The Gift – Susan G.
“…in the end, I think that the greatest gift of my cancer experience was meeting myself in the midst of it all and standing right there.”
“…in the end, I think that the greatest gift of my cancer experience was meeting myself in the midst of it all and standing right there.”
“The ‘Gift’ photo shoot enabled me to feel beautiful again in that my body is still ‘picture worthy’!! My scars have a story of their own to tell. The project allows others to see the beauty of my entirety, beyond the scars. The scars enhance a different type of beauty that is not physical. I feel “ I am aesthetically pleasing even though my reconstruction is ‘unfinished’.” I want others to witness that pride and feel that they too should embrace the body they now have.
By attending the Living Beauty Yoga Retreat last year, I found hidden strength within myself. Each woman’s story is unique yet we share the common thread of endurance. A safe space was created for us to be ourselves as sisters to share the unspoken grief, triumphant spirit and layers of emotions.
Cancer helped me discover that I now have a voice that speaks with conviction to tell newer survivors and their family members that they too will find support, strength and a deeper faith in places totally unexpected and from people whom they would not have otherwise except through this process. I have gained the irreplaceable companionship of confidants. There is an undeniable instant bond with fellow strivers and even more so at group activities that focus on topics other than the disease. On these occasions, we are able to bear witness to how others have and grow deeper in the belief that I too can overcome!
Now that I have made it to the five year mark of survivorship, I am an example to others…I can give guidance and speak from experience as ‘living proof’ that life does go on.”
“Cancer is not a gift nor a blessing. It is an enormous life changing, life threatening and life long challenge. The gift is how we choose to experience and perceive this challenging journey. We can live with it in fear, dread, anger, pain, loss, resentment and see it as the end…of something “I can’t……because of cancer.
OR we can view our cancer experience as a catalyst to a direction and perspective on life that is grander than our challenges from cancer. The gift is taking the opportunity to be vulnerable, fully ourselves, expressing openly our full range of emotions, needs and wants and reaching out openly to support networks. The gift is consciously and actively seeking and creating moments of sharing and connecting with others, fulfillment, love, flow and contentment for ourselves and for the people we care about in our lives. The gift is expressing “How can I make……………………..happen?”.
For many of us, it’s a daily struggle to find that gift, but when it is rediscovered again and again, the bliss and excitement is always fresh.”
“A gift might not seem like one at first. Especially in the wake of an epic cancer battle. Each battle different. For me it meant some major medical injustices at the hand of one of my surgeons. Tough as nails after this and newly so much more sensitive minded post chemo, I emerged an empath.
For my fellow humans an intense need to protect and care for them. To feel deeply, painfully for them. I also felt, feel so much more empathy for animals too.
My brain has been functioning a bit more disorganized now. I know that chemo has changed me in a way that I will never return to. I live each day reminding myself that this is okay. I am a warrior, goddess, pixie.”
A beloved Living Beauty, Ida Rosenberg describes her cancer journey as one of empowering discovery, both of others and of herself. “The biggest gift I got [during this journey] was becoming friends with women I would have never previously had the opportunity to know. They have so enriched my life and you really can’t put a single value on that.” In fact, The Foundation for Living Beauty’s community of women and focus on positivity led Ida to recognize her own strengths as a rock and optimist. “The fact that I found out I had the ability to touch people and make a change in their lives through a positive outlook was empowering. I considered myself a survivor from the second I was diagnosed. I believe my positive outlook healed me faster and healed my family as well.”
Through her emotional healing process, Ida also came to peace with new elements of her body, including those carved by cancer. “Every warrior has scars, emotionally or physically. Mine are on my body. It’s a sign of strength: To show my scars only shows my journey and the fight that I fought.”
The Gift offered Ida an opportunity to not only showcase her scars, but also celebrate her womanhood. While Ida approached her photo session for The Gift with peace, she felt even more comforted and encouraged by our photographer, Cynthia Perez. “Cynthia was great,” Ida explained. “When she first started taking pictures, the fabric I had brought with me was more in front of me and I was a silhouette. By the time we were done, the fabric was behind me and I was in front of it. I think that speaks volumes. For me to feel comfortable and bare all, that shows how she put me at ease and made me feel better and better about what I was doing as we went along. Then I felt totally free.”
As a true leader and spiritual inspiration to other women with metastatic breast cancer, Dikla Benzeevi believes that despite the physical and mental challenges associated with her journey, the people she has met and challenges she has overcome have provided her with the gifts of sisterhood and self-assurance. “I think it has allowed me to be more open to people, both other women with cancer and just people in general. It has helped me create bonds of sisterhood and open up more, to flourish. I’ve met amazing people from all walks of life and fields of work, from different countries and cities that I would never have met prior to cancer.”
Dikla discovered The Foundation for Living Beauty in 2013 through two friends who told her about it and raved about their experiences. Her first Summer Sisterhood celebration in 2013 was a pool party and nutrition lecture. “Everyone was themselves and so accepting,” says Dikla. “You could be yourself and not worry about how you were perceived. As I got to know the Foundation for Living Beauty better, I attended retreats and even a Beyonce concert. Even the names of the events are warm and comforting. They symbolize how one feels with the women there. It’s a safe haven to feel good in your own body, space and environment.”
For Dikla, The Gift project was an opportunity to overcome insecurities and be in a vulnerable but safe place at the same time. “It is a scary thing to reveal yourself in all your natural glory to the public. But by doing so, I overcame fear and insecurity. The photographer, Cynthia, was so wonderful and created a very comfortable environment in which we took the photos. I just felt at peace. It’s not something I would normally do, but it was nice to try something different.”
In true Living Beauty fashion, Dikla blew us away with her interpretation of the term scar. By displaying her own scars in our photography project, Dikla says, “I hope we provide an empowering framework by which women will find courage, freedom and acceptance of themselves as they are and without judgement and fear. We want to share messages of hope by bearing our souls and selves. Not to mention, SCAR could be an acronym for ‘Shooting Courage And Resilience’.”
If anyone radiates both courage and resilience, it’s certainly Dikla. Purchase tickets to The Gift now to see the intimate photos Cynthia Perez has captured of our Living Beauties embracing their scars and enjoying their newfound gifts.
In honor of our collaboration with BIRCHBOX, Goodshop and Youtube blogger ALLTHINGSFABULOUS101, we’re also looking towards Mother’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate self-love and care. Living Beauty and proud mother Jennifer Robinson recently shared her story with us, and we couldn’t be more inspired by her journey. The power of family, friendship and Living Beauty sisterhood brought Jennifer to a place of incredible joy. Here is her story.
My story of unravel begins at age 28. That was the year of the ultrasound “just in case” which led to a biopsy that was “surely just a precaution,” which lead to a breast cancer diagnosis.
I was a very sick, overwhelmed mother of a 2 year-old son, trying to process that I had cancer. Overnight, life morphed into a whirlwind of medical appointment after appointment, tests and procedures, waiting rooms and bills, pain of every sort, and bad news at every turn – generally, just a lot of ugliness.
Fortunately, someone recommended The Foundation for Living Beauty to me early-on. I attended my first event, a weekend retreat, in between rounds of chemotherapy. I found a family of women who were fighting the same fights and shedding the same tears and an organization who knew how to reach out with the kind of support we badly needed.
I slugged through rounds of chemotherapy, losing my hair and energy, and generally falling apart in horrible ways. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy which removed the 5.5 cm tumor that had been silently growing across my chest throughout my 20’s. I learned that I would need radiation treatment as well, that I wouldn’t be able to have the 2nd child I desperately hoped for… that maybe I wouldn’t live to raise the son I had. It’s a whole lot of ugly to process, however your story goes after being told you have cancer.
The Foundation for Living Beauty was a bright spot for me, as it is for so many. It gave me amazing and helpful events to look forward to during a time when it was hard to look forward at all.
Then, as my life did move forward and I conceived a miraculous and healthy baby girl amidst my radiation treatment – against ALL odds – the women of the foundation were there to throw me a baby shower and share my joy. My daughter’s middle name is Joy, for these women.
Not only during the depths of our struggles but also, for those of us so fortunate as to have lives that creep back toward normal, The Foundation maintains a role in being there to meet our ongoing needs. They know our struggles blanket a lifetime and so remain a long-term support for coping through physical and emotional side effects. They offer education and friendship, beauty and belonging.
Author, support group leader and ovarian cancer survivor Ruby Ovitt sends her love to Living Beauties all the way from Hawaii! Ruby first found the Foundation for Living Beauty in 2009 when she was invited to speak at an FFLB retreat. Recently, her daughter Rochelle shared her photography skills during our 2016 Day of Living Beauty. Now, Ruby is a top-selling author in Hawaii, with multiple guides on both cancer journeys and personal relationships. Her first book, My Journey of Healing from Cancer, was a best seller in Hawaii. Now, her new book Reaching Out to the Brokenhearted shares insights from 28 years of providing support groups for widowed, divorced or separated individuals. Ruby holds book signings in Honolulu, including one upcoming event on April 2, 2016 at Logos Bookstore from 11-1 pm. We checked in with Ruby about her books and the greatest lessons she’s learned from her own time with cancer and her outreach to families and couples.
Foundation for Living Beauty: How did your time on retreat with other Living Beauties impact your cancer journey?
My participation was a very memorable and enriching experience for me. In that retreat, I was further empowered by the brave and beautiful women that I met because of their honesty in sharing how they handled their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual pain; how they continued to love their loved ones in spite of their limitations; how they approached each day with a very positive attitude; and how they nurtured and loved themselves to the best of their abilities. It was in this retreat that I laughed, cried, and danced with these beautiful souls because we all felt as ONE; the power from within all of us gave us the strength to move on with Life with courage, peace, and joy.
Foundation for Living Beauty: What is the most enriching part of working with the support groups?
RO: The most enriching part of working with people in my support group is to see them heal emotionally with the strong support of people who love them, including family, friends, professionals, people they do not even know, and [in my belief] God’s love which gives them comfort, strength, patience, and determination to move on.
Foundation for Living Beauty: What is the greatest lesson you’ve taken from your own cancer journey?
RO: The greatest lesson I have taken from my cancer story is that life is fragile. Therefore, we have to live each day as if it is our last day on earth. If we think this way, we learn to value people and not things; we learn to love people around more deeply; we enjoy each day to the fullest; and we thank God for our blessings everyday!
To meet Ruby, visit Logos Bookstore at 760 Halekauwila Street in Honolulu, Hawaii. Call them at 808-596-8890 for more information.
Lilly Padilla is the author of Anti-cancer Habits & Anti-inflammatory Nutrition. She is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, Holistic Nutrition Chef, and 13-year cancer survivor. Lilly’s Anti-cancer book is on sale right now at https://www.createspace.com/5553140.
FFLB: What are your favorite spring foods?
LP: Because of the natural Renewal energy in spring, Sprouts (baby foods full of energy) are probably my favorite foods to add to my recipes in Springtime. Sprouts, especially broccoli sprouts, which are known for their anti-cancer properties, along with daikon radish sprouts both make easy adds to salads, soups, beans and whole grain dishes. They provide high amounts of vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients. Just what we need in spring!
FFLB: How have you seen a clean, fresh diet positively affect a cancer journey?
LP: Over more than 9 years of working with cancer survivors, and in my own experience as a 13-year cancer survivor, I have noticed that overall, survivors who have changed their eating habits and consistently consumed a clean diet have a better outcome than those who occasionally eat conventional vegetables but don’t really change their diet of processed foods.
There is a harmonious wellness between nature and the human body. Most people do create and release the same type of energy that they ingest through food. For example, eating leafy greens consistently makes people become more flexible and feel lighter, fresher and more energetic. And the opposite is true: When eating heavy fats, like animal fats, people often feel heavy, slow and dull. The nature of the food will be reflected in the type of energy release. For thousands of years Chinese Nutritional Therapy has worked with the concept that we are ONE with nature and that what we eat impacts our human nature, health, mood and energy. I have seen amazing results when survivors prioritize consistent healthy lifestyle routines that include a clean healthy diet, exercise, mindful meditations, healthy cooking and a set menu that works for their unique nutritional needs.
For more info on the subject, feel free to send Lilly a note or questions at [email protected]
Lilly’s Springtime recipe:
Lilly’s Detoxifying Spring Salad
Beets, carrots and apples have all been traditionally used for liver detoxification.
1 large beet, coarsely grated (good source iron- supports liver function)
1 organic green apple cut tiny pieces (antioxidant protection)
1 large carrot coarsely grated
5 tbs. fresh dill
1/2 c. parsley leaves chopped
1 c. dandelion greens (excellent liver cleansing)
2 c. seasonal mix green salad
1/2 c. broccoli sprouts (anti-cancer protection)
1/2 cup watercress (support lungs detoxification)
¼ c. flaxseed oil or toasted sesame oil
1 lemon juice – add more to taste
3-4 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. turmeric powder
1 clove garlic minced tiny
hand full sprouted almonds chopped
Himalayan salt to taste
In a medium salad bowl mix grated beets and carrots, then add apples, lemon juice, turmeric, salt and garlic. Then, stir in your green salad mix, watercress, sprouts, parsley, dill and dandelion greens. Lastly, add oil and almonds. Mix all ingredients well and add more lemon to your desired taste. It makes a delicious, nutritious cleansing salad, and your liver will love it!
Chew truly and enjoy the flavors!
Resolutions are popping up everywhere, and often have a stigma of being unrealistic or unfulfilled. But at FFLB, we believe in the power of positive goals, wishes and self-belief. Resolutions can be reframed from restrictions, “no’s” or “should not’s”. Resolutions can be full of joy and self-encouragement.
WE are going to continue a joyful community of Living Beauty.
We can all give our bodies time to rest, time to recover, time to be challenged and even time to be pampered.
We can all give our hearts and minds moments of peace. Meditate, embrace yoga. Look out the window and admire the rain. Pray or reflect. Build treasured friendships.
We can all embrace the power of food and hydration. Learn about antioxidants, vitamins and protein. Try new recipes to get a great taste of unique ingredients.
Resolutions don’t have to sound like limitations. They can be joyful and inspiring. And they can be made together. Here’s to a 2016 filled with infectious joy and love.
Educating, uplifting, and empowering women with cancer.