All posts by Melissa Eppard

About Melissa Eppard

Melissa Eppard is a Life Coach who believes that what you nurture will grow and loves helping people find their unique strengths, purpose and passion. After overcoming a breast cancer diagnosis in her mid-thirties she went on to pursue a vigorous coaching training through CTI (The Coaches Training Institute) in 2015. She draws upon 10+ years of work immersed in holistic health and wellness. Her inspiring survivorship blog www.Melissashealinghope.com chronicles her journey overcoming breast cancer in her mid-thirties and you can learn more about her work as a coach at www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com Melissa was born and raised in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York and lives with her husband and son.

Why I Posed Nude on National TV

The vision came to me in the shower. I saw myself standing naked at the mouth of an open cave in front of a reverse halo of blackness. Charise was there too, crouched down to take my picture. I remembered seeing her at that art opening last spring, and the open invitation to do a nude photo shoot. Maybe I should give her a call soon. Then, as these synchronicities tend to happen, she called me the very next day. She excitedly told me how she was just contacted by the Megyn Kelly Today show, and they wanted to feature her work, The Grace Project. She wanted to photograph me the very next week. Not only would I be posing topless for a photo shoot, but would be filmed showing my mastecomied chest— the after effects of breast cancer— to the entire world on NBC. To my own shock and disbelief, the word “yes” tumbled from my mouth!

I thought I would never, EVER pose topless on national TV. But I was never ever going to get breast cancer either, like Viola, the grandma I had never met.  She was ravaged by breast cancer and passed away at 58, about a year before I was born. I grew up hearing the myth, “Cancer often skips a generation,” but lived like I had fingers stuffed in my ears—la-la-la-la! Besides, I ate clean organic food, and I went to the gym. I was impervious to breast cancer until I found that lump in my breast when I was 36.

When my 3 year old son scampered over me, his little kick to the chest area drew my attention to this lump, the size of a nickel near my left areola. Even then I refused to think cancer. It must be a swollen lymph node from all the recent dental work, I thought. I was working as an office manager at a small chiropractic office at the time, and the doctor had just decided to drop our medical coverage a month before. It can’t be cancer. I can’t even go to the doctor right now.

Some divine timing took over because this happened to be 2014, the first year that enrollment in insurance marketplaces opened up, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. It would be another 5 months until I successfully navigated the goliath marketplace website, got a referral to a breast surgeon—and faced the fact that all the lymphatic massage and homeopathic medicine in the world wasn’t making this lump go away. In May of 2014 that illusion of cancer invincibility came crashing down with a diagnosis of an aggressive grade 3, stage 1, triple negative breast cancer.

I was the first woman in my line to benefit from the advances in genome mapping, and the first to test positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Now I could make choices knowing that I had an 85% risk of cancer recurrence if I kept any breast tissue, and that I had an elevated risk of a few other cancers. We found out my mom was also BRCA 1+, and she was able to have a prophylactic surgery, hopefully sparing her of ever getting breast cancer.  She told me how at 15 years old, she was terrified of her breasts and begged her pediatrician to remove them, even after seeing her mother’s butchered chest. Here she was finally getting her wish at 58, the same age her mother had died.

Charise Isis is half way through her mission to photograph 800 women who have had breast cancer and mastectomies, because that is roughly how many women are diagnosed with breast cancer each day in the U.S. But I couldn’t even consider being photographed when my friend first told me about The Grace Project in August of 2014. I was home nursing my incisions and steeling myself for the chemo treatments ahead. I looked like a Frankenstein Barbie with these hard, immovable implants shoved under my pectoral muscles, fresh red scars forming where my nipples once were and snaking towards my armpits. I was scared and angry at the absurdity of cancer. Some of The Grace Project women were smiling. All of the women in Charise’s photos looked so brave and strong. Would I feel this way someday too?

It would be a lie to portray this as one simple surgery. I had a Port-a-Cath installed and later removed—this would deliver the chemo right into a major artery or vein for distribution throughout the body. Then there was the infection in my breast and the ultrasound guided needle extraction to relieve some pressure, nerve-wrackingly close to my silicone implant. There was the round of IVF with egg retrieval to harvest some of my eggs before the chemical tsunami hit. I also had an augmentation surgery to make my chest more symmetrical. Then right before my 39th birthday I had my ovaries removed to protect against ovarian cancer, another high BRCA 1 risk.

I desperately wanted to move on with my life, but even though my hair grew back and I was rebuilding strength and stamina, there was still this looming cloud of fear and uncertainty. With triple negative cancer, there is this sense of being on high alert for 5 years following a diagnosis. If it comes back, it might do so in a big way, showing up in my bones, brain or organs. But if I can make it to this magic 5 year mark, the statistics show my chances of getting cancer drop back on par with national averages.

Cancerversaries, those dates of diagnosis, surgeries, and first or last treatments are very triggering for a cancer survivor.  That’s why I decided to get my chest tattooed on the 2nd anniversary of that July 14th mastectomy. I didn’t go for nipple tattoos either. For me faux nipples were a mocking symbol of pain and loss. To take that date back in a powerful way, my tattoo artist, Miranda Lorberer, helped me create a gorgeous design that would be mine alone. We created a sprawling organic design inspired by the fine linear Indian Mehndi tattoos, that combines spirals and florals and peacock feathers together. As she worked the ink into my skin, she told me how her dad had died of breast cancer when she was in high school. I could feel his presence in the room that day.

I met Charise in person at an art opening last fall. Seeing her beautiful images on large pieces of silk was otherworldly, like skin printed on skin, soft, flowy and feminine. I was still not one of the women in her pictures, but now I had a secret under my shirt. After having my breasts brutalized by surgery, after being poked, prodded and clinicalized by doctors at countless appointments, they were finally mine again. I felt rare and exotic, and wanted to keep my breasts secreted away for the boudoir. I was not ready for the camera.

Then came the call about the Megyn Kelly show. For a brief moment I felt scared to death to be filmed and photographed nude. Then I remembered I had already looked death in the face, and something broke free in me. I coach people every day to make powerful choices, to take meaningful risks. This was not a time for me to hide out. This “yes” was a resounding answer from deep in my cells, calling me forward to some unknowable place. I thought of the woman facing down her surgery, or sitting home hating her surgical drains and icing her chest. Maybe she would see my picture and begin to imagine her place in this world beyond the inky black uncertainty of her cancer diagnosis. Maybe I could offer a little hope when the light is dim.

I prepared for the photo shoot that day with a long bath, thinking about the talking points I wanted to cover while the camera crew filmed us. I made a mental list as I shaved and moisturized. I wanted to mention CharityNavigator, to think beyond pink ephemera when donating money towards cancer causes, and avoid those foundations that absorb a majority of funds towards administrative costs. I wanted to mention that often metastatic cancer research is underfunded—only 2% of funds going towards metastatic research is such a meek sliver of hope on the fundraising level. I wanted to encourage people to support local oncology programs, and individuals living with cancer in their own communities. I hoped to mention my coaching work and my blog, Melissashealinghope.

It was clear the producer had a very specific moment in mind, and my talking points were moot. With the cameras on me I felt raw, exposed, and vulnerable. I wondered how I would look. Who would see this? What would people say? This powerlessness was eerily reminiscent of those weeks around my diagnosis, when my hopes about having a certain surgery or working with a specific doctor were dashed. I was seeking a second opinion at Sloan Kettering when I learned that nipple sparing surgery wasn’t an option for me, that the ducts met in the nipple and could leaving them could lead to a cancer recurrence. Ironic how I could only be shown topless on TV without these little pieces of flesh, my innocent nipples offensive to my body and to the viewing public.

Standing there with the lens focused on me, Charise asked me to close my eyes, to breathe and feel my feet on the ground. Her soothing voice told me to send grounding roots deep down underground, and the camera jitters began to ease. With my eyes on the horizon, the camera crew faded. I thought of Milyn, Champagne Joy, and Karen. Once here, and now gone, leaving inexplicable holes where there used to be life. I thought of my friends still in the grips of their diagnosis, held in this dance between worlds. The cool air on my skin brought me back to the moment, and I looked into the camera. I never want to forget what a miracle it is to be.

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It’s that dreaded PINK Month again—October, and I’m wondering where the Awareness is in Breast Cancer Awareness month. 

Awareness is NOT in merchandising, in little pink ribbons and pink coffee cups, and key chains and bracelets. Putting more plastic ephemera out into the world is not helping our world to heal, nor will it miraculously produce a cure. Follow the money trail on those pink proceeds. The last thing a woman undergoing cancer treatment needs is a pink ribbon gift. A pink ribbon isn’t a badge of courage. For me it was an ugly, mocking reminder and a label separating me from the rest of humanity. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on Pinkwashing.

Where is the Awareness—to speak of breasts and breast cancer for only this month of the year? The obligatory programming and interviews begin like clockwork starting October 1st, and yet cancer knows no such schedule. Cancer will reach into so many of our lives, and affect the lives of 1 in 8 women!

I hope that Awareness is in the fingers. That you know each curve and bump and nodule, every detail of your personal landscape and return for self exams again and again. Know your family history. Be proactive in your screenings. Free screenings may be available for you if you don’t have insurance.

I hope that Awareness gives voice to more questions, that each person becomes their own best advocate—that questions fall upon compassionate ears, to doctors who will hear the gravity and concern between words.

I hope that Awareness leads your charitable contributions, that you follow the money trail and avoid top heavy charities that pump millions into administrative costs, and use tools like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. Decide if you want your money to go towards research and finding a cure, support services for cancer patients, helping support families, or education and public awareness. Seek to support people and organizations in your own local community as well.

Awareness is knowing that a mere 2% of funds raised in the name of Breast Cancer go to people with metastatic breast cancer. Metavivor.com states this:

“100% of breast cancer deaths occur because of metastasis, and almost 100% of people whose breast cancer has metastasized will die from it. In the United States alone, this means that more than 40,000 vibrant lives are lost each year.

          Despite these stark realities, the popular breast cancer fundraising movements give on average only 2% of their research funds to researching metastasis. Instead, their primary focus is on prevention, which does nothing to help those already diagnosed, and early detection, which does not impact those facing the ultimate death sentence of stage 4 breast cancer. And while only 6% – 10% of initial breast cancer diagnoses are metastatic, 30% of patients diagnosed with earlier stage breast cancer will eventually develop stage 4 breast cancer and die.” (continue)

Awareness is knowing that the language of war is not appropriate for someone who is weary from cancer. To talk of ‘battle’ and ‘fighting cancer’ does not resonate with everyone. It implies winning and losing, such as, “Oh, she lost her battle to cancer” and suggests that if only she had fought harder or longer, the outcome would have been different. Let us shift the language to Healing, and being present and honest about what Is. One cancer patient put it this way, “…instead of reaching for the traditional battle language, [life] is about living as well as possible, coping, acceptance, gentle positivity, setting short-term, achievable goals, and drawing on support from those closest to you.”

Awareness is knowing that projecting on someone how ‘Brave’ and ‘Inspirational’ they are is exhausting to uphold and sometimes deflating. It’s alright if you don’t know what to say. Don’t shy away. Compassionate silent presence is OK, as is the question, “What do you need?” or, “I am here for you.”

Each journey through cancer is a personal one, and some may gather strength or a sense of purposeful focus from clutching a pink ribbon key chain, or celebrate life with a pink ribbon tattoo. That’s cool. But let us look beyond the pink, beyond the month of October, and keep our Awareness on what brings healing, education, advocacy and support. Let’s put our money and energy in those places!

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*MELISSA EPPARD was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer in 2014. Now a ‘Thriver’ she coaches people through difficult transitions, and helps others live their best lives at any age or stage. She seeks to ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets, and lives by the belief that what you nurture will grow! www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

After Effects: The Scars People Don’t See

It was 2005 and I was in a cab in New York with Caroline Myss. I had met her in the lobby of her hotel and I was escorting her to the conference hall at the Sheraton in Times Square. After reading a few of her books, I was filled with excited anticipation, sharing this private time with her before she began her keynote. I remember this taxi ride, but can’t for the life of me remember what she told me. It was something important, words that I held dear and shared with friends at pivotal moments in their lives. Poof. It’s gone.

Earlier today I sat trying to recall the name of another author and teacher I love, someone who inspires a deep connection and stewardship with the earth, but the harder I searched, the bigger and blacker the hole in my memory became, until my brows furrowed into a knot and I knew I had to just let it go for the moment.

This happens to me all the time, and I have learned to jokingly play it off. I chalk it up to my “swiss cheese memory” or residual chemo brain. Although I finished 5 months of treatment back in January of 2015, I still struggle with recall. Three and a half years later, I’m still not ready to accept these permanent changes to the way I think, that whole chunks of my life’s experiences are wholly inaccessible to me now. It’s like a beloved photo album was punted it into the air and many of those key moments and conversations scattered, leaving sticky yellow rectangles and partially filled pages.

I lean on my husband and my close friends, lapping up their version of our shared memories, listening and watching carefully with this vague knowing of how the story ends up. I nod like I’ve seen the episode on Netflix. I know this one.

It brings up some bitterness and shame and mourning for my lost wit and edge. I so prized my ability to conjure up detail and random fact. It’s not all gone, but just that the wires get crossed, and the recall takes longer. I’m sure some of this happens naturally as one gets older, but this is different, a sharper left turn than the rounded bend of middle age. I mourn the loss of who I use to be, and who I could have become, some unknown potential if my memory were fully intact.

It’s not just access to older data, but newer input as well. To skillfully cover my back, I’m a fastidious note taker and list maker. Making a mark seems to ingrain new information in a visual way, so I can store it and access it. I make up for it in other ways too, ever privately tallying my usefulness, like my eerie wifeskill of locating a lost wallet and keys. I have a mental map of my home and keen intuition to guide me.

It occurred to me today that there was a trade off for my memories. Healing cancer taught me presence. It taught me to be in THIS moment. This type of beingness and presence takes place right here and now, not in yesterday or tomorrow or next week or month. Never before had I this much awareness and value in mindful presence, beyond a neat and tidy new-agey concept that I occasionally made time for between 7:15 and 7:20am on a meditation cushion with a perfectly straight back.

THIS presence I have come to know is entirely something else. It is a folding in on myself, sinking deeper into the couch cushions, swallowing my entirety and exhaling a timeless, borderless belonging with all things. What a paradox of wanting to know, needing to know, and tricking yourself to believe that you KNOW how anything will turn out, only to truly have certainty over what is here right now, and right now, and right now…

Also, I have learned (and try to remember) not to over commit, not to over-do it. Whereas I use to feel obliged to say “yes” to everything, I simply can’t. I learned that it is not only healthy, but good to say “no” or “maybe” to invitations and requests. Being present and mindful considers the conditions of what is here now, not two weeks or one month from now.

Though stronger and feeling better than I have since before cancer, my body is less forgiving now. I know when I have overdone it because the sting and numbness of neuropathy will flare up in my fingers and toes. I had hoped this lingering effect would have gone away, but it seems this is part of my life now. I have adapted to it, and use it as a measurement of how much rest and recovery is needed.

I forget where I heard this, but connect to the idea that “everyone’s got something!” I get curious and filled with empathy when I consider all that might be going on for someone sitting at the traffic light next to me, or passing by in the grocery store. It’s easy to see someone’s struggle when they cover their baldness with a headscarf, or walk with a limp, or use a wheelchair or cane. There might be emotional and psychological wounds hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to ignore or overlook the scars that no one sees. Wounds might disfigure and distort, but with time, support and reflection, they also have the potential to transform us in profound ways.

“Just let go. Let go of how you thought your life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.” 
― Caroline Myss

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art by Zapista 

 

*MELISSA EPPARD is a certified Life Coach. When her son was only 3 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer. Now she coaches people through difficult transitions, and helps people live their best lives at any age or stage. She helps ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets, and lives by the belief that what you nurture will grow! www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

3 Main Reasons Why You May Be Afraid to Ask for Help, and What You Can Do About It

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Most people have a really hard time asking for help. I was one of these people. It was far more natural to be in a position to helping others, than to ask for help myself. I was a lifelong chronic caregiver. This all changed after a breast cancer diagnosis when I was 33 years old, and struggled to balance surgery, treatment and healing while mothering a small child and staying afloat financially.

The first reason it’s so hard to ask for help is that we have deep seated SHAME around the idea of needing help. Being vulnerable and needy is generally looked down upon, while independence, strength, stamina and stoicism have been more highly valued in our society. The message is overt in how we reward leadership, ingenuity, courage, competition and stamina in sports, education and industry. When in a time of crisis or need, we are afraid of what this says about us as members of society, that we are somehow flawed if we appear fragile or vulnerable.

Author and Social Work researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, in her work on Shame Resilience Theory wrote, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnect.”

The reality is that most of us will at one time or another be faced with some kind of trial, a period of darkness where the body or the mind will fail us. Accidents happen. Illness happens. We have family members and friends who may experience their own hardships, and require us to step up as caregivers. You might have a child who gets sick or is born with special needs. You might find yourself caring for an aging parent who becomes ill. Even in the well adjusted adult, unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Turn on the news or the weather channel and you realize there are endless ways for us to unexpectedly find ourselves in a time of crisis.

Another reason people don’t want to reach out for help is that there is a fear of rejection, or concern that they will be a burden on others. Inside the mind is that alarming question, “What if they say no?” Before even asking for help, the brain throws up screeching brakes, offering up a convincing story about what will happen if we do ask for help. The ancient fight-or-flight limbic system of the brain has us hard wired for a negativity bias. We survived and evolved through generations by storing negative events and experiences. Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson writes, “To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.”

The thing is, just because we think it, doesn’t make it TRUE! We cannot assume to know the response we will illicit by asking for help. There is an art and a science to making a request, but in starts from within us, being willing to ask for help, getting clear on what we need and resourcefully building out circles of support.

Finding yourself in an unexpected spiritual, physical, emotional or financial crisis is shocking and identity altering. It may be hard to even accept that help is needed. If like me, you were accustomed to being an energetic doer and go-getter, if you were always the supportive one and the caregiver, it takes a moment to adjust and be honest with yourself about where you are at this particular moment. Being in a place of need is a scary reckoning with the things that feel out of control in your life.

Self-acceptance, being with the fact that you are in some strange new, vulnerable territory is step one. Coming to terms with how you view the idea of receiving help, and finding new perspectives to what it means to be supported is vital to making that leap. Knowing what you need in terms of support, what kinds of qualities to look for and the specific supportive roles that will help you at this time in your life is the next important step.

If you have made it this far and would like my top tips on how to build out circles of support, please email me here.

Hidden Gifts

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I’ll never forget the day someone told me that, “there will be a gift for you in all of this.” At the time, I was sutured and sore, and facing down a grueling 5 months of chemotherapy. I was simultaneously confounded and confused by that statement. But in the end she was right. There was a tremendous gift in being broken apart, in having my life dismantled by a breast cancer diagnosis in my mid-thirties.

I learned so much about myself in that difficult year, and the healing years that followed. In retrospect, I had been coasting along in quiet discontent in many places of my life. From the safe sidelines of a reliable but unfulfilling job; to the unconscious energy suck of a few unhealthy and less than nurturing relationships; to the old, old story I had harbored about my innate value -that feeling of sacrifice and exhaustion as a status symbol.

ALL of that had fallen apart as my world became so small and every drop of energy and focus had to go into my treatment plan and being a mommy to our little Julian, who was only 4 at the time. I remember feeling quite outside of myself, as if the pain of the experience had forced my spirit to the outer reaches of my energy field. After growing exhausted by the usual “Get into Action” default response to stress, I became a quiet observer to this experience. I had to surrender to what was happening, that the sense of control I had always harbored was really an illusion. As terrifying as that was, to feel a loss of control, there was also this deep peace that came with surrendering, like slipping under warm bath water and letting it contain me. I came to understand that saying, “Let Go and Let God.”

At first, upon diagnosis, God and I were not on speaking terms. But to be fair, our relationship had really been on and off again in the years leading up to this. At first I was enraged with God, the Universe, Spirit… and then I was sorry. I saw how I had been unconscious and ungrateful in many places in my life. I looked at my little boy, and worried about the future. I felt this deep prayer from every cell of my body, asking that I be allowed to live, to see my son grow up. It was a drum beat inside of me that grew louder and louder, and built up to a primal cry that screamed: MY WORK HERE IS NOT YET DONE!

When every little task is hard, exhausting and painful, the pace of living is so slow that you are compelled to notice and appreciate the tiny things in life, like the changing shades of green in the spring, how bark feels on your skin, fleeting kindnesses between strangers, the scratchy scruff of a father’s kiss, the glimmer of someones eye as they watch a toddler blow bubbles… I found myself recording every single detail like a starving person, filing it all away. Even the ordinary annoyances were somehow precious, like the misty rain that blows sideways into your face, traffic lights that paused too long, and corny radio DJ’s. How fascinating this human experience is! Had I been asleep, just numbed out and entitled to this front row seat for so long?

Where I couldn’t do for myself, I humbly and painfully had to ask for help. This was another hard “gift” to swallow. From wiping my own bottom to emptying surgical drains and changing bandages, to accepting financial assistance to pay the bills, I had to overcome my pride and shame, and so much harsh self-judgment around needing help. The blessing of being loved and supported, of feeling held by my family, friends and community was overwhelming. I knew for sure now that I had never been doing it on my own, as much as I valued being a strong, independent woman. In so many ways, my life was intersected with other people, and I experienced this fresh new look on receiving help. There was a gift for giver as well as me, the recipient. Love flowed both ways as I opened to the willingness to receive.

I learned the gift of saying No, or Maybe. Not now. I can’t commit. I was not wrong or bad for saying No. Instead of feeling stress and obligation, I began a campaign of saying Yes to myself, and my healing. I didn’t know how I would be feeling next Saturday, or on the third Tuesday of the month, so I never said Yes. It was a freeing revelation to be living in the moment, tuning into what was present and needed right then. Saying Yes to everything was so entangled in that old Good Girl story, having to people please and tend to other people’s feelings and happiness. What I did choose was fully my choice, made consciously in the moment. That is freedom.

In this cancer experience, I had to unpack the shadow side to all the newagy spiritualism and holistic health that I had been seeped in while living in Woodstock, NY. I had believed for so long that if I thought the right thoughts, said the right affirmations, ate the right food, did the right exercises, had the right spiritual practices, that I would be impervious to bad things happening to me. All that control and drive for perfectionism had created a stressful discord in me. What I know now is that I have this BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and there is this dance between genetic code and the relationship we have with ourselves and our environment. (The field of Epigenetics, how certain genes are expressed, or turned off and on is fascinating and worth looking into.)

Another incredible gift for me was finding my writing again. I started this blog, Melissa’s Healing Hope as a way to keep my family and friends in the loop while maintaining some distance and privacy as I healed. It turned out to be a lifeline to the outside world and a way to fully process what was happening to me. I have continued to write ever since, taking writing classes and I’m putting together a book!

The biggest blessing in all of this was falling deep in love with the art of life coaching and beginning my own business. Melissa Eppard Coaching, is now in it’s 4 year!  My driving force and mission is to help ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone I meet. I want to inspire a proactive investment in every client’s fulfillment, purpose, passion and peace, so that this inner evolution does not have to be born out of some personal tragedy or trauma, but something they choose and create consciously. This work is like holding up a beacon of hope when the waters are choppy and storm clouds gather. If I can turn that light on and help someone shine a little brighter, then we illuminate the world around us. I found that thing I was made for. What a gift!

 

I found the hidden key to post-menopausal weight loss!

I once canceled an appointment with the oncologist because I felt like I was too fat.

Here’s what happened… The Dr. had been telling me for the last two visits that it was in my best interest to eat a sugar free, mostly fruit and vegetable diet -either that, or take the drug Tamoxifen. The later didn’t make sense as an option because when presented with the pamphlet, it said it was only effective for woman who had hormone+ cancers, AND that there was an increased risk of uterine cancer for those who took the drug! I also read something about needing to wear gloves when you wipe, and to make sure your children don’t come in contact with your urine by accident. huh? no thanks. The choice to focus on diet made sense to me.

But to be challenged to lose weight by the oncologist after surgical menopause, became a preposterous chore! My metabolism had flat-lined, and I had this new level of midsection muffin top! It didn’t seem to matter how much I worked out, or if I counted calories. I wasn’t seeing lasting change. Instead of facing the doctor with my failure (yeah right, lose 15 lbs in the wake of the Christmas season!) I bailed on the appointment.

Now, I love bodies of all shapes and sizes, but I personally felt weighted down.  I was always tired, chasing cups of coffee as the day wore on. Not only was my energy schlumpy, but my mind was foggy too. I was missing the edge and drive that a younger estrogen intact version of me use to feel.

But I have made a tremendous breakthrough!!! I just lost 10 lbs in one week without starving myself, buying into some big PLAN with products, OR exercising like a MANIAC!

In the past, I’ve tried all sorts of cleanses and ways of eating, from vegetarianism, to veganism, raw, gluten free and paleo, but what is rocking my world right now is my discovery of a KETOGENIC way of eating, or Keto diet. It really isn’t a diet per se. I would think about it as a life altering perspective shift in how you view food. It is a lifestyle change.

In the first 7 days of eating this way, I have lost 10 lbs, including 2″ off my waistline, and 3″ off of my hips. I have increased energy, stamina and focus. All prior gastrointestinal troubles I’ve had, are gone. No more bloating or gassiness. The best part of all is that I don’t feel plagued with intense cravings for sugar or carbohydrates. I don’t feel starved, hungry, deprived or limited in my food choices, and still I can’t – help – loosing -weight!

I have found a ton of Keto recipes, articles and blogs, and have learned ways to modify this diet for vegetarians. The biggest thing is that there is a complete elimination of sugar, processed foods and nearly all carbohydrates. Carbs convert to sugar, and if your body is running on glucose and fructose, you don’t burn the fat stores in your body. By starving your body of sugar and carbs, you turn into a fat burning MACHINE!

Ketosis is maintained by following a basic guideline of eating:

75% healthy fats, oils and non-starchy vegetables

20% protein

5% carbohydrates in the form of berries, and only a few other foods in small amounts.

This way of eating flies in the face of the SAD (Standard American Diet) we grew up eating. We have been force fed a food pyramid  that dictates that we eat lots of whole grains and carbohydrates, and pursue all things low-fat. Add to this, the travesty of processed food, which has tons of sugar, corn syrup, saturated fats, additives, preservatives and dyes.

I encourage everyone who has an inkling of interest in learning how to eat a healthier Ketogenic diet to watch a documentary that is out on Netflix right now called, The Magic Pill. It follows different people with a range of illnesses as they switch from a SAD diet to a Keto diet. Watch and see what happens! There are profound opportunities for healing and a better life waiting for people who are struggling with diabetes, high blood pressure, autism, neurological problems, gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune disorders, cancer, depression and poor self esteem.

I am so excited by this shift that I want to tell everyone I know. This way of eating is helping so many people, and might be just the shift you have been waiting for!

If you would like to learn about an opportunity to be a part of a group to share information and support, to fully step into a ketogenic, fat burning, energy filled life… if you want that group accountability and encouragement to lean on, send me an email today! I will share what I know, we will learn from each other, and from people who have been rocking this way of eating with great success for long periods of time.

 

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*MELISSA EPPARD is a certified Life Coach and Holistic Cancer Coach. When her son was only 3 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer. Now she coaches people through difficult transitions, teaches stress management techniques, and helps people live their best lives at any age or stage. She helps ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets, and lives by the belief that what you nurture will grow! www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

*Please note that I am not a dietitian, nutritionist or medical doctor, and am not giving health advice or nutritional plans. I seek to share information and inspiration based on my own experiences, and encourage everyone to do their own research. If you have a serious medical condition and take medication, you should continue to consult with your medical providers. 

 

You Get What You Deserve: How my old couch taught me a lesson in self worth

When you sit on an uncomfortable couch long enough, you might not notice at first. Over time your backache starts to signal that something is wrong. This happened to me, and I didn’t put it together that it was due to our old couch until one day, sitting upon a friend’s new sofa, it dawned on me that it was time to let this saggy old piece of furniture go. My friend’s couch showed me that THIS is what relaxation at the end of a long day should feel like!

I brought it up to my husband, but he resisted the idea of a new couch. It was impractical. There were many other things that took precedent as far as our family spending went. “We don’t need a new couch. It isn’t that bad,” he argued. This awareness was growing in me, and the once sagging cushions now felt like nothing more than a tablecloth on top of some milk crates. Like The Princess and the Pea, I swear I could feel every piece of the wood frame poking up at me in the most hostile and unwelcoming way. It a statement of protest, I refused to sit on the couch, but would stretch out on my yoga mat instead.

Enough was enough! After a week of yogi protest… (Click here to read more)

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Rewrite Your Story

Storytelling has been one of the most powerful tools on my healing path. From the dark depths of shock to the dangerous ledge of the unknown, words planted an anchor to hang onto. Syntax sutured up the ragged edges of emotional and physical wounds.

I can commit words to tell a story and rely on them to be unchanged, even as the body gives way to it’s mysterious betrayals. Relationships can change, schedules can shift, but I can always count on my stories to be there at any hour of the night. Stories are time capsules for when memory fails me. They are like vaccines, little vials of a painful experience turned innocuous. I can take them in like supplements and fortify my system against the potential onslaught of what may come. I am made stronger because I have ingested my story, fully processed it and integrated it into who I am today.

Where a sense of control in life is sometimes slippery, you have agency over your story. You can rewrite and revise at any time. The voice you speak in, the perspective from which you tell your story reveals many new dimensions. As a kid I loved those choose your own adventure books, with their magical permutations leading you to new outcomes. How can you look at your own story so the outcome unfolds in some new way, drawing that line to where you have arrived now?

Tomorrow evening I will share a story at a local art opening. Handwriting On the Wall, at the Art Society of Kingston, will present art and spoken word that address the experiences people have had with cancer.

The story I have chosen is one of my favorites, because it is about a real life event where I was getting my footing as a new cancer survivor, still physically healing and rebuilding my life post treatment. In a very unexpected way, as I let myself be swept up in imagination and play, I received a gift of healing from the ocean.

I’d love to share it with you here, in case you live too far away or are unable to make this event…

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The Magic Mermaids and a Gift from the Ocean

As we drove over cesspools of polluted swamp land, I was conscious to mouth breathe so I wouldn’t have to smell the sludgy Hackensack River. The seat belt dug into my portacath as the Jersey Turnpike took us closer to the shore and I silently prayed the industrial excrement wasn’t traveling all the way to the ocean.

I was heading to the Jersey shore with my 5 best friends in celebration as another one of the pack crested her 40th birthday. It was the first time I had been away from my husband and young son, and this trip marked a whole year of intense healing, a year since my breasts had been chiseled away, and 6 months since chemo had ended.

With the perfect forecast for endless sunny skies, vacation was off to a promising start. We decided on Asbury Park, and the small concrete cube of ‘Madame Marie’s Temple of Knowledge’ was the sentry point. We soon met up with Christie’s mom, her sister Suzanne and her two kids, and her brother Mike. We planted umbrellas and staked our small beach empire, before heading for that first dip in the water.

Sometimes the ocean has a foreboding feeling, the jellyfish just one wave crash away, the shells all angular and cutting the bottom of your feet. On this particular day, there was no imaginary shark frenzy just below the lip of light blue that gave way to the secret deep. The surf was just the right amount of surprise and surrender, playful without being a bully. I eased my way past the breakers, testing my upper body strength. In this salty buoyancy I found that I could still swim pretty well in spite of the lifting and rearranging of my pectoral muscles the previous summer. As I floated on my back, I imagined my breast implants as little life preservers carrying me over the waves.

Back on my towel, and not long after the salt began to crystalize on my skin, Christie’s niece Anabelle, a cheerful and confident girl, asked if I would go back to the water with her. She had that inexhaustible energy of a 6 year old and her enthusiasm for the ocean was contagious. The waves had begun to pick up as the tide shifted inward and the greedy oceanfront landholders were sent scattering further back, pushing us like a heard of seals closer together.  We had to run as fast as we could to get from the umbrella shadows to the water, lest we be scorched by the fire walk across the sand.  Anabelle squealed as she grabbed my hand to brace against the whitewater assault.

“Let’s pretend we’re mermaids!” she managed before diving under the next wave. “We’re mermaid sisters. My name is Coral. What’s your mermaid name?”

The image of a precious little sphere clamped safely in an oyster shell came to me. “I’m Pearl,” I quickly replied.

“We have special powers too. I can control the waves and call the other mermaids to us. What can you do?”

I paused for a moment and decided, “I have the ability to fight off sharks… and I can clean the pollution from the ocean.”

“I’m the big sister and you’re my little sister,” Coral declared. “I’ll say when to dive and when to jump.”

We frolicked mermaid style, our tail fins propelling us under or over each oncoming wave. At some point Coral told me that our parents had died and we enacted the scene where we desperately called for them. I ignored the stares of our fellow swimmers nearby as we lamented over the bloody upper half of our mother as it came washing towards us. I had to swim out and defend the honor of our parents, by killing the sharks who had murdered them.

In all our exuberance for the ocean, in our plight for mermaid survival and celebration of our special powers, I truly forgot myself and WAS a mermaid for that time. The most miraculous thing happened next. I could see a little hill of a wave forming, and judged that it would perfectly hit its peak by the time it reached my position. Instead of jumping over or diving under, I decided to do as mermaids will and flip backwards in the direction of the rolling wave. There was no time to overthink it, and in that instant my arms went pin wheeling backwards as I flipped my body over. The wave wrenched my arms back and if not for the water in my ears, there would have been an audible tear as the scar tissue in my armpits shredded away.

The shock of it made me grab my chest and for a whole 10 seconds I froze wondering if I had just completely ruined my breast surgery, undoing a yearlong saga of difficult healing. Then I had to fight through another wave, and I noticed that the pain was quickly dissipating. Was it just the cold water, was I in shock? I began testing range of motion and to my amazement I found I could reach my arms all the way up and around, my chest opening to the sun in the deepest stretch I had felt since the double mastectomy.

What a gift the ocean had given me that day. I had let myself be carried away in this fantasy of freedom and strength, pure feminine power in the midst of the sea. I wish I could have peered into Madame Marie’s crystal ball a year ago, when I felt crushed by the pain of that surgery and could only see the oncoming wave of chemotherapy before me. I would have seen myself a year later, playing freely, still a strong swimmer in the ocean. I was healed by those waters and the magical mermaid sisterhood of New Jersey.

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Melissa Eppard lives with her family in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY area. After overcoming breast cancer in her mid-30’s, she knows that nothing is guaranteed in life.  As a certified personal Life Coach she has made it her mission to ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets.  What you nurture will grow! Learn more and follow her other blog at http://www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

 

 

 

Give your Fear a Job

star-3291355_1280WHAT IF runs you wild. Heart races. Stomach clenches. Palms sweat, teeth grind. The worst case scenario chases circles in your mind. It takes you out of now and into a place later on today, or tomorrow, or next week. But what if… just for right now, you planted your feet squarely on the ground, and breathed all your energy back into this singular moment? Really take it all into your belly. There… just for a second, did you feel it?

And even as you read this next paragraph, you find this pause slipping away. We have this biological imperative to hold up our current situation, and look at it through the lens of our past. By knowing the poisons and pains, all the possible hurts, we can learn to survive and evolve.

But still, STILL, there are things beyond our control you say. What if? What IF!

When flight, fight and freeze has hijacked your health and comfort, it overrides your sense of choice and agency in life. Protection becomes imprisonment. It wears down your very sense of purpose and place.

There are many paths forward. For deep trauma, trained support is imperative. But for the everyday wear-you-down anxiety and stress, one very practical tool is to give your fear a JOB.

Assign it to making sure your taxes get filed on time. Put it to work finally getting that thing checked out. Make a Dr. appointment. Maybe the job is to clean up how you’re feeling, or what you’re taking responsibility for. The job could be to sit and write and clear. You can say, “just for today fear, I want you to be on the lookout for any person or activity that sucks my energy dry.”

Notice. Fear is SO good at being on alert.

Anxiety, fear, dread, worry, -all our many nuanced ways at describing that paralyzing ache. What job can you give your fear today? How can you work with it so it moves you forward?

 

If you found this helpful and would like another tool to help manage stress and anxiety, click here. Visit me at MelissaEppardCoaching.com to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Goodbye

I’m grieving for my mother in law, Linda, who only yesterday turned 64 years old. She is slipping further down the long dark well of early onset Alzheimer’s. Today I found myself trying to express to her, in the simplest of ways, that bad things happen to good people. Even as her brain function is diminishing, I see her grasping, as we all do, to understand WHY. She can’t always remember the right words, but what she was trying to ask the chaplain who visited her today is, “What did I do to deserve this? WHY am I being punished? How could God allow this to happen? Was I a bad person in my past life? Why is this happening?”

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To even write about her feels like a betrayal. To mourn for her or memorialize her while she still lives and breathes, is all wrong. At the same time, the articulate and thoughtful woman I came to call Mom, and have grown to love over the last 18 years, is gone. In her place is this anxious, paranoid and sometimes angry woman. How much longer will she even know who I am?

I shower her. I comb her hair. I help her get dressed. Even if my words overwhelm and confuse her, I know she can feel my love when I rub lotion into her hands. We are looking towards outside help, for nursing home placement, a way to keep her safe. She thinks she has done something wrong, that she is bad and we are punishing her by putting her away somewhere. There is no fixing this situation, no way to know how long we will go on with this long goodbye.

It hurts to be here and it hurts to leave. I feebly pat myself on the back for what small offering of a shower or a meal I can provide. I push paper. I make phone calls. I keep busy.

Difficult times come. Sometimes hardships roll in like waves, seemingly one thing upon the next. Sometimes it’s hard to find which way is up, to find the space for little gasps of breath so we can brace for the next wave.

Try as we might to draw meaningful connections, sometimes the reason never comes. We tell ourselves a story, but the moral is insufficient. The protagonist is lost somewhere between the lines, the pages tear stained and the words blurred.