The Institute for Natural Medicine first heard about Victoria Cramer after her first battle with breast cancer (read her story here). We were so inspired, we checked in with her again, only to find she began round two. As always, she is a fighter who finds joy, silliness and fun no matter the challenge. She recently wrote this article to encourage other women going through the same challenges and for all of us living through the pandemic.
At 41 years old, as a CEO, avid mountain bike racer, and mother of infant twins, I was struck with an aggressive form of breast cancer (read about that here). Now 6 years later, I have battled cancer twice and survived 3 grueling years of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation, and lots of speed bumps and procedures, enough to make anyone’s head spin. I credit my extraordinary mental & physical resilience to my integrated healthcare strategy that blended naturopathic medicine and allopathic medicine.
When I had the wind taken out of me with a cancer diagnosis, I decided on what mattered most to me and wrote it down. I was determined to take this journey and rock it. How I showed up for the people in my network and the many doctors and nurses I would experience mattered. I set out to battle with humor, tenacity, resilience, and grace. You cannot accomplish that without choosing joy and being happy.
The most pivotal appointment I had was with Dr. Daniel Rubin in Scottsdale, AZ, a naturopathic oncologist. He was knowledgeable about every aspect of my blood work and the first doctor to clearly articulate how serious my cancer was and how aggressive I would need to be to beat it. He also understood how important it was for me to be able to keep running, biking, and chasing my twin infants around throughout treatment. He was an advocate for my entire being – body and mind.
Let’s Get Our Happy On!
So how are you feeling about this COVID situation? This is the kind of brutal battle that requires mental toughness to lean in and be resilient. Anyone can fake it until they make it for a short period of time but let’s face it, Costco sized bottles of alcohol have been needed for months now. If we don’t want a bunch of pickled livers, we may just need a slight shift in approach. I’m going to share with you a few of my warrior tips to choose joy and find happiness. I can’t promise you won’t have a down day, but you’ll likely be able to bounce out of that negative bubble a touch faster.
My Secrets to Happiness
Just show up – When the road is long, people just stop showing. It’s easy to say “well, what if I just missed one radiation treatment?” and it isn’t about missing one, it’s about not allowing yourself to say you’re done until you’ve finished the work. It’s about the cumulative effort. If you say it’s ok to skip one treatment, you’ll find ways to skip more. If you miss one day of exercise, you’ll feel it’s ok to skip another. If you allow sadness one day, you’ll allow it again. Warriors don’t do this. They reliably #justshowup These are times that call for the rigor of a warrior, so approach your happiness with this same intention.
Exercise Every Day – Read this as move every day. You don’t have to be a runner or a cyclist, but you do need to incorporate movement of at least 30 to 60 minutes every day of your life or at least of your journey. The best thought leaders on the science of happiness have shared the single most impactful thing you can do to keep a positive happy engine running in you is exercise. If you stay on the couch, then you need to get rid of the couch! To ensure I was exercising every day, I signed up for monthly races. Throughout my breast cancer battle(s) I completed a half marathon, dozens of mountain bike races, and five 24-hour mountain bike races, and even hit a personal best while on the hardest forms of chemo. Warriors realize their weaknesses and shore them up by putting in place accountability partners or apps to ensure compliance. That is exactly what I had to do! I use an app called Strava, I used Facebook posts daily of my exercise, and I used teammates and my husband to keep me moving every day. If someone is expecting you, it is much harder to skip a day. Don’t say to yourself, “I’m sure she means most days of the week or maybe 5, because everyone needs a rest day.”. Nope, that is not what I’ve said or believe. You get to rest 2-24 hours a day, so giving your body one hour of increased movement every day is crucial. It generates oodles of endorphins and the more intense you can do the exercise the more free your brain will become to make room for happiness and profound thoughts and ideas.
Choose Joy – This is about consciously choosing to cut out anything negative in your life and choosing consciously to seek out humor and happiness. What I realized when I looked at my days is that the news never uplifted me, so I cut it out. I had relationships in my life that provided me only anxiety or sadness, so I cut those out. I infused excerpts of gratitude into my daily routine, found podcasts of inspiration and discovered thought leaders on the science of happiness. I made room for enjoying a cup of coffee peacefully in my favorite places and I made time for my family and for enjoying the screams and screeches of pure joy from my little kids. I transitioned from “finding one reason to smile every single day” to “find one person to give a smile to every day”. Once I made that shift, joy was all around.
Give Give Give – When you choose to uplift human dignity and do something for someone else, something incredible happens in your mind and in turn it releases endorphins that creates a smile on your heart (and probably on your face). We have so many opportunities right now to do something about the neighbor who can’t go grocery shopping, the one who seems lonely through this COVID battle, or a friend who could just use a note to remind them that they are strong enough to endure this pandemic. When you look around to help someone else, you quickly forget your own pain/anguish. Uplift someone today…not tomorrow.
Live Life Loudly – Eat the cake! This is about choosing deliberately that today will be epic. It’s about declaring that you are going to be epic and do epic stuff. Choose to learn something new. Go on a new adventure, drive a different route, or just put your pants on with a different leg going in first. Change up your routine, make a meeting more fun by asking everyone a hilarious question, be a little unpredictable and passionately be creative. It sounds a bit manic doesn’t it? It is about living every day as if it was your last and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t take that one last day and waste it with the mundane. I know you can’t avoid the basics in life, but you can choose to make them more fun or turn them into a game. Living life loudly is about putting a little vacation into every day of your life to invigorate you for this warrior mindset needed to battle on tomorrow. Now stop being so serious and start laughing again.
Do you remember your first day of school or thee first job you ever landed? What would your life be like if you treated each day with the same unbridled enthusiasm? Let’s face it, you probably don’t even remember what happened the first day of school but you do remember how you felt. That feeling is generated inside of you and nothing but sheer excitement. Why can’t more of your days be like that? Now go find your latte moment, silly moment, giving moment, or go for a walk and discover the world around you.
By Victoria Cramer, founder of VP Strategies and author, Living Life Loudly – How Will You Face Your Speed Bump? is a woman who runs head first into life, no matter the challenge. Even in the midst of her second fight with breast cancer, her motto is: Do More Epic Stuff & Fight for Happiness Like a Warrior! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org