Hold self-compassion — we all need and want different comforts during our cancer journey. In order to stay strong to fight, you need to soften to heal. Take it one day at a time, communicate to yourself positive words of encouragement that you will get through this, stay focused and keep your eye on the prize — to be cancer free!
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 Crystal Grenier.
An Idaho girl, living in a North Dakota world, Crystal is a 50+ married mom to two beautiful adult daughters. She holds a BA in Communication/Business, and later a Masters in Sports Management, providing many employment opportunities that included: sales, marketing, PR, administration, coaching, management, and fundraising efforts. Her long-standing passion for health and fitness provided a sanctuary of safety as a fitness instructor and personal trainer only to be recently challenged with shifts into an online holistic health coaching business, and now, an aspiring writer of the written word to heal.
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?
From my birth of forced pull into this world, my childhood continued to unfold with tragedy and heartbreak. My young father was killed in an airline accident shortly after I turned 2. This life altering experience moved my mom and infant brother into an unexpected plan and place of living. This new “normal” forced our family dynamic of 3 into years of unhealthy negative stepfamily drama experiences (my mom remarried twice before her passing last year). The years of growing up in this environment silenced me; compounded my unprocessed grief; and had me secretly craving physical and emotional paternal love and affection, which led me to make questionable choices and sometimes bad decisions.
Another tragic death happened in 1986. My half-sister was killed in a car accident at 17. This event, of course, impacted our family again, this time with more heart wrenching punch, and included other members of our extended family. This unstable home front groomed me to consistently take control while cultivating my high achieving type A personality; to continue being silenced to avoid any more conflict; and had me searching to find a strong, stable, and safe place in which to live and thrive as a woman, wife and mother.
With years of personal and professional struggle(s) to find my internal joy and happiness, to be at peace with ME, I have, with the help of a mindset coach, a therapist, and a sister community, finally found alchemizing ways to guide me towards continued healing, and ultimately, thrive to live my healthiest life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.’ Maya Angelou
This quote to me, says all the things. Experiencing cancer definitely put me in survival action mode. Endure the poisonous treatments so I can then focus on healing naturally in order to live my fullest life; disease free. I have come to learn that passion is not only an extreme love for something external or tangible. It can encompass all things internal; emotions and feelings. I hold healing compassion for not only myself, but for others who have experienced cancer and/or chronic illness. And whatever I am pursuing in my life, will always have some added flavor with a less serious motive. I am learning to break away for some fun, laughing a lot more, and doing it my way!
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?
Of course. In 2017, I had my first hip replacement, and two months later, found a swollen lymph node in my right armpit. As always being aware of my body, staying on schedule with all aging appointments, I knew I had to get it checked out. I thought it might be swollen from my hip replacement, but after an ultrasound and a biopsy, the confirmation was in, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma — breast cancer.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
For me, it was coming to the realization that I had cancer, and had to share it with family and friends. I had breast augmentation about 6 years before my diagnosis, so I was distraught over losing one breast if not both. And the most important component, not wanting to know if it had spread. And ultimately die.
How did you react in the short term?
I will never forget the phone call; the date, the time. It was like hearing a death sentence before I had all the facts. I was in disbelief as cancer does not run in my family, then sadness and pity mixed with anger and rage. Why me was a constant question with no apparent answer. I am the healthy one, how did I get cancer? The questions can be endless. After secretly sitting on this news for a day, I told my husband, daughters and my mom, and then started making phone calls to schedule out my next move(s) to get this disease out of me, so I could focus on healing.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
As a fitness instructor and personal trainer, daily physical movement was self-mandatory at least 5 days a week, so after surgery, and during chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I took myself to the gym to do what I felt like doing that day at that moment. Walking on the treadmill or outside, lifting light weights, practicing light yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises, and silent prayers. I also indulged in monthly chiropractic adjustments, massage for cancer patients, and once done with treatments, sought out my naturopathic doctor to begin my natural healing process. I really focused on being mindfully present and rested when I needed to. I fueled my body with healthy foods, increased water intake, and vitamins, all to keep my immune system strong, and provide the necessary nourishment to let the “poison” do its thing so I could be done, and then really hone in on my natural healing.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
Once you have a diagnosis, and it is known, people who have breast cancer or have had it, quietly appear and are offering words of encouragement and hope. One person who was there from the beginning is a high school classmate of mine. Debbie had gone through breast cancer a year before I had, and as friends on FB, she reached out to me with almost daily asks of how I was doing, and was always there to answer my questions, and offer loving advice. Having her there, sharing an experience, was comforting and reassuring that I could get through this, realize recovery, and restore my health.
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?
Cancer has taught me to love myself unconditionally and know that I am ok, and has placed me exactly where I need to be. A reality check to slow down, lead from the heart, and honor my truth in surrendering to receive healing gifts of divine grace. And not to shut others out, be open to invitations of nurturing and loving connections.
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?
Continue to discover and cultivate other ways to process my emotions. My gut was telling me that my years of emotional stuffing finally surfaced as cancer, and it brought a reality check into addressing years of feeding my internal grief and pain, and to let go of a long-time relationship of external searching for happiness, affirmation, and acceptance. It has taught me with some guidance, that cancer is inside me, and what I do, how I act, what I eat, what and how I feel, are big influences on whether it will keep festering and finally make an entrance, or how can I be more aware of internal and external messages and actions to be counterproductive to stay disease free.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
After my journey, I restructured my fitness classes and training to focus primarily on cancer or chronic illness clients. These offerings were tailored to their surgery, treatments, and other physical, emotional, and mental elements of their illness or recovery. I shared my message of healing using my creativity, communication and compassion through speaking events, retreats, and my social media platforms. As my role evolved from physically teaching and training others, to move online as a holistic health coach, I continued to support women over 40 with a chronic illness, those who wanted to be proactive, and those who may be supporting a loved one. My vision continues to evolve into the written word to convey the message of a cancer experience, and how to emotionally process it to move through it.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
- I have no family history of cancer, so I won’t get cancer — Heredity cancer is less than 10%. If cancer does run in your family, your chances increase, but this does not excuse you from the cancer community if it doesn’t run in the genes. Cancer is caused by DNA changes. Mutations can be random, developing from environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and/or lack of attention to emotional health.
- Sugar can cause cancer — I honestly believed this one, and faithfully kept bad sugars out of my diet. I still do, not because it can cause cancer, but because I follow a vegan diet, and I feel better. Excess sugar consumption can cause weight gain not cancer. Adding inches to the waistline falls under a bad lifestyle choice that can increase your risk to cancer and other diseases.
- Herbal medicines can cure cancer — Following a holistic path and lifestyle to heal, I struggled with this one. Herbal medicines can’t cure disease but they can help with your healing process post cancer and be very therapeutic.
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.
- Cancer is just a moment in time — when you are in thick of it all, you just need to be present in your moment of living. Instead of counting how many more treatments you have left, focus on one thing you can do that day depending on how you feel. Can I go for a walk? Can I practice yoga or mediation for 5 minutes? Taking your cancer journey one day at a time will bring you peace and a focus on healing.
- Accept help from others — find your support group, be it one or many. Finding that comfortable embrace of someone who has gone through what you are going through makes it that much easier because you can share the experience of understanding. Researching books, articles and/or listening to podcasts from others who have survived cancer can be uplifting and instill optimism during your cancer experience. Finding someone who resonates with you in written word, and their shared message, can really boost your morale towards beating your cancer.
- Release emotion — if you want to cry, cuss or throw things in a moment of feeling sorry for yourself or anger, do it. Give yourself permission to feel, express, and then move through the emotion. I found myself in the shower shedding tears or asking why me so many times. Releasing your emotion helps you keep your sanity and more importantly, lets you surrender to receive gifts of grace, and a stronger connection to limitless flow of self-love.
- Be attentive to your body, mind and soul — you need to feed all places of wellness in your fight against disease. Research to find a cancer massage therapist, and relatable chiropractor. Check in daily with how you are feeling to invite movement in whatever capacity, journal, meditate and practice breathing exercises. Keep your immune system strong with healthy food choices, natural supplements, and/or vitamins. Daily small steps to reclaim your health so you can restore it to a new healthier you is so empowering.
- Hold self-compassion — we all need and want different comforts during our cancer journey. In order to stay strong to fight, you need to soften to heal. Take it one day at a time, communicate to yourself positive words of encouragement that you will get through this, stay focused and keep your eye on the prize — to be cancer free!
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?
I want to create an awareness to impact action on emotional health with a communicative piece to define how our emotions enter our bodies and minds, how they move through us, how are we taking them in, absorbing them, and then offer ways to alchemize them on the other side. My movement would be inspired by the emotional process, how you are feeding the emotion, and how to move and process the emotion to realize an abundant healthy healing.
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. :-)
Going through cancer invites a whole new community who share a similar experience. There are many trailblazers that I would love to meet, greet, and eat with, but if I had to pick one right now, I would choose Jami Buchanan McNees. Her book, ‘Beautiful Cancer’ is so relatable, and her shared concepts provide a framework of thinking to shift from all the familiar emotions and actions to experience cancer as amazing and beautiful. A positive mindset in the midst of a diagnosis and all its baggage can put everything in a whole new perspective.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Currently, readers can reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram. Or email email@example.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!