Do Your Research — Many people, including doctors, have suggested, “Don’t Google your sickness.” But how else can you best advocate for yourself if you haven’t done your research, your homework? How will you know what questions to ask? How will you know what to expect? How will you know how to best prepare yourself? To me, forewarned is to be forearmed. Others may subscribe to the idea that ignorance is bliss, but I believe that knowledge is power, and it has always served me better than ignorance. Many cancer patients seem to see their doctors as the font of all knowledge. Doctors are certainly knowledgeable, though your doctor is one expert in a world and field of many.
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 Kelley Murray Skoloda.
Kelley Skoloda is a wife, mom, daughter, sister, aunt, author, angel investor, entrepreneur, CEO of KS Consulting & Capital and now, a cancer survivor. A consumer brand marketing expert, Kelley is passionate about her work and her family is the center of her life — she loves to golf, cook, travel, and enjoys cat humor. She is grateful everyday for the love and support she received throughout her health challenges and hopes her story can be helpful to others navigating cancer.
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?
My background is in public relations and brand marketing. Now I’m an entrepreneur and run my own consultancy, KS Consulting & Capital, which I absolutely love. For many years, I worked at a top, global PR agency. An avid angel investor, I am passionate about investing in women-led start-ups. I serve on several boards of directors and have been named one of the “most influential women in business” by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I love to write and speak. My first book, Too Busy to Shop: Marketing to Multi-Minding Women, is a business book and I’ve spoken at global venues. I never imagined that my second book would be about surviving cancer, A Way Back to Health: 12 Lessons from a Cancer Survivor, debuts on November 9 and is the true story of and lessons learned from my recent journey with cancer.
The oldest of four kids, I grew up mostly in Western Pennsylvania. We had a close-knit, Italian family with lots of family gatherings and great food. My dad was a drill instructor in the Marine Corps, so I learned discipline from an early age. I’ve been married for 31 years to a great husband and we are blessed with two, amazing kids, and wonderful friends and family (and three cats).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“This, too, shall pass, honey.” One of my Nonnie’s (grandmother) favorite sayings. Even though a cancer diagnosis and treatment took over my life in the worst way, it did pass and I’m here to share my story about it to make it a little easier for others who face similar challenges.
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 the healthiest person I knew until I became a cancer patient. When I went in for my first routine colonoscopy, I was anxious, but not expecting anything out of the ordinary. No symptoms, no sickness, a lifelong healthy lifestyle. What could possibly go wrong? I had no idea colorectal cancer was incredibly common. I was diagnosed with colon cancer and, within just a few weeks had colectomy surgery, where a large section of my colon was removed, and then underwent chemo, which was worse than the cancer itself.
I still wrestle with sharing my story because I don’t want the pain of reliving even a second of the ugliness. But what I have found is that there is pain in not sharing a part of my life that has forever changed who I am. After undergoing the full process, from diagnosis to surgery to chemo and back to health, I learned a great deal along the way. I witnessed other patients and their families struggling with challenges like I had experienced. They are lessons I never wanted or expected to learn, but they helped me and, based on the power of personal stories, could help others who are coping with a similar situation.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Despite how often we hear or read the word “cancer,” hearing the word associated with yourself is devastating and inconceivable. And fear. I had so much fear. The fear was so real and scary that it took my breath away and made me sick to my stomach. The fear took me to a place I’d never known before. Thinking that you might not be around to see your kids grow up is one of the worst and most sickening things that could happen.
How did you react in the short term?
When I first found out about the cancer, I felt like I was in a haze. It was too much to comprehend. When you are thrust into the world of cancer, it’s absolutely overwhelming. I cried a lot. But, things happen fast after a cancer diagnosis, so I began to take action, without even knowing it.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I researched, meditated, exercised, changed my diet, worked, sought second opinions, kept records and looked for miracles. In short, I took action. In fact, this exact question was the impetus for taking my cancer journey and turning it into a book, which details how surprising lessons paved the way for my recovery, shares helpful action steps and illuminates how personal stories can powerfully motivate and heal. Often overlooked actions, such as trusting your instincts, speaking up, getting a second opinion, and watching for miracles, can have a profound impact on recovery, help patients advocate for themselves, and help friends, family, and caregivers as they wrestle with cancer and its treatment.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people for whom I am grateful. My husband, kids and mom who were with me every step of the way. My nephew, who patiently sat through my chemo treatments with me. The dear friends who made meals for us. The oncology nurse who treated me with such great care.
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?
I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with cancer, too. While I do not consider cancer a blessing, it has enabled me to practice gratitude on a whole new level and appreciate even small miracles and everyday life. My grandmother would say “if you have your health, you have everything.” That message truly resonates with me now.
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?
After undergoing the full process, from diagnosis to surgery to chemo and back to health, I learned a great deal along the way. I witnessed other patients and their families struggling with challenges like I had experienced. They are lessons I never wanted or expected to learn, but they helped me and, based on the power of personal stories, could help others who are coping with a similar situation.
My story is about capturing and sharing my story. Being a professional marketer and storyteller by trade and having previously published a book, the idea of writing a book about my cancer experience was almost second nature, though the idea of reliving the stories was scary. When I shared parts of my story on social media, I received dozens of responses, many about people who took action because of what they read. “I scheduled my colonoscopy,” or “I encouraged my sister to get a colonoscopy,” were common refrains. Those responses told me that my story could get people to take action.
Sometimes writing the story was too painful and I had to walk away. Other times, the feeling of survival and a drive to share what could be helpful to others would win. In the end, what I learned was too compelling for me to keep to myself because I didn’t know then what I do now and too many people are in the same situation.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve seen the quote, “Stories help others. Share yours.” While talking recently to a friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she said she had read about my story on social media. She went on to say that she and her family had taken several of the actions that I recommended and that they helped her. It is my hope that by sharing my story, someone will find the help they need on their cancer journey.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
- Doctors know medicine, but only you know you best. You are your own best advocate.
- Food and nutrition are rarely addressed by medical professionals. You’ll need to seek ways to use the healing power of food and exercise.
- So many people don’t seek second opinions. I did and was so glad I did.
- Cancer doesn’t mean not looking good. When I looked good and got moving, I felt better. I did my best to get dressed, put on make-up, do my hair and go to work.
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.
1. Do Your Research
Many people, including doctors, have suggested, “Don’t Google your sickness.” But how else can you best advocate for yourself if you haven’t done your research, your homework? How will you know what questions to ask? How will you know what to expect? How will you know how to best prepare yourself? To me, forewarned is to be forearmed. Others may subscribe to the idea that ignorance is bliss, but I believe that knowledge is power, and it has always served me better than ignorance. Many cancer patients seem to see their doctors as the font of all knowledge. Doctors are certainly knowledgeable, though your doctor is one expert in a world and field of many.
2. Get A Second Opinion
There are many objections and and hurdles to seeking a second opinion — time, money, effort, lack of knowledge — and, to many, it still just feels uncomfortable. Cancer patients are already uncomfortable in so many ways that adding to the discomfort is not something they want to do. But it’s worth the time and discomfort to push for a second opinion. I believe that second opinions made a big difference for me.
3. Watch for Miracles.
I’ve tried to reground myself by recognizing that each and every facet of life is a miracle. You woke up this morning? Miracle. You are breathing? Miracle. Your family has enough food to eat? Miracle. A butterfly landed on a flower in my yard, enabling me to take a look at its beautiful and fragile wings? Miracle. Especially when you are facing cancer, every part of your life can produce miracles, if you look for and recognize them.
4. Prepare to Speak Up
One month into my chemo regimen, I was in dire straits due to side effects, and I found it hard to speak up. Self-doubt about my condition, a significant loss of energy, not getting much of a reaction from the medical team, and not wanting to be a pain in someone’s ass all contributed to my reticence. But when I got to the point when my physical and mental ability to withstand treatment was fading, I had to find the strength to save myself. It’s crazy that I had to get to such a breaking point before pressing harder to help.
Don’t let yourself get to this point. If things don’t seem right to you, then they aren’t. Speak up for yourself, even if you feel like you are being a pain. Find the strength to speak up for yourself before you lose your strength altogether.
5.Trust Your Instincts and Take Action!
In a serious medical situation, it may sound heretical to trust your instincts more than you trust your doctors. After all, medical professionals are highly educated and know more than we do. Decisions are made based on facts and data that we, as regular people, know little about. We have been trained to believe doctors know best. These commonly accepted principles are followed by many patients. Well, medical professionals may know more about medicine, and this is half the game, but they don’t know the most about you.
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?
Helping cancer patients, and patients of all kinds, advocate for themselves and helping in any way to enable sick children to get better.
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. 🙂
While having a meal with my family is always my top choice, I’d welcome an opportunity to meet with a strong, successful female founder, mom, investor and philanthropist, like Sara Blakely.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for asking. My new book about cancer, A Way Back to Health, is available beginning November 9 on Amazon. I often post on related topics on LinkedIn. Helpful videos can be found on my Kelley Skoloda YouTube channel. My business can be found at https://www.ksconsultingandcapital.com/. Twitter: @kelleyskoloda Instagram: @kelleyskoloda.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for the opportunity to share! Wishing you health and happiness.