Today marks 3 years since I got the call confirming what I already knew… And what we all now know.
What I didn’t know at that time was- What would happen to the baby growing inside of me? What would my husband and 1 year old do if something happened to me? How would I choose to handle the news? And I definitely did not comprehend how dramatically my life and outlook on life would change.
That call obviously shook my world and the world of my family and friends. And I often wonder if baby Wyatt could feel it too. But after speaking with my team of doctors, my first concern was addressed. The baby in my belly would be perfect… and he is. Sometimes a perfect pain in the keister but still perfect.
And thankfully I am still here to witness the great father John is to our little humans. And I get to see Harlon growing up to be an amazing child. AND it turns out, I handled the diagnosis and what followed pretty OK. Of course, I had and continue to have my shit days. And my complete shit days. And my “I’m never leaving my bed because life isn’t fair” shit days. But I try to keep a positive outlook as often as possible (while giving myself permission to throw the occasional pity party). And I remind myself that I get to choose if I walk around miserable and mean or if I want to choose to look at the positives and radiate joy.
This way of thinking is not for everyone, I get that. And I have never tried to push my views on life onto anyone else. I mean, we all get to walk our own paths. But I remember reading a quote by another survivor right after I was diagnosed which said “Breast cancer can change you, but the change can be beautiful”. I have tried to wholeheartedly embody that idea by looking for the beauty even when it seems to be pure shit surrounding me.
I know I don’t post very often about my story anymore. But it’s not because I am “all better” or “over it”, but it’s because I am busy living this life I’ve been blessed with, spending my time with the people I love and who spark pure joy in my heart. This disease has taught me what is important and what is not, where I want to focus my energy and where I can let go. I am busy with my family, teaching yoga, supporting others who’ve been diagnosed, working on projects… all with the goal to leave the world better and more joyous than I found it and to be the light for others when the darkness tries to consume them.
Truthfully, anxiety still haunts me, as it always has. And I’m not sure if I’ll ever get past the feeling of ‘running out of time’. But life continues to be put into perspective and it’s nice to know we are all in this together…
So cheers to many, MANY, M A N Y more years to come!
I met Mary Baker – CFO & Co-founder of Be Well Yoga for Cancer Recovery- earlier this Spring when I attended Be Well’s yoga teacher training. I felt an immediate connection with the program and the founders. I am honored to be a Be Well graduate and am so grateful to have Mary and Heidi in my life. They are supportive, caring, compassionate, smart, dedicated… I could go on! Here is Mary and Be Well’s story!
Tell us your story. What is your program all about and how did you find yourself involved?
Be Well came to life on a road trip home from a 10 day long training that my friend and now business partner, Heidi Borsch, and I attended together back in 2014. Heidi and I both lost parents to cancer and sought out training to learn how to use yoga and mindfulness practices with the cancer population. One year later, Be Well became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit and has been serving the cancer community for over 6 years. Be Well offers 12 weekly Yoga for Cancer Recovery classes that are specifically tailored to the unique needs of cancer patients. Currently we serve the North County San Diego and Riverside County areas, with a brand new class coming in September to the OC!! (Led by two amazing Be Well Graduates – Jessica Beese Filloon and Jenny Jensen!)
Three years ago, Be Well formed its 55-hour Teacher Training Program to help get more Yoga for Cancer trained teachers into the community. Since inception, we have trained just under 50 individuals ranging from cancer survivors to medical doctors, all with a passion to serve the cancer community.
What populations / areas do you serve?
Our primary population is those who are living with a cancer diagnosis. We deal with all cancers, with breast cancer being our highest percentage of students. We also welcome caregivers, friends and family members to attend class with their survivor. We know firsthand the direct impact both cancer and yoga can have on everyone, and we love to see the positive effect our Be Well program has on everyone who comes to class!
What are the main obstacles that stand between you and your mission, and what ways do you find to overcome them?
The biggest obstacle we face on an on-going basis is funding (which is the case with any nonprofit). Finding creative ways to get money to keep our program running and growing is always at the top of our agenda. Secondly, an obstacle we face is continuing to get word out to the world about our program so our classes and training sessions can grow as well!
Program aside, tell us about yourselves. What makes you, YOU!
Heidi and I joke that we share a brain! We are very much a yin/yang pair in personality, temperament, and appearance – but our differences also make us a perfect match like the two hemispheres of one big brain! We are both passionate about what we do and both agree that teaching our Yoga for Cancer classes are the highlight of each and every week. Heidi is definitely the creative one – she loves painting, making jewelry, and other crafty activities. I am more of an active, fitness junkie and when I’m not teaching yoga you’ll find me out hiking or at the Crossfit gym getting my sweat on!
How has C directly impacted your own life?
For both of us, cancer took away a dear loved one. Heidi was a young mother when her own mom died of ovarian cancer and I lost both of my parents within a 6 month time frame in my early 40’s. This was a life changer for us and we both felt deeply that we needed to give back in some way, to do what we could now and moving forward to help others who are living with cancer and those who are caring for loved ones with the disease.
What are your go-to acts of self care?
There are definitely real side effects of our work with the cancer population. Over the past 6 years, we have lost more than 6 very special students and friends and each one is a challenge. We give ourselves time to feel and to grieve and we also acknowledge that the time we were able to spend with them was time that made a difference in the quality of their life. We also make sure that we do our self-care – meditation, yoga, exercise, time with loved ones – are all part of our daily routine to keep life in balance.
What have you learned about yourself and the C community since starting with your program?
Cancer, whether you have it personally, or you experience it through a loved one, changes everything. It completely alters your outlook on life. Every day is a precious gift. Each breath an unrepeatable moment in time. We both feel that we have been able to really tap into our compassionate, nurturing natures and share our gifts doing something we dearly love.
If you could share any piece of advice for someone who has been diagnosed, what would it be?
DO BE WELL YOGA!!!!!!
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
Hmm that’s a tough one! We use quotes and mantras for all of our classes and over these many years I have found SO many good ones!!! I’ll share with you the very first quote I used at my very first yoga class and which I still feel is incredibly important for everyone to remember: “When you own your breath, no one can steal your peace” Teaching our students, especially our cancer students, to breathe well is one of the most important things we do in our classes. They can take that skill everywhere and into every situation. Time and time again they tell us how much learning to breathe properly has positively impacted their lives.
What are the latest happenings with your program right now?
Coming up next – our Fall training! We are still seeking a few more qualified individuals to join us on the journey of becoming a Be Well Certified Yoga for Cancer teacher!! www.bewelltherapy.net/teacher-training
I met Katie Burke : Master Motivator and Philanthropist back in October of 2017 when she hosted a Mexico retreat for survivors. That weekend was life changing for me and I carry her teachings with me always. She has inspired me more than she will ever know. Here is her story.
Katie B’s mother, Kathy, passed away at the age of 43 due to breast cancer when Katie was in fourteen. Watching her mom take her last breath, Katie B was fueled to find the meaning of each inhale we’re given. “b_inspired” was born as the Latin root of the word inhale is to “inspira” -and Katie B was on a mission to B the inspiration people needed to live their lives to the fullest. Katie B has always taken inner transformation seriously. Katie has pursued a BA in International Conflict Resolution (Ni Hao, Ma?), along with Master Yoga/Fitness Certifications (Namaste’) from the best institutions in her space, including 30 Teacher Trainings through CorePower Yoga, Spirit Yoga Studios, and now leading her own international Yoga Alliance 200 Hour RYS training in places like Mexico and Belize. The fire in her spirit took a giant pause when she woke up in 2015 with Bells Palsy, and the right side of her face was paralyzed. With a broken face, Katie B gave up definitions of societal normal beauty and her workouts for the physical body because a deeper, more connected work is to find the depth of the soul, not just skin deep.
Katie B believes that life happens for you, not to you. Everything in life is a teacher if you’re willing to find the lesson and grace. Through her 501c3 b_inspired, Katie B’s mission is to empower you to believe anything is possible for you. Through international retreats, global speaking engagements and seminars, she helps give back to the world raising over $75k for underprivileged populations. Katie B not only empowers over 600 live students weekly in San Diego, but she also curates “Monday Mantras” every week through her social media accounts of over 25k students all around the world. This provides them with the opportunity to connect with her on a personal level and join the conversation with the others in the community. Katie B & ‘B_Inspired’ hosts and fundraises yearly for a free retreat for 30 cancer survivors and has raised over $50,000 for breast cancer research.
Program aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
The latin root of the word “inhale” is to “inspira” – to inspire. We inhale (inspire) and exhale (expire) hundreds of thousands of times a day and rarely think about this automated biological response. At 14 years old, I watched Kathy Burke, my badass 43-year-old mama, take her last breath. I knew that cancer had taken her breasts, but I didn’t know it would take her life. As a strong Jersey woman, I never realized she was actually going to die. Silly, huh? But watching her chest rise, and then watching it fall, and never rise again, switched something on inside my little adventurous heart. I remember thinking, “That’s it? That’s all we are? One final exhale?” As if I wasn’t already “doing” enough as a pre-pubescent human, I decided to “DO” everything I could. Class President, Cheerleading, NJ State District Board of Key Club (dorky volunteer club), moved out on my own at 17, and the list goes on. I became the best human-doing there was. Squeezing every last inch out of a life I knew was far too short, I was unstoppable.
Born in ’87, I feel incredibly lucky to have lived through high school without smartphones (it’s crazy, no GPS?!?) and with the brand new Nokia phones where we played snake at lunch. This was before Adderall swept schools like a hurricane of extra unnecessary thoughts, and made a generation of extreme DO-ers & anxiety-filled thinkers. With a promise of getting out of ‘Jersey, I moved myself to San Diego State University. My degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution traveled me to the San Sebastian hills of Peru to work at a battered women’s shelter all the way to utilize my Mandarin in the rice fields of Jiangxi, China working in a poverty alleviation program. Checking all of society’s proverbial boxes and then some, I graduated and started working for a nonprofit that helped support breast cancer patients. I had “DONE” it all. Now what? I kept filling my plate with the next accomplishment, the next checkbox. I was even doing fulfilling work and still felt disconnected, unfocused, and disempowered.
On average, 60,000 thoughts flood through your head in a day. Researchers say, 59,000 are repeated from the day before. The running playlist of the same/same anxiety and worries plagues the mind of the average person daily. If you asked me what ran my recorded track back in 2008, I’d have no idea. But I do know what slowed them down. Running this statistic out farther, you can hold 3-5 thoughts at one time in your head. Simultaneously, you can be thinking “I feel the seat against my leg, I’m cold, I’m hungry, I hear my friend speaking to me.” Fueled by a debilitating break up with my first love (as all millennial yogis begin) I wandered into a CorePower Yoga to try some fitness style hot yoga (if only Trevor, my long-haired, green-eyed, and mediocre guitarist ex-boyfriend could know what he caused.) Sweat tickled my armpits in a teasing way of making me move when I wasn’t supposed to in that “dead person pose” at the end of class. As the teacher invited us to take a “good morning stretch” I sat up, putting my hands awkwardly at my heart like I was back in Catholic school. Yet, something was different. I felt calmer. I was only focusing on what the teacher said. I could actually feel my chest rise and fall, noticing the fact that I was breathing. I was “inspira”-ing… inhaling deeply.
Tool #1: Subtract thoughts to add clarity. We can never stop thoughts completely, but we can slow them down. The key isn’t to stop thinking as much as it is to recognize you are not your thoughts and slow down the ones that don’t serve you. By just focusing simply on “I am breathing in” and “I am breathing out”, you’ve already slowed down thoughts and focused on a neutral one. That neutral thought blocks other thoughts that don’t serve you. When you’re focused on a neutral thought, there’s space for you to hear what’s really going on, without your filter of insecurity. From that one jumping point, I noticed my breath, just like I watched my mom take her last. How had I forgotten? Maybe I had never learned. After graduating their yoga teacher training, I started spreading the simple calmness I felt from the practice into my nonprofit workplace. People noticed a difference in me. I was more focused, more present. What they saw in me was infectious, and they wanted to be taught the tricks of the trade. Little did they know it wasn’t rocket science, just paying attention to your breath. Taking a leap of faith, I left my 9-5 gig to follow this calmness. I had no idea how I was going to make money, so I decided to host donation based classes.
My first real life’s lesson in slowing down paid in insane exponential growth. I was making three times the amount of money I was at my corporate job, because people kept showing up. Because I was doing something that I felt I was growing in, it made me happy. That happiness created presence, which my students felt loved and heard. That presence created an insane following that 9 years, over 5,000 classes later, I am living proof doing less actually gains more. I started living as a human BEING, not a human doing.
On top of my yoga career, in 2015, I had been certified and taught everything from kids yoga to becoming a Master Personal Trainer. I was giving and giving and giving. Somewhere along the way I got back to checking boxes. This time, yoga/fitness boxes. But, doing yoga means you’re at peace, right?
Tool #2: Subtract expectations, gain self worth. My right eye was stuck open. My lips stuck about an inch apart. I looked like I got a botched botox job on just the right side of my face. I could feel everything, but nothing was moving. When the ER doctor told me I had Bells Palsy, the word “palsy” hit me like a ton of bricks. I was the healthiest person I knew, right? Through tears I texted my boyfriend Anthony, “I am paralyzed in the right side of my face, and the doctor said only 80% of people heal from it.” He immediately replied in his sarcastic manner, “behb, you’re special, but not 20% special.” I have giant horse teeth and a big mouth. My smile is huge. My paralysis forced my successful public figure yogi self “Katie B Happyy” to only have half of a smile. Where I had for years depended on my youthful flexibility and athletic outer shell, I now felt gypped by my body. I had to hold my lips together to even drink or eat food, or say “f” and “p” sounds. Broken in so many ways, I cleared my schedule of everything that wasn’t teaching. I went to healers, acupuncture treatments, chiropractic adjustments, massages, and just relaxed. Bells palsy is an inflamed nerve so I was trying to de-flame everything. Instead of hiding from the public eye like so many do, I chose to keep teaching, beautifully broken. I cried with my students when they reacted to my face, I showed up with my whole heart asking for help. #puffyeyedandpowerful Something shifted. Because I was doing a lot less, somehow more flowed in. My persona of “super yogi” fizzled away, and yet I related to so many of my students on the mutual plane of despair. For the first time ever, my retreats filled. Without even knowing, my relationship was saved. My boyfriend felt needed and purpose filled in our relationship because I took the time to look him in the eyes and ask for help. I gained thousands of devoted followers that wanted to cheer me on, and I replied to them all. My sole focus was healing and my students, and the universe gave me more financial gain in my retreat business than ever before. No instagram ad could have gotten me the same surplus as me simply being present with people and asking about them.
Tool #3: Subtract accomplishments, add valuable relationships. My eye started to blink the second month in, and eventually my smile slowly worked at the end of six months. Three years out, I am left with this overwhelming lesson that life will constantly slow you down even if you don’t ask for it. Every time it does, I’ve gained so much more. From a successful career leading yoga adventures around the world, to authentic relationships, there’s incredible presents in presence. They always say people won’t remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. We have this unique opportunity as humans to take responsibility for the energy we bring to any space. Whether you’re in line at the grocery store or sitting too close to someone on an airplane, out of the trillions of possible interactions you could have had, you landed with this one! Why? Who knows. Be present. Own the vibration you’re bringing forth and you never know the doors that will open because you slowed down enough to be with a human. Out of the expectation of human doings, when we human BE with people, you can start to enjoy every inhalation, and discover the reason you woke up today.
What are your go-to acts of self care?
Here are my 6 Techniques to Subtract to Add for a More Meaningful Life
1. No Screen Time: Take back your day. The thirty minutes you first wake up and before bed are for you. The minute you pick up that phone, you are responding to a red notification that is someone else’s request or watching someone else tell your subconscious you’re not enough on social media. Take the time to journal and manifest. Get lost in fantasy about the good things that could happen in the future. The universe wants to work in your favor, but it responds only to the extent that you’re clear. When I was single as a new yoga teacher, I didn’t know what I was looking for. The minute I wrote down specific character traits of what I’d hope for in a guy, he didn’t just appear… he was already there, cleaning my yoga studio for trade, I just didn’t see him until I wrote specifics. There was a study of kindergarten kids that do Teddy Bear Tummy Time. Every morning they put teddy bears on their tummies as they lay on the ground and do 10 rounds of breathing as the teddy bears rise and fall. The study proved the children, after only 10 rounds of conscious deep breathing, were more attentive, scored better on testing, and were more focused on their work. They started the day more grounded.
2. Spend Time in Gratitude. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I send my legs up the wall (amazing for reversing varicose veins and sends fresh oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart) and I start imagining something in my life I’m insanely grateful for. For me, it’s my little guido nephew, Lorenzo. He’s an adorable kind three-year-old Jersey Italian that wears tracksuits, Nikes, and gold chains. When I think about him my entire body swells up with love. Take moments of “presence pause” and think of 1-2 things you’re grateful for. There is a channel of happiness we each have the capacity to tune into whenever we want. When I take 30 seconds to close my eyes and think of something I’m grateful for, my entire physical body changes. I get out of the stress response (sympathetic state) and go into what we call the rest and digest state (parasympathetic state) – where we are less reactive and more reaffirming. Sometimes when I’m frustrated I’m bloated or I woke up with a hangover, I remember the years I was paralyzed. I close my eyes, come back to gratitude for the fact that my face works and my smile works. Then, I am less angry at myself and therefore less angry at others.
3. Spend Time Giving. Then I consider that feeling of gratitude, and I send that love out to someone else. I imagine a green light (heart chakra) from my heart streaming towards theirs. I often envision my Dad in Pennsylvania or my brother over in Vietnam. I think of sending them love energy. Consider this- we never doubt the fact that a written message, in a tiny box we hold in our hands, will magically fly from my box to another person’s handheld box anywhere on the planet. So why do we doubt the power of intention/ prayer? They run on the same vibrational frequencies. You are powerful beyond measure. Kinetically, something changes when you think of others. Your mind changes from its crazy hamster wheel of 60k thoughts about yourself and shifts to someone else. If someone is really depressed, one of the best ways to get them out of their head is to get them into giving. When I lost my mom to cancer, the simple act of doing the Race for the Cure helped me stay focused and in control. We started a memorial tubing event down the Delaware River the first Saturday of every August in her memory. She loved tubing because she could drink Coors light and pee at the same time. It started with our family tubing in bright pink tubes back in 2002 and has continued 17 years strong hosting hundreds down the river and raising over $50,000 for breast cancer research and survivor healing weekends. Now, with the money, my 501c3 b_inspired funds two free retreats for cancer survivors to help them figure out what’s next after cancer. In a bigger way, that simple act of giving helps me THINK LESS about loss and do more for the greater picture.
4. Change Your Space. Travel gets me remembering how big the world is. Whenever I feel my 60k thoughts spiraling into a tornado of self-doubt and indecision, I remember what it feels like to meet people of different cultures, see worlds you’ve never seen before. If you can’t travel to Africa, try a town 30 miles away… just wander the local streets and see new people. Every time I feel depressed, I simply drive 30 minutes over the San Diego border and head down to the orphanage we volunteer at. We play with these kids and I forget my thousands of emails to respond to, and the made-up deadline stresses I have. Kids force presence out of you, and showing up and playing with kids who have no direct mentorship allows you to feel connected to the greater picture. If you’re reading this, you are lucky enough to have had the monetary luck and mentorship to be in a space where your stresses are the first world made. Getting out of that routine reminds you that 98% of the world lives off less than a dollar per day, and has been happy in many ways since the dawn of human existence.
5. Keep Your Head Up. Looking at your phone is the new yawn. Every time there’s an awkward pause or a moment to fill, we swipe. Make it a mission today to look at three people’s eyes authentically. See them. Everyone just wants to be seen. Instead of seeing people through the lens of Instagram, why not see them via the window to their soul? I dare you to hold eye contact for at least 30 seconds with someone. How many times have I decided to strike up a random conversation and realized the universe needed me to have that convo? I remember sitting at the desk at my yoga studio checking people in, and this student prodding me to give her my attention. I was on my phone responding to the endless notifications and requests, and she keeps asking questions. Frustratingly, I looked up, and for a moment, I saw my mom’s calm brown eyes in hers. I saw my dead mother’s heart in her words and I felt hugged by an old friend, mama, I hadn’t seen in a while. My entire day was changed and I that day I signed up 4 people for one of my trips simply because I was connected.
6. Stay connected to your mission. Every morning I reaffirm my intention. For example, today, I just want to make sure people feel supported. Then, my attention all day is placed on making that happen. If my mission in life is truly to make everyone feel like anything is possible for them, then my day becomes a fun adventure into figuring out how to enable people with my actions, words, and feelings. What is the point of this life unless we give it meaning? We are all out there searching for the same things- love, connection, to feel a part of something greater. The only way we feel purpose filled is if we define daily what meaning is for us. Watching my mom take her last breath was the catalyst for me defining every day with my meaning. What is the reason we were so blessed to wake up again? Literally, all we are is this breath, and the minute we take our last exhale, our last expiration, this life is over. Every day becomes a journey to define the breath.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
Life happens FOR you, not to you. Everything in life is a teacher. When we see each experience as happening for us, the world starts to be this mysterious playful thing where we can figure out the clues and look for signs like purple butterflies. Perceivably negative and positive things have equal probability of coming true, so why not stay in a space of wonder instead of worry?