Brooks Almy: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Manage your stress. Meditate, exercise, what ever works for you. Our qi-gong practice has kept both of us centered and strong, even in the face of a new cancer diagnosis for my husband.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooks Almy.

Brooks Almy is an actor/director who, following a bout of cancer, is now pursuing her passion as a writer, with her first novel: An Accidental Pirate. Having previously worked on projects like Dexter, West Wing, ER, Frasier, and Nip/Tuck, she is exploring the power of words and stories in a different genre, with her first novel about a swashbuckling female pirate. An Accidental Pirate is a story centered on female empowerment with a fiery heroine, disguises and secrets, sea battles, pirates, both elegant and rowdy, hurricanes, and true love.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

I was a military child, went to different schools a lot. I was very shy, chubby with long braids and no front teeth until I was eleven. ( fell and knocked them out when I was two.) This made me extremely solitary. I read everything I could find and listened to Broadway show albums in my room. By the time I was thirteen, I could play every part in The King and I Carousel, Music Man and South Pacific. Only in my room of course. In my imagination I was fierce and strong and capable, like the character Fanny I wrote about in An Accidental Pirate. But that happened later. A teacher who discovered I could sing convinced me to be in the school talent show. When I heard the applause and felt the extreme joy of being someone else, my path in theater was set. I did my first professional show at 16 (Hello Dolly) and was a working actor for over 40 years. I have loved every minute, highs and lows, feast and famine. It isn’t a secure career but it is a fulfilling one.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have several favorites:

“Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.” -Mark Twain.

Although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you can suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.” Dahlai Lama

I don’t remember where I read this last one, but I kept it because they are truths to live by.

These are the things that children with terminal cancer thought were important.

Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them and eat ice cream! “

Also, from being sober I learned:

Acceptance is the key, learn to let go, cultivate gratitude and generosity, trust your instincts and accept help.

And finally:

The best gift you can give yourself is service to others. — My mother, Camille Almy

These are all relevant to my life because they help me navigate all of these stormy seas, we humans exist in with some grace and lack of fear.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?

My cancer story:

Sometime in October 2017 I had some random bleeding. I was in Italy with my husband at the time and he took me to a gyno who was a friend of his. He gave me a very through exam and took some scrapings while he sang Beatles songs. I am not kidding. But it relaxed me. Also, because my husband is a nurse, he let him stay and hold my hand. I wasn’t worried and I returned to US. I was starting a new semester of teaching at AMDA, a musical performing arts college. A week after I got back my husband called and said “Darling we have some bad news. You have uterine cancer and need to have surgery as soon as possible.” I was glad he told me straight out and didn’t sugar coat it. He said he would begin making travel arrangements that day. We stayed on skype and I cried for a bit, but when we hung up, I got pro-active right away. I called my friend Ann who had survived three boats of cancer. I called my friend Sharry who was a urologist/surgeon, and I called my best friend Aly to hold my hand. Sharry got me directly to the head gyno/cancer surgeon at Cedars Sinai. It turns out he was Ann’s surgeon as well. Such a wonderful piece of serendipity. She promised I would love him, and I did. He said if I had to have cancer, this was the one because the uterus is likely contained it all. That was the case with me, I had surgery and a few weeks of radiation. After a year, I was declared cancer free. What a day that was!! There was one little hiccup. My husband was supposed to arrive before my surgery, The idea of going through this without him terrified me. The thing I was most afraid of is that I would die, and he wouldn’t be with me. They denied his visa because he had a stamp on his passport from Iraq. He worked for an Italian NGO called Emergency and went to Iraq for 6 months to be the medical coordinator for 2 refugee camps. But this meant to them, he might be a danger to the US. I called the embassy, the State department and finally our wonderful congressman Adam Schiff. He and his staff got on it and had Mauris’ visa approved in 2 days, and I could finally breathe again. He got to me in time to hold my hand in the hospital and all was well.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

How did you react in the short term?

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

Meditation, Qigong, Walking, Breathing, Lots of hugs and kisses from my husband. Keeping a positive mental outlook.

Changing the way I was eating. (losing sugar, which cancer seems to love) eating mostly veg/fruit lots of fish and occasionally organic meat and chicken

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

My dear friend Ann shared her journey with me and seeing her stay strong and positive through 3 different diagnoses helped me enormously. Also, my friend Nancy who has an organization called WeSpark just for cancer patients and survivors. It has all kinds of programs, but the best thing was just a place to talk and cry and laugh about cancer. And my friend David is another great role model. He has been going through his cancer for a while now and has not let it bring him down. Most important of all, my best friend who has her own health challenges but handles them with grace and dignity and fierceness. She is a warrior woman

In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?

That is a very hard question. I think it might be saying, slow down, be aware of your surroundings, reach out to the people you love. Be kind to the people you don’t love.

Surround yourself with positive people. Remove toxic people from your life. Do what you love. Don’t waste time worrying. It doesn’t help and it doesn’t change things. Actions change things

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?

I learned to always look for the light and the love. It is easy to go down the” what if” rabbit hole, but there is nothing there to see. The past is over, and the future does not exist. I try to stay completely in the day I am in and believe me, sometimes it is an effort.

Here is the biggest challenge I had in holding these beliefs in place. About a year after my surgery, my husband was diagnosed with stage four inoperable prostate cancer. He said, “wow we Papalias know how to have a good time!” He had chemo, they put him on a very strict drug protocol and thanks be, they stopped it. Can’t make it go away, but he can live with it for a good long time. My first reaction was my heart sinking and then breaking, but I remembered what a good friend of mine said when he was diagnosed with aids. “Please don’t kill me before I’m dead!” So, Mauri and I are doing everything to optimize containing the cancer. With how we eat, think, move and treat people, we try to bring light.

How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?

My husband and I reach out to people all the time. People we know, people we don’t know. We are always inviting people to our house for coffee or a meal. We are always reaching out to strangers with a kind word. We offer to help when we can. And we listen. Sometimes people just want someone to listen.

Also, as a teacher I included bits of my journey in the lessons to my students. I think they are stronger and happier because of the insights I have shared with them about life, and how a positive attitude, kindness and a strong work ethic can further your dreams.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

The biggest one is that it is a death sentence. It is not, and we are living breathing proof, along with the millions of other survivors

Another is that there is nothing you can do. Not true. There is plenty to do. One of the habits we took up is from Dr Walter Longo, an Italian American biologist. He wrote a book called the Longevity Diet and a new one called Fasting Cancer. He has done tons of research about how fasting or fast mimicking affects cancer cells and resets your biology. We have been doing his 5-day fasting protocol for 4 years now and we both feel great.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

Laugh often and deeply. My husband and I laugh every night. Not just jokes, but stories and silly behavior. Listen to your inner child who always makes the joyful choice.

Music is healing. Listen to what pleases you.

We discovered Jon Batiste and when I need to feel joy I listen to Freedom and We Are

Do your own research, new alternatives are being explored daily, but listen to your doctor. See what I wrote earlier about Dr Walter Longo

Manage your stress. Meditate, exercise, what ever works for you. Our qi-gong practice has kept both of us centered and strong, even in the face of a new cancer diagnosis for my husband.

Ask for and accept help. Our friends who had walked this road before us were and are a tremendous asset.

Don’t keep it a secret. It is not contagious and it is not a weakness. It is only a disease and there is strength in numbers

Do things that make you happy. We do have a finite amount of time and every moment is important. But be flexible. Go where the universe points you. I loved my job teaching and I loved acting, but when covid happened and I couldn’t do those things anymore, I retired to Italy and wrote a book I didn’t know I had in me. It is called An Accidental Pirate: The Possibly True Adventures of Fanny Campbell. The heroine is a strong, independent, loving, fearless and kind-hearted girl. These are all the things I wished I was when I was young and I hope I am now. Talk about a pivot late in life.

Now, I am a writer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

It would be like The Kindness Project, which is a wonderful organization. Or perhaps a foundation that siphons all that big money away from weapons, politics, war and greed and into housing, food, education, children, saving the planet and research into cures for cancer and other diseases. These are much better uses for big money than war, politics and Wall Street. I haven’t thought of a name yet, but I’m working on it. Something like The Ethical Money Fund or Put your Money Where Your Heart Is.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

Michelle Obama, Dave Grohl, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Keanu Reeves Jon Stewart. John Oliver, Matthew McConaughey, Lizzo, Jon Batiste, Gabor Mate, Russel Brand Bernie Sanders, Yuval Harari Greta Thunberg

Neil Degrasse Tyson, Helen Mirren.

They are all making an effort to bring truth and light into the world. They all have their own style and path for making that happen. They are all in their own way trying to save the planet from destruction by exposing greed, injustice, racism and hate. They all show the positive alternative to such destructive forces.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Google Brooks Almy or brooksalmy.com which is the website for my book. Also Instagram: @brooksalmy and Tik Tok: @brooksalmy but I am not sure how those work yet. LOL

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor