…Being grateful. Gratefulness makes you happy. Happiness does not make you grateful. Learning to see the beauty in any situation and not react. Stress is also a very important factor in managing not only your physical health but mental health. Taking up a yoga class or form of release. Learning to breathe and let go of situations that you have no control over. We must let go of certain things in life that may bother us. Lowering our stress level is easier said than done but it is important to find that outlet to find your inner peace. It is a daily practice and journey.
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 Flora Migyanka.
Flora is the Founder and President of The Dynami Foundation. Most importantly, she is a mother of two children, breast cancer survivor and patient advocate.
After she went for her first mammogram screening at age 40, Flora was diagnosed with Stage one Invasive Lobular Carcinoma and treated at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, one of the nation’s leading centers for breast cancer care. After a long road which involved a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, and ongoing tamoxifen therapy, Flora came out on the other side healthy and cancer-free.
Flora felt healthy and inspired to spread her story to increase funds and awareness surrounding breast cancer, which affects 1 in 8 women in the U.S., by creating The Dynami Foundation.
The foundation’s key fundraiser, Uncork for a Cure was launched six years ago in a suburb in Michigan as a fundraiser for breast cancer research. Since then, the annual event has grown tenfold, incorporating the city’s award-winning chefs, sommeliers, and artists all uniting for one cause: breast cancer research and awareness. To date, over 1 million dollars have been raised.
Aside from hosting Uncork for a Cure, Flora volunteers her time teaching yoga to cancer survivors for the Cancer Support Community. She is on the Breast Cancer Patient Advisory Board at University of Michigan, and the National Steering Committee for the Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance.
Flora has a passion for her Greek roots (Dynami is the Greek word for ‘strength’) and resides in Plymouth Michigan with her family. Besides advocating for breast cancer, Flora is an account executive at a global biotech company.
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 grew up in New London Connecticut, a small coastal New England town also known as the whaling city. I grew up at the “beach” and the sea is my happy place. My family is from Greece and owned a produce business, specifically bananas. My mom helped with the business bookkeeping, managed me and my siblings and loved to cook. I have one older sister and older brother. I was the third. They were both a bit older than me so I was very much independent at a very young age. I had to figure out alot on my own at a very young age. I started my first job in 4th grade as a paper route delivery person. I would get on my bike after school each day and deliver the newspapers to all my customers. My father instilled in me at a young age that we work hard, have grit, a bit of tough love and that life sometimes is not fair. I most likely got my work ethic from him. As I got older, I held 2–3 jobs working in restaurants as a server, bus girl, bartender you name it. I loved working in the hospitality industry. I started my post college career at Johnson and Johnson as an account rep. It was great extensive training and mentorship to better articulate, communicate and learn to work with people. I have now been with a biotech company focusing on new cancer therapies for over 10 years as an account manager and in the industry over over 25 years. I love helping people and making a difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You get strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Do the thing you think you cannot do” — Eleanor Roosevelt
It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and face fear and being dealt with a deck of cards you did not ask for. I learned this at a young age as my father had Parkinson’s disease and suffered for a very long time and tragically died. I watched first hand suffering, courage and being vulnerable. As I move through my own health journey, I find through sharing my story and connecting with other women and knowing I can provide a sense of calm and help work through this fear together, is an incredibly healing process for me and the women I have met along this path.
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?
For me, the clock stopped on April 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm. I answered the phone while en route to the bus to pick up my daughter from kindergarten. My 3 year old son was still napping. I had my first routine mammogram just weeks earlier, and mostly it had just been an annoyance to schedule. I was a busy working mom, and why should I be thinking about cancer? I was only 40, I was healthy. I practiced yoga, ate well, no smoking, and a small family history. People who are in good health don’t get cancer, or so I thought. After my first images, radiology called back, but I didn’t think much of it. We were away on a ski trip and I thought I would deal with that when I get back. I then had to get more images, then immediately two biopsies, and then four days of waiting. And then the call. “YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER”. You never want to hear those words. It literally took my breath away. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer.
I knew I wanted the best care I could possibly get. Every case is different and unique. The University of Michigan Breast Center was the absolute best choice for my case. Even through the terror of the diagnosis, I had a sense of peace when I met my doctors. When you’re diagnosed with a disease like cancer, you quickly become an expert on things you never thought you would want or need to know like how many doctors’ appointments you can fit into a day while juggling being a mom and keeping that brave face for your children. You will experience a new form of tiredness you never thought possible. The day you are diagnosed is the day you will see life from a different lens.
After a Bilateral Mastectomy reconstruction, I had a long road of rehabbing with complications from my surgery. I was unlucky and developed lymphedema, seromas, and post mastectomy pain syndrome. I was in occupational therapy and physical therapy for two years. It was a full-time job to get well. I had my family and an army of good friends and neighbors who helped me and felt very fortunate. I am now in my 9th year of taking tamoxifen, a type of anti-estrogen therapy that is recommended to decrease the chance of a type of breast cancer that needs estrogen to return. These therapies have shown to increase the chance of survival in women but must be taken for long periods of time — at least 5 years maybe 10 or longer and they come with their own set of side effects to manage. I have had many bumps on my journey, but I am VERY fortunate today.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
How my cancer diagnosis would affect my children and my husband, John. Our children were so young at the time -3 and 5 years old. They needed their mom. I was so worried about my family and so determined to get well to be present for all the milestones.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I worked through the stress by diving deep into the practice of yoga to ease my mind, body and spirit — an act so critical to my healing process that I became a certified yoga instructor and volunteered my time teaching yoga to cancer survivors through the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor. I find great peace in yoga and it’s a daily practice to stay grounded. It is life changing.
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 husband John, my children and my friends who are so incredibly dear to me. I cherish every one of them.
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?
Being grateful. Gratefulness makes you happy. Happiness does not make you grateful. Learning to see the beauty in any situation and not react. Stress is also a very important factor in managing not only your physical health but mental health. Taking up a yoga class or form of release. Learning to breathe and let go of situations that you have no control over. We must let go of certain things in life that may bother us. Lowering our stress level is easier said than done but it is important to find that outlet to find your inner peace. It is a daily practice and journey.
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?
Patients should become experts on their disease and feel empowered to ask many questions to their cancer team. Be bold. You need to be CEO of yourself, build your team of experts, research the best care and clinical trials and generate a strategic plan that best suits you. I feel the more engaged you are, the more control you have — mentally and physically — over your care. You must not let the fear of the unknown paralyze you. It is very important to learn all of your family history. Whatever disease it is. Having a family history of early onset breast cancer in close relatives may be a reason to investigate genetic testing. Women with close relatives who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease. So, for you, it is important to be proactive and have the conversation with your doctor and be followed closely. Maybe that is a closer screening plan which would be tailored to your situation.
Research is also critical. I have worked in the biotech industry for over 25 years and know firsthand the value of such trials. I see instances of new therapies being developed for many diseases, with some patients exhausting all options before entering a clinical trial that could save their lives. Some are very fortunate, and others are not, but without doing these trials and supporting research, the scientists will not make any progress.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
My experience and sense of urgency led me to found an event called Uncork for a Cure which started in 2016. The event was an idea over a glass of bubbly with my first cousin and master sommelier, Madeline Triffon of Plum Market, and Luciano DelSignore of Bacco Ristorante and Pernoi. They believed in me to take this idea and leap. I felt this need to highlight and bring together great culinary leaders with the booming food scene in Detroit while aiding and elevating the need to support Breast Cancer. There was no event like this in the metro Detroit area. Breast Cancer is so pervasive. The statistics have not changed. 1 in 8 will be diagnosed in their lifetime. Since its inception, the annual event has grown tenfold, incorporating the city of Detroit’s award-winning chefs, sommeliers and artists all uniting for one cause: breast cancer research and awareness. The hospitality industry has come together to show their support and meet this challenge. From great need can come great generosity.
In just five years, Uncork for a Cure along with our non-profit the Dynami Foundation, has raised over 1 million dollars funding six research studies on Lobular Breast cancer, an underfunded and under researched common subtype of Breast Cancer which accounts to 40k women diagnosed a year. We are determined to change this statistic on Lobular Breast Cancer and funding research is the only way. By collaborating with our community and supporting the researchers, physicians and continued patient outreach, we will further foster our direct impact locally and nationally.
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.
- You need to be CEO of yourself, build your team of experts, research the best care and clinical trials and generate a strategic plan that best suits you. I feel the more engaged you are, the more control you have — mentally and physically — over your care.
- Advocate and Educate yourself
- Find an outlet whether yoga, running, group class, or walking. It helps your mind process any pain, and learning to let go, to accept things you can’t change and learning to love yourself and be content.
- Don’t let fear paralyze you
- Be Bold. Take Chances. Life is so short.
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?
In the next year, 280,000 women and men in the U.S. will receive a breast cancer diagnosis. One in 8 women in this country will be diagnosed in their lifetime. To me, the fight is personal. I ask the community to make it personal as well — that my story and the stories of those you love inspire you to keep fighting with me, to broaden the reach we have together. I have the strength to speak out, to share with you my story, and to represent all those who need our help and support. The story of my diagnosis is one of thousands, but if it helps you to put a face to the work ahead, I am glad to have shared it with you.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The Dynami Foundation works all year long to educate and raise funds for research.
This November the Dynami Foundation is so thrilled to have an event again and to bring people together to celebrate. Indoor and outdoor space will be used to make sure everyone feels safe. We are also raffling off a F355 Classic Ferrari! It will be a very exciting evening!