Lyndsay Levingston of SurviveHER: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
…A loving support system. Envelop and surround yourself with people who really care about you and want you to heal. I learned quickly who was for me. My circle of friends grew tighter.
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 Lyndsay Levingston.
Lyndsay Levingston is a multimedia personality, consultant, and SurviveHER™. She is a segment producer for the Black News Channel. Prior, she worked as an anchor/reporter and host for various news outlets in New York City, Houston and Tulsa. The Houston native graduated with honors from the University of North Texas.
Lyndsay was diagnosed with Stage 2B triple-negative breast cancer in July 2019. She celebrates her cancer-free status as the founder of SurviveHER™, a breast cancer awareness and wellness nonprofit whose mission is to inform, inspire and empower women.
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 born and raised in Houston as a true Southern Belle. I was exposed to the arts at a young age and developed a love for dance. I was very active in school and naturally assumed leadership roles, elementary to college. My childhood was positive, filled with joy, love and support.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Throughout my life, I was always reminded to treat others with kindness and compassion, and that remains with me to this day.
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?
I was living my best life in NYC with a successful broadcast TV career when everything came to a screeching halt — in July 2019, while I was showering, I felt a lump in my breast that worried me. I immediately booked a well-woman exam and had my first mammogram, 3D mammogram and breast ultrasound, a trio of diagnostics — despite only being 37, younger than the age of 40 when many guidelines recommend women begin regular mammograms.
The radiologist called to let me know the lump was cancerous. I was officially diagnosed with t triple negative, stage 2B breast cancer — an aggressive form of cancer that is more common in Black women, has limited treatment options, and oftentimes a worse prognosis.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
At the time, I didn’t think that anyone else in my family had been diagnosed with breast cancer, so I was scared and confused about how this could happen to me. As many women would assume they’ve received a death sentence, that thought never crossed my mind. I was more scared than anything with fear of the unknown.
How did you react in the short term?
Learning news of my cancer diagnosis was traumatic — I couldn’t even articulate the “c word” for days. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was a cancer patient. But I was determined to stay positive and keep some routine to maintain as much normalcy as possible.
I booked a one-way ticket and relocated back home to Houston. From there, I boarded the breast cancer train to a hopeful destination of remission — it was a fast and furious whirlwind.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
The dust never truly settles as a cancer survivor, but when treatment and surgeries were over, I learned to cope through prayer and therapy. I was able to fully process and reflect on all of the trauma I’d experienced and begin focusing on the new (and improved) Lyndsay. I had to adjust to physiological challenges and changes, and I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me. The diagnosis was a blessing in that it helped me to reevaluate relationships, vocation and life itself. I live with a purpose now.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I thank God for the blessing of my mother, Ivy. I benefited from her level of selflessness and great attention to detail. (I refer to her as my ‘lovegiver,’ not caregiver, by the way.) I have observed firsthand her remarkable strength through countless, agonizing doctor’s appointments and steady composure from day to day.
Before cancer, I had lived away from home since my early twenties. Now, more than a decade later, I had to move back home. I felt hopeless in a sense because I didn’t want to be a burden, but she made being a patient so easy.
I’ve had the chance to reconnect with her as ‘The Levingston Ladies,’ our dynamic duo/mother-daughter moniker that encapsulates the closeness of our relationship.
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?
If cancer had a message for me it would be, “Lyndsay, I’m going to shake up your life and help you refocus and get on God’s plan and track for you. I’ll only be temporary, but you’ll glow and succeed when I’m out of your body.”
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 have certainly learned a lot, but one piece of information I learned on this journey ended up being lifesaving.
When I first saw a breast surgeon and oncologist right when I was diagnosed, my mapped-out treatment plan included chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation. I wasn’t aware of any family history of cancer, but halfway through treatment, I was informed that a cousin that I don’t speak to had also been diagnosed with breast cancer and had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. This inspired me to investigate my family history and get a medical genetic test.
That’s when my doctor helped me get a genetic test from Invitae to see if I carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, and my results showed that indeed I did. This completely changed my treatment plan and life. After 15 rounds of chemo, my doctor now recommended that I get a bilateral mastectomy, undergo breast reconstruction to reduce recurrence of breast cancer, and remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, which is 25–40% more likely when you carry the BRCA1 mutation. Learning this news was a tough pill to swallow and the anticipation for my surgeries and mastectomy was scary, but ultimately learning this news about my genes saved my life and I’m now a firm believer that knowledge is power when it comes to your health.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
After all this, on February 14, 2020, my doctor called to share the amazing news I’d been waiting and praying to hear: I was in remission.
Once I beat cancer, I had a clear calling to help others who have to go through this difficult journey and that’s when I started SurviveHER — exactly one year ago this October. SurviveHER is a platform and community to inform, inspire and empower people around breast cancer awareness beyond just Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
It’s my mission to educate others on my experience and urge everyone to be proactive about their health, keep up with yearly screenings and get medical genetic testing to understand health risks. Even though not all risks are hereditary, I also encourage open dialogue among family members about your health history, since so many people are unaware of the potential risks that run in their genes.
I’m especially passionate about advocating for health proactivity to other Black women, who are at risk but oftentimes aren’t sure about how to seek genetic testing, especially since many physicians are not offering it to patients as an option, and there are few opportunities to learn about it.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that cancer is fatal. I’m a testimony to prove that, with early detection, a positive prognosis is the outcome. This is why annual mammography tests are so critical.
Another misconception is that once you’re diagnosed with cancer there is nothing you can do yourself to make things better. People feel that they lose control and their fate is in their doctors’ hands. This is not true. If you’re diagnosed with cancer, any cancer, you should take a medical genetic test to inform your options.
Changes in treatment after an oncologist reviews medical genetic testing results aren’t uncommon. In fact, research shows that risk-causing genetic changes are common across cancer types and when patients do receive genetic testing, the majority are eligible for changes to their treatment plans. For breast cancer specifically, if you learn you carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation and are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, there are actionable steps you can take with your doctor to get ahead of the risks. That’s why medical genetic testing, like what I did with Invitae, is so important.
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.
- A loving support system. Envelop and surround yourself with people who really care about you and want you to heal. I learned quickly who was for me. My circle of friends grew tighter.
- A daily routine that includes an activity. There were days when I was fatigue, but I pushed through them so as to not sulk in bed all day. I took Zumba, signed up for a trial membership at a kickboxing gym and went for daily walks. Beating cancer is a mind over matter feat.
- A positive attitude. There’s power in words. Speak life and positivity over yourself. Wake up everyday with a smile and plan. You’re not sick, you’re well fighting an illness. For example, instead of calling the harsh chemo treatment (AC — the “red devil” as it’s referred to because of the color of blood-orange color of the medicine, I called it healing juice).
- A job, trade or hobby. If you can, work, whether remotely from home or in-office. It will help to maintain a since of normalcy and keep your mind off the cancer. I worked at an independent television news station in Houston as an anchor while going through chemo. On-air! I wore a beautiful, natural-looking wig, eyelashes, makeup and showed up 3–4 days a week to work. It also helped me to keep my skills sharp and my mind off the next chemo treatment.
- A medical genetic test. Who knows where I’d be today if I didn’t take my Invitae test and found out that I had the BRACA1 mutation. Anyone who is diagnosed with cancer or even those who want to learn about their risks should ask their doctor about a test. Individuals can even start the process on their own and order a simple saliva kit to their home from Invitae.
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’ve already created a movement…SurviveHER! Through my nonprofit to inform, inspire and empower women about breast cancer awareness and wellness, I am able to support so many women in their journeys. I’m also so blessed to raise funds to help women who need financial support for diagnostic tests, mammography services, etc. I would appreciate readers’ support of my advocacy efforts and mission.
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. :-)
How about brunch (my favorite pastime) with Michelle Obama, Oprah and Beyonce? That would be a dream come true. I consider each of them an inspiration as powerful, independent, strong Black women.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can go to the SurviveHER website: https://imasurviveher.com/
And Facebook: @ImaSurviveHER
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.