), is our new online cancer survivorship program, Cancer Plan 4 Life (CP4L)! CP4L is a revolutionary, 28 day on-line cancer survivorship program, designed to maximize your chances of surviving cancer while minimizing your risk of recurrence. It is a holistic program, meaning that it gives you the tools you need to achieve optimal health of your body, mind AND spirit. Best of all, it is a personalized program, which connects you with a team of experts who will tailor the program to take you from where you are right now and lead you to your own, personal optimal level of health. (You even get to work with a cancer exercise specialist who will design an exercise program just for you. It’s like having your own personal trainer right at your finger- tips!) CP4L is changing the face of cancer survivorship by empowering survivors to take control of their health. There is no other program like this in existence.

Don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself by clicking HERE.  If you are really serious about kicking cancer’s butt and keeping it from coming back,  you can sign up for our FREE three day trial.  If you sign up for our FREE newsletter before September 1, you will be eligible to WIN a one month membership. (Sign up HERE at the purple bar to the right.) Hey, if you are not a cancer survivor yourself, sign up anyway for great cancer prevention and healthy living tips. (And if you happen to win a membership, I am sure you know of a cancer survivor who would love to take the journey to optimal health). Until then, live life by our motto, Survive and Thrive!

 

All Zenned Out!

Kripalu 1

Flo and Lil at the Kripalu Yoga retreat

“Hey, Lil. What time is chanting this evening?” I asked my cousin and life-long friend, Lilly.   No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I was having flashbacks of me and Lil as teenagers, huddled under a bridge, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, our conversation peppered with four letter words. Surely teenaged Flo and Lil would have scoffed at such things as yoga, meditation and chanting. But there we were, middle-aged Flo and Lil, at the Kripalu Yoga Retreat, nestled in the serene Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. How the heck did that happen?

When Lil first invited me to go to Kripalu with her, I was admittedly a little skeptical. My idea of a vacation, like many of you, involved letting the healthy living habits go to the wayside, eating forbidden foods, drinking copious amounts of wine and frantically rushing from one tourist attraction to the next. (Truth be told, I return from most of my vacations feeling like I NEED a vacation!) But this was different. Four days of yoga, meditation, hiking, kayaking, massage, healthy eating, and pure R and R. Yeah, I could handle that.

The first thing I noticed about Kripalu was the feel of the place. Whether I was inside the buildings or on the expansive grounds, it always felt as if I was walking on sacred ground. Everyone spoke in hushed tones, and nowhere did you see people tethered to their cell phones or other devices. In fact, cell phone use was frowned upon in much the same way that smoking is viewed in our society. (Although, Kripalu does have a “smoking tree” where guests can go to have a puff. Upon hearing that, Lil and I went in search of a wine tree, but alas there was no alcohol anywhere on the premises.)

Kripalu 6

In my room, feeling all “zenned out”!

The second thing that caught my attention was the guests. I was kind of expecting to see a whole lot of clones of myself and Lil: middle-aged, in-good-shaped women. But there were both men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages, ranging from one year olds to a ninety-one year old. I quickly discovered that with yoga, you really cannot judge a book by its cover, as I witnessed seniors and some who were more than just a few pounds over-weight, twist themselves into pretzel like contortions. Meanwhile I, while looking like the picture of physical fitness, struggled with my down-dog! While there was great physical diversity among the guests, one thing that they all seemed to share in common was that look of glowing health. Lil and I especially took notice to a number of women whom we guessed to be in their seventies, whose skin and hair just radiated a healthy glow. They stood tall and regal-like, with willowy limbs, and moved with such distinct gracefulness that was hard not to gawk at them. (In fact, truth be told, I think we developed a sort of old-lady crush on a couple of them.)

The food at Kripalu was the healthiest fare I have ever seen.   Meals were served buffet-style in a large dining hall. There were basically three levels of food, which I called healthy, healthier, and healthiest.  On the healthy menu you could find some organic chicken or fish, but mostly an array of vegetable and grain dishes which would make your mouth water. The healthier version was the vegetarian equivalent of the meal, while the healthiest version, referred to as the “Buddah bar”, consisted of an assortment of gluten free, vegan dishes. There was plenty to choose from and all meals were DELICIOUS!

Kripalu 3

Lil striking a pose.

The main thing I have taken away from my Kripalu experience is the importance of treating my body with loving kindness. This body of mine has been through a lot in its 47 years on the planet, as is evidenced by the many battle scars it bears. It brought three children into the world, the youngest via C-section. It engaged in a fierce battle with cancer, emerging victorious, yet scarred, burned and tired from the fight. This body deserves to be nourished with healthy and delicious foods, exercised in fun ways, hydrated with plenty of clean water, and loved for all that it has carried me through. Thanks to my days at Kripalu, I have a renewed commitment to give my body just what it deserves.

Kripalu 5Flo striking a tree pose.

It is my prayer that in thirty years old-lady Flo and Lil will return to Kripalu, with the glowing hair and skin, willowy limbs, and graceful movements that can only come from a lifetime of clean, healthy living. (Hey, who knows? Maybe some middle aged women will even develop old-lady crushes on us!)

 

 

 

 

My Guru

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For much of my adult life, I have searched for the secret to well-being. I have read hundreds of books, attended numerous workshops, and studied all of the great gurus of the day: Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle. But still, the secret seemed to allude me……until 3 years ago, when the secret to well-being was revealed to me, not by a great guru, but by a six year old boy with a powerful life lesson!

So begins the seven minute talk that I will be giving on Tuesday, June 17th as I compete with 11 others for the honor of being opening speaker for Deepak Chopra! Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may have figured out who this 6 year old guru that I speak of actually is. However, you will never guess how he opened my eyes to the real secret of well-being. And you may find it ironic when you hear how I learned more about well-being the year I battled cancer than I did from all my years of reading books and doing courses.

I have lost count of how many speeches and talks I have given over the past 3 years, but this one is by far the most emotional one of my speaking career. I just hope that I can maintain my composure to get through it! And if I do cry, well “shag it”, as we say in Newfoundland. I probably won’t be the only one there who tears up.

If you would like to actually hear me deliver this speech live (and I hope, vote for me!), you can purchase tickets to view the event ONLINE at the link below. I am the 11th of 12 speakers, so I will be on about 9:30 NL time (that’s 8:00 EST), and voting starts about 10:00. I would really appreciate your support!

Link to purchase tickets (note proceeds from ticket sales go to the “I am Genie” charity): http://www.eventbee.com/v/deepakaudition

Until next week, Survive and Thrive!

 

Flo Makes A Confession

An old pic of me and Susan, which has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

An old pic of me and Susan, which has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

 

In a recent blog post, my esteemed co-author, Susan made a shocking confession.   (See full confession HERE ). Right there on camera, she shamelessly confessed to not having exercised in two full weeks! Shame on you Susan. What kind of an example are you setting for the rest of us? “I had a lot of family stuff…….a lot of family coming in from out of town.” Really? That’s the best you can do? Excuses, and you know it! Tutt-tutt-tutt.

Weeeeelllllllll, as long as we are being totally honest, I suppose I should make a confession as well. (We may need a priest for this one!)

-It’s been three full weeks since I have unrolled my yoga matt, and three-score and ten since I went for a run. (I actually don’t have a clue what “three score and ten” means, but it sounds like a long time.) Hey, what can I say? I have been battling a nasty head cold.

-While I am still adhering to my “no meats, no sweets, no dairy” rules, there are a lot of junky foods that slip through the cracks. (By which I mean the crack of my lips.) Let’s just say, there are tins of Pringles in me that haven’t even been opened yet.   But hey, I’ve been too busy to get to the grocery store, so I didn’t have any healthy snacks on hand.

-While there are “three score and ten” bottles of vitamins and supplements staring accusingly at me from a shelf in my kitchen, I will confess that I have not been faithfully taking them lately. In my own defense, it is hard to remember everything that I have to do to stay healthy! (Geeze, give me a break!)

-Of course I would be remiss not to mention my arch-nemesis/best friend, wine. While I try to limit my libations to weekends only, and “just the one”, I have vague recollections of  over indulging in  the stuff on the May 24th long weekend. Not that it is entirely my fault. I mean, I was camping, and “gravel pit” camping, no less. I would have been kicked out of the pit had I not sat around the camp fire and had “just the one” with my fellow campers.

There is no better day than Monday to get back on track with the ole health habits, so yesterday I kicked my excuses to the wayside and got to work. I got up early and did yoga. I ate only nutritious, healthy foods. I took my supplements. Best of all, I went for a run after work! I honestly thought I could hear the theme song from Rocky playing as I sprinted around the trail! By “sprinted” of course I mean a slow jog. So slow in fact that a duck pulled out and passed me at one point. But hey, I was running! No more excuses.

 

 

Retreat!

My eyes sprung open in a state of utter panic!  Where was I?  I scanned the room.  Nothing looked familiar.  Who is that person sleeping in the bed right next to me?  Why does my head hurt?  And why, in God’s name, am I wearing a pink feather boa?  Then it dawned on me.  I am at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Annual Retreat.  I rolled over and slipped back into a deep and peaceful sleep.

I just attended my third annual retreat, and what a blast! Where to begin?  It just keeps getting better and better!  In 2012, I was invited to be guest speaker at this event.  I had no idea what it was all about, but I agreed to give it a shot, sharing my “perks” with 200 courageous survivors and warriors.  (By the way, I use the term “warrior” to refer to those who are in active battle with the disease.  As far as I am concerned, the battle never ends.  Even though I am cancer free at the moment, and I am referred to as a “survivor”, the threat of recurrence is always there.  Therefore I continue to battle cancer on a daily basis through my lifestyle choices.  But I digress…..)  So there I was, at my first retreat in 2012, not knowing a soul, and not sure that I really belonged there, when these two skallywags came up to me.

judy and suzeMe, Judy and Suze

Judy and Suze took me under their wings and we struck up a friendship that I am sure will last a lifetime.  Isn’t it funny how you can feel that instant connection with some people?  Even though we had just met, it felt as if we were old friends; like our souls were reuniting after a long absence. I truly believe that soul mates come in all forms, and these ladies are certainly two of mine.  I only get together with them once a year, and that is one of the reasons why I really look forward to the retreat.

Here is another reason I look forward to it:

2014 retreat etc 067Me and Dana

Dana is considered the Rock Star of the Retreat.  She is a fabulous musician and overall phenomenal woman.  Although she received chemo on Friday, she entertained us all weekend with her angelic voice.  I am sure there must have been 50 of us crammed into her room Saturday night, singing, laughing, and sometimes crying.  ‘Cause that’s what you do at these retreats (that and drink booze!)   If you would like to listen to Dana’s song, I have included the link.  Warning: better grab a box of tissues first!  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U07BVbZerhE)

Just in case anybody from the CBCF is reading this, I must add, we don’t just go for the partying ya know.  The retreat is also about education and empowerment.   I didn’t get to take in all of the sessions, because I was pimping my book, but those that I did attend were fabulous!  I am sensing a new movement emerging, as survivors are taking more control of their own health.  This was reflected in the sessions.  These two gave a fabulous session on Surviving and Thriving with Stage 4 cancer:

sherry and sharonSharon and Sherry

I could talk all day about this dynamic duo.  In a nutshell, both were diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and given their death sentence of 2 years left to live.  Both educated themselves on lifestyle choices for cancer prevention, and started making the changes.  Against the odds,  they put their cancer into remission.  It is far beyond two years (I cannot say for sure, but I am thinking at least 6 years) and both of these women have NO EVIDENCE OF CANCER in their bodies.  Conventional medicine is wonderful and I am very grateful for my treatments.  BUT, if you are really serious about kicking cancer’s butt, you gotta do the work.  Just sayin’ (I must add, cancer is a bitch, and adopting a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee that you will beat it.  But just look at these two miracle survivors!  What do you have to lose?)

In addition to the sessions, one of the things I really enjoyed this year was the healthy food.  For the first time EVA, I ordered the vegan option and did not get stir fried veggies in a sticky, sugary sauce!   In fact, my vegan meal was so delicious, that Suze was picking off my plate and practically ignoring her roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!  I know that everyone is not in to this way of eating, but it is great that we have that choice.  We even had a session where this fabulous chef showed us how to cook healthy and delicious food.

stephanie

Survivor Chef, Stephanie

I could have listened to Stephanie all day, she is so funny. (I hope she gets her own cooking show!)  She showed us that kale and quinoa are not so scary, and that they can actually taste GOOD!

So that is my report from this year’s retreat.  I am currently detoxing my body with lots of lemon water and yoga and getting pumped for my TEDx talk which takes place tomorrow night.  I will keep you posted.  Have a great day, mes amis!

 

Me? A Motivational Speaker?

FLorence TEDx

“Miss Strang, can we have a News Team meeting tomorrow?” asked one of my favorite, 10 year old, Jamieson Academy news reporters.

“Sorry, I won’t be in school tomorrow, I have to give an important speech to a big group of School Administrators”, I replied.

“What’s your talk about?” asked my inquisitive reporter.

“Well, it is about my book, and my experiences with cancer, and how that led me to a healthier and happier lifestyle.”

“Oh! So then you are a motivational speaker!” he said.

Me? A motivational speaker? I hadn’t thought about it that way before. When did that happen????!!!!!

When I started blogging “The Perks of Having Cancer”, back in October, 2011, it started off as a little project to keep my spirits up during my treatments for cancer. I had no idea at that time where this “little project” would take me, and how my life would change as a result of it. I soon discovered that not only was it cheering me on my cancer journey, but others were finding hope and inspiration from my words as well….many others in fact. By May, 2012, after having blogged about 75 of the perks, and unsure as to whether I would actually reach my goal, I was offered my first public speaking gig. It was at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s annual retreat. Paula Tessier, the Provincial Co-ordinator, asked Me… (can you believe it? ME!)…to speak to a group of about 200 women about my blog.

My first response was, “Are you nuts, Paula? I can’t do that! I’m not a public speaker.” However with a little coaxing, Paula convinced me to make my public speaking debut. I was nervous as hell, but I kept remembering the words that my father taught me as a child, “Do what you fear and your fear will disappear!” So, if Dad was right, by confronting my fear of public speaking, I could overcome that very fear. That made sense, and besides, I had faced cancer head on, so I reasoned that nothing could be scarier than that. I took the plunge.

I could barely eat a bite as I sat at the evening banquet, waiting to be called to the podium to speak. What if I get up there and go blank? What if I faint? What if I puke on stage? All of these thoughts were going through my mind as I made my way to the podium. When I got there, I took a deep breath and dove right in, telling stories from my heart, laughing at times, crying at others.   As I looked into the sea of faces in the audience, I was surprised to see that they were laughing along with me, and crying along with me. I was hooked! In that moment, a motivational speaker was born.

I have since spoken to thousands of people about my experiences, through keynote addresses, presentations and workshops, along with t.v., radio and magazine interviews. In a relatively short time, this has become second nature to me. It never ceases to amaze me how life can take us in directions we never dreamed possible!

Back when my blog first started to take off, I recall my friend, Michelle, saying, “I’ll bet we’ll see you doing a Ted Talk someday.” I laughed heartily. I mean really, a Ted Talk is the holy grail of public speaking. When I think of Ted Talkers, I think of icons like Bill Gates, Tony Robbins, and Steve Jos, not little old Florence Strang from Lawn, Newfoundland! But then, lo and behold, I heard of a Tedx Talk happening in St. John’s in May (TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, under a license granted by TED.) I put in my application, got an audition, and got picked! So on Wednesday, May 7th, I will be taking the stage at Tedx St. John’s. Am I scared? You bet! Will my fear stop me from doing it? Not a chance!

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