Don’t look back. Don’t blame yourself. I don’t know about all cancers; in fact, I am still learning a lot about all the different kinds of breast cancer. But, I know that I will never know what caused my cancer (it’s not hereditary) , why I got cancer when I did, or if there is something I could have done to help prevent or slow it down. I know this is a though one for a lot of people. But even if I did know exactly what caused my breast cancer and it was something I did, what good would come of knowing that? It wouldn’t change where I am at or what I need to do. Some people might disagree. But for me, I don’t need to know, I just need to know what to do to fix it and keep it from coming back. I’m sure there are things that I could have done and was meaning to do to keep myself healthier overall, but I didn’t do them. I can do them now and I’m trying to do my best to take as good of care of myself as I can and that’s what really matters now.
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 Leeanna Gantt.
Leeanna Gantt is the founder and inventor of tooktake dosage reminder labels. Prior to that, she helped lead the 501c3 charity, Rainbow Pack, which provided backpacks full of homework supplies to economically disadvantaged elementary school students in The Los Angeles Unified School District. Going back a bit further, Leeanna created the award-winning community art and craft studio, Tinker, which brought people together to create and make in an inspiring and judgement-free space. All of this was preceded by a celebrated career as a creative director at several notable advertising agencies where she created award-winning work for clients such as: Lexus, Wells Fargo, Acura, Yonex Tennis, and Hartford Insurance. Above all, she is most proud of her family.
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 Los Angeles, CA. I lived in NY for a year for a job once and realized that I am definitely a west cost girl. In 2017, we tried moved to Arizona to shake things up and try something new, I was reminded once again, I am a California girl, and we are really a California loving family, so in 2019 we moved back to CA.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is one that my mom said to me a lot “What’s the worst that can happen? “Which doesn’t sound supper upbeat when you read it, but when she says it, it sounds positive and encouraging. My mom is really good at breaking things down to very simple facts and choices. For example, when I was deciding if I should work in NY, she asked me that question, and I said “well, I might hate it there.” She asked what I would do if that happened and I said “ I guess I’d figure out how to move back”. When it was presented like that, that all I needed to do was come home, and that she would help me do that if I needed to, the decision to give it a try was pretty easy.
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?
Sure! I’ve come to find that it’s actually a very common story. I had gone for a routine annual exam at my doctor in LA and I had noticed a little lump above my right breast. I asked him about it, and he said it was nothing, I was young and there was no need to worry. He did send me for a routine mammogram, and I got the standard “you are fine, come back in a year” form letter.
So, I didn’t really give it another thought.
Then we were really busy, we sold our house and moved to Arizona. My husband and I were working on expanding our design business and our daughter was finishing her senior year of high school and applying to college.
Towards the fall I realized that we all needed to establish care with new doctors, so I worked on finding doctors, dentists, dermatologist etc.… of course, I was the last one to actually go to the doctor. I went for a visit, and she said I seemed super healthy and asked if I had any questions.
I had recently started doing a Pilates class and it had been hurting under my arm, so I asked her for tips to help heal a pulled muscle under my arm. She looked at me kind of funny and asked to take a look at it. Then she asked if I had noticed the lump and I told her what my other doctor had said, and she said that was crazy! You never just assume it’s okay. She asked me to go get a mammogram and ultrasound later that week and have a consultation with a breast specialist.
At that point I was still really busy with work and family and just added the appointments to my list of things to do and didn’t really think about it.
It wasn’t until the actual mammogram appointment that things got a little more real. They did the mammogram and then immediately asked if they could do the ultrasound to get a better look at things. Then the nurse came in and asked if they could schedule a biopsy. I was still pretty sure this was all just to be extra cautious that it was nothing, so being me, I was more annoyed than worried.
After the biopsy the breast specialist called to tell me that she had the results and thought we should come into the office to chat. But it was Christmas, and we had a bunch of family in town, so we opted to get the results over the phone two days after Christmas and then meet with her in person a few days later. I think at this point, even though I heard the words, I still just thought it was nothing to worry about.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part for me was all the scans and tests they do before they start treatment. There are weeks and weeks of tests and scans and they are all looking for something bad or even worse than what they already know. So, that doesn’t make It very exciting to go get more tests.
I also learned that I am incredibly claustrophobic, so scans are really hard even when they aren’t looking for something bad.
I am sure the doctors told me lots of things that should have scared me, especially at the beginning, but I was still just assuming that they were wrong, and it was all going to be fine, so I really didn’t worry.
I guess another way to say that is that I had a huge case of denial!
How did you react in the short term?
I think I remained in denial that the outcome would be anything but good. So, I was okay with it all.
Which I will say, really confused family and friends.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
My family and friends were amazing! They kept me laughing for the entire year I was in treatment. Chemo was brutal, but somehow, we laughed at the ridiculousness of it all and it made things okay. Honestly, I was also so drugged up that I slept through huge chunks of time. I always say that my treatment, especially chemo, was much harder on my family that was watching me go through it than it was for me, since I don’t remember that much of it because I was sleeping.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
That’s a good question. I think I’d have to go back to my mom. My mom was a single mom, and she had a joke that I wasn’t allowed to get sick because we didn’t have time for that. (It really was a joke, she was great when I was sick, homemade chicken soup and all the rest of that).
But, I think because we didn’t label things like a stuffy nose or being a bit tired as anything more than they were, I don’t really remember too many times when I was really “sick”, like with the flu or something.
Overall, I was a healthy kid and she taught me how to adjust what I am doing to help take care of myself and not run myself into the ground. If I felt stuffy, I would rest and be sure I ate healthy food. If I was feeling extra tired, I made time to rest and didn’t push myself to exhaustion. I learned to listen to what my body needed. So, I really didn’t get sick much, I still don’t.
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?
My cancer wanted me to stop and really take a look at what and who was important in my life. It definitely did that! On the other side of cancer treatment decision were so much clearer and easier for me to make.
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?
Cancer really highlighted what was important to me in my life. I felt like I had a pretty balanced approach to things before cancer, but after cancer I have so much more appreciation for the little things in life that I took for granted. Just being able to sit and eat breakfast with my family or talk on the phone or text with my friends.
When you can’t do the littlest things in your life it makes you appreciate them so much more and realize how you should make time for them and really enjoy them, not just fit them into your day, but take a minute to be grateful for the moments. I think it also really made me realize that I have a lot more time in my day than I think I do, and I can make time for the people I love. I didn’t really think much about me not being here for them, but it made me think about the people I love and that something could happen to them that kept me from getting to see them again. So now seeing people is top of my list of things that are important to do.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
During my treatment I really didn’t want to be a part of any groups or chats or anything breast cancer related, (go back to my mention of denial) my attitude was that if my team of doctors and nurses didn’t tell me about it I don’t need to know it. I’m not necessarily recommending that approach…it worked for me because I also had the most amazing support system of friends and ever. If I had been more on my own, I definitely would have joined in more stuff I think.
I bring this up because since I finished treatment, I have talked with so many other breast cancer survivors and I have learned so much from them. So, I try really hard to always get back to people who message me or ask for advice. I am trying to be there to support and talk with anyone who thinks I might be able to help them.
The other thing I do to bring goodness into the world is through my product tooktake dosage reminders. I invented tooktake during my treatment to help me and my family know if I took or still needed to take my medication.
I donate tooktake to people who need it when I can and try to donate to breast cancer related orgs as well. Tooktake is still super small, but we are growing and helping people every day.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
The first thing I’d say is that it’s not a fight. To me a fight implies that it is me against cancer. But for me it was a team sport. I had a team of doctors and nurses on my side, I had family and friends there to help me and send me good wishes and love and keep me happy as possible given the circumstances.
I wouldn’t have been able to get to appointments, take care of myself and rest the way I needed to if it wasn’t for them. But because of this amazing team of people, all the medications and treatments could work to get rid of my cancer.
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.
- The number one thing is to trust your doctors 100%. Do your research and googling up front to make sure you are comfortable with your team. Once you decide you are, STAY OFF THE INTERNET. Listen to your doctors and nurses. If you need emotional support and encouragement that’s okay. But don’t look for or spend time with people who make you second guess the path that you are on. Don’t listen to your neighbor’s friend who said to drink some special tea or someone who says it’s because you ate sugar and weren’t vegan.
You need to believe that your treatment will be a success as much or more than your team does. My Oncologist told me that he was going to “kick my butt, during chemo. That it would be rough, and I would feel like I couldn’t get through it, but I could, and I would”. I believed him. I remembered his words throughout treatment, especially when it was at its worst, I remembered that he knew what he was doing, he said it was going to be this way and he said it would work.
- Let people help you. It’s not really in my nature to ask for lots of help or to let people help. I really like being the one to host things and be the helper. But I learned pretty fast that it didn’t matter how much I wanted to get up and do things, I couldn’t. Like actually could not stand up, let alone make a meal or eat a meal. I really had to learn to not only let people help, but to ask for what I needed and wanted. I wish I had settled into that a little sooner instead of fighting it so much.
- My favorite thing to suggest to people who have recently been diagnosed with cancer is to use one of the platforms that lets you post updates of what is going on so you don’t have the pressure to keep in touch with everyone personally or put that on someone close to you. I used caring bridge to write a blog of sorts. It alerted people who signed up when I posted so they could be as involved or uninvolved as they wanted to be. They could write comments and messages that I could read when I was up to it. It made me so happy to see that so many people cared about me and took the time to keep up with my adventure. But it also made it easy for us to keep everyone up to date and not have to repeat it over and over. You might not think that it’s that draining to just tell someone how an appointment or treatment or test went, but it does get to be a lot, even for friends and family that are taking care of you. It’s important to protect the time that you do have when you are feeling well to be able to enjoy it and not spend it all on the phone, texting or emailing.
- Don’t look back. Don’t blame yourself. I don’t know about all cancers; in fact, I am still learning a lot about all the different kinds of breast cancer. But, I know that I will never know what caused my cancer (it’s not hereditary) , why I got cancer when I did, or if there is something I could have done to help prevent or slow it down. I know this is a though one for a lot of people. But even if I did know exactly what caused my breast cancer and it was something I did, what good would come of knowing that? It wouldn’t change where I am at or what I need to do. Some people might disagree. But for me, I don’t need to know, I just need to know what to do to fix it and keep it from coming back. I’m sure there are things that I could have done and was meaning to do to keep myself healthier overall, but I didn’t do them. I can do them now and I’m trying to do my best to take as good of care of myself as I can and that’s what really matters now.
- I don’t feel like I have a lot of answers for anyone, especially since I really told people not to listen to strangers. But I think my last tip would be TAKE THE MEDS! I almost never took medication or vitamins before I was in treatment for cancer.That wasn’t for any specific reason, mostly because I am forgetful and too lazy to go to the drug store and by the time I actually could go I would be feeling better. But that all changed with cancer treatment. When they first started to recommend medications for different things during treatment, I would sometimes delay taking them until I felt like I really needed them badly or just wait to take them for some unknown reason. But I soon realized that they were giving me these things to make me more comfortable or to help prevent one of the many many many side effects. So, I learned to take or use the medications as often as I needed them and not feel even the tiniest bit hesitant about it.
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 feel like I should have a really profound though about what movement I would start that would create the greatest amount of change, but I don’t know if I do. There are so many things that need change in the world right now. I guess in keeping with the theme, I think I would change how we view the health care system or do what I could to change and support people when they need help navigating the system.
There are so many things that aren’t addressed during cancer treatment, and I’m sure other treatments as well. For example, all three of my doctors’ offices had amazing nurse navigators that were there to help you find and get assistance with any number of things you might need, from making appointments to tracking down insurance paperwork and scheduling surgeries and making sure you had what you needed for recovery. But none of them could help with the fact that I couldn’t work for over a year, and my husband was taking care of me 24/7 so it was hard for him to work at the same time. And while my doctors and treatment were amazing, once treatment was done you are pretty much on your own to navigate the rest of the experience.
If I could change something it would be that there are more services to support the whole family financially when someone is going through treatment and that survivorship from any illness or injury was looked at as part of the whole treatment plan.
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. 🙂
Sara Blakley and/or Barbara Corcoran
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can read our blog on tooktake.com follow on Instagram @tooktake or DM me through Instagram or LinkedIn
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!