Seek Out Support — Find an online community or a local community of survivors that you can connect with to help guide you through treatment and beyond. If you’re a breast cancer survivor you are welcome to join our online community, link can be found on our website.
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 Lisa Malia Norman
Lisa Norman is a Nonprofit Founder and CEO of For The Love Of Cups, Midwife, Women’s Wisdom Coach, speaker and author. As a Founder, CEO and Coach, she’s brought the power of women’s circles, sisterhood, connection and community to thousands of women. She is passionate about people coming together to live with greater support, clear intention and unapologetic joy. You can learn more about her breast cancer advocacy and support at https://www.fortheloveofcups.org/
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’m one of four girls in my family and we have two brothers, all of us were born in Hawaii. I was second to the youngest. By the time I was four we had moved to Napa, California where I was raised in a close knit religious community. I was a happy child but quiet, and awkward. Coming from a large family it was easy to hide in the mix of my older siblings.
I left home at a young age and like many women in my community I also married at a young age, I wanted nothing more than to become a mother. It was at this time that I could feel my life’s work beginning to unfold. I had always been obsessed with childbirth growing up but now I had the chance to experience it and learn from it. I knew then that I wanted to become a midwife. I had my third daughter at home seven years later and soon after that completed my education and made my dream of becoming a midwife a reality.
Becoming a Licensed Midwife in California offered me an opportunity to work intimately with women. I learned so much from them about the pure strength that comes from our most vulnerable moments and the innate wisdom and power that exists within each one of us.
I’m no longer a practicing midwife although I still advocate for and offer support and guidance to growing families. I now use my midwifery and women’s health education and experience to support people facing breast cancer to advocate for better health care for all so that everyone receives a fighting chance when diagnosed with cancer.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Love is a verb. Do it. Show it. Love is what drives me forward and is the undercurrent in everything I do. I feel like love is more than an emotion, when possible it can and should be actionable. Especially when challenged with something that I’m passionate about but unsure of how to proceed or maybe even feel uncomfortablen speaking up etc. I ask myself, “What would love do?”. This simple question offers me clarity on my next steps.
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?
Absolutely, I believe sharing our stories elevates our collective wisdom and helps us heal. A part of me knew I had breast cancer. I had a nagging feeling that I needed to go get a mammogram and breast ultrasound asap. I was working a very demanding job at the time and I was a single mom. I felt like there was no time for me to even go get my screening. I rescheduled that appointment probably three times before I finally walked out of work early one day and told my boss I HAD to go.
I also knew I had dense breast tissue and needed an ulatrasound to more accurately screen me for breast cancer. That appointment ran very long into the evening, the office had actually closed and there were just three of us left there, the ultrasound technician, the radiologist and I. By the time we finished, I knew they had found something. I was handed a blue folder filled with brochures about breast cancer and left the office in the dark of night, wanting to know how many other women walked out of this building with this blue folder and also wondered, what did they do next?
I was sent for a biopsy and later received a phone call from my Doctor while I was at work that confirmed what I already knew and yet it still completely shocked me. I went numb. I had breast cancer.
My mom is a two time breast cancer survivor and I just knew I would be diagnosed with it one day too. I just didn’t think it would come for me so early, while I was still raising my daughters, my youngest was in high school and the older two were in college. I thought I was just hitting my stride, I had worked several jobs, long hours in a new and demanding career, my post divorce debt was paid off, my credit score was up and I thought I was finally making it as a single working mom. The truth was, I was so exhausted I couldn’t even see how tired I was, I was fueled by stress and fear and it was killing me.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The hardest part was telling my three daughters, I did’t want them to have a sick mom or scare them, but I also knew that I wanted to be open and honest with them. Breast cancer is a whole family experience and I knew they would learn from my experience the way I had learned from my mother. The scariest part was all the unanswered questions. Not knowing how I would get through this, would I survive, would I lose my job, how could I keep up with the bills are just a few of the thoughts that kept me up at night.
How did you react in the short term?
Once the initial shock began to fade, the anger came. I was mad that I was having to deal with this before my daughters were finished with school. As ridiculous as it sounds I felt like I had no time for it, there was more important work to be done and I was being robbed of precious time. I thought if I take any time off work, I would lose everything I had fought so hard to create for my girls and I. How on earth would I be able to keep up now?
I remember telling my family not to expect me to be inspirational, I would not be one of those “happy” cancer survivors. I was mad and there was nothong cute about it. Looking back I now understand my frustration better. As women we typically aren’t taught how to use our anger, it’s believed to be a negative and unladylike emotion. What I was in fact feeling was my intuitive rage, like how a mother bear feels when she’s protecting her cubs. In my case I had just become acutely aware of the many injustices and challenges facing women, especially in the healthcare system, and how incredibly hard it was just to survive. This anger is what spurred me into action.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I used yoga, meditation and breathwork to cope once I was able to gently move my body again after each surgery. I also joined a local women’s circle to help me cope physically and spiritually. I found the connection and support from a devoted sisterhood was crucial to my wellbeing and my healing process.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
Just one? No. My entire family was an incredible support system. I am beyond blessed by them. My daughter’s were a tremendous support, they loved me and held me with incredible courage and strength. My parents and especially my sisters tended to my every need after each surgery, nieces and nephews extended their loving care in the way of visits, meals and sweet notes. My youngest niece even made a very detailed chart to track every time I took my meds. She diligently set alarms and checked the boxes so I never missed a dose.
The advice my brother gave me stood out the most, it became my guide for moving forward. Most people will tell you when you get diagnosed with cancer, that it’s just a bump in the road and that you’ll be back to your old self in no time, that this will all quickly become a distant memory. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth.
My wise brother told me something different, he said this was no “bump” in the road, this was a full and complete STOP. He advised me to allow everything to stop. Stop trying to pretend that nothing was going to change, stop thinking I had to do this on my own, stop thinking I had to keep up with the demands of others, etc. He suggested that I let it all go. The thought of letting go of everything was simultaneously terrifying and freeing. My brother went on to say that once I let go, I have full choice to decide what I want to allow in my life, who I want to walk this path with, who I share my energy with, what work I do, how I want to be, and how I want to live. Piece by piece, one thing at a time, consciously choose what it is I want in my life.
I wish it didn’t take a cancer diagnosis for me to realize this but it gave me the permission I didn’t know I needed to stop pleasing everyone else, to say no more often and figure out what it was I really wanted for my life.
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 love this question, embodiment has become everything for me, it’s brought me back to my purpose and has evolved into my life’s work. I had a complicated relationship with my body before cancer and after treatments I felt more disconnected from my body than ever. I literally didn’t know how to move in the world anymore, my body felt foreign and I didn’t know myself anymore. I felt like a newborn deer learning to walk in the world for the first time.
I knew that if I wanted to feel whole in my body I needed to do some deep work. I needed to know why I used detachment as a coping mechanism. I needed to forgive my body, but mostly I needed to forgive myself for being so hard on my body and not realizing before just how magnificent She really was. I use the wisdom of my body now and listen to the messages it has for me with great care and I have vowed to never abandon myself again.
The message cancer had for me was not just to slow down, but learn how to accept support and admit that I even needed support. We live in a culture that places a high value on being independent and self reliant. The truth is we need community and we need to know we can depend on other people for our collective survival. Expecting people to navigate illness on their own is cruel, no one should ever face this alone. Everyone should have access to well informed healthcare, personal, spiritual and financial support.
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?
Yes, I tell anyone who asks this question that breast cancer was the proverbial knock on the head from the Universe that called me back to remember who I was and what I was born to do. After I got divorced, I felt the pressure to be independent and successful, have a steady job with consistent pay, consistent health benefits and a predictable schedule so I could provide a stable home for my daughters. Being a midwife on call most of the time, did not fit this picture anymore. I landed a job in the tech industry, marketing for a software company. I was one of three women at the company, it felt like the exact opposite of being a midwife. And yet, there was something I loved about the fast pace and “making it” in this industry.
Like I mentioned earlier though it was killing me, and getting diagnosed with breast cancer in many ways saved me. It reminded me to get back to doing the work I loved most with women. I had no idea how it would all unfold but there was no going back now and finding a new way forward was the only option. It was time for me to return to women’s health, this time applying my experience to advocating and supporting women facing breast cancer and leading women’s circles.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I was shocked to find that as well supported as I was, with as much experience and education as I had, and since my mother had faced this disease twice, that I still felt incredibly alone and misinformed and confused by the medical system and lack of adequate resources and consisent quality care.
I created what I needed most, I wanted a community of survivors to gather in sisterhood and openly share our experiences so we could learn from and support each other. I wanted to talk with women who were going through this too. I wanted to know what questions they were asking their doctors, how were they managing side effects, and I wanted to know how were they navigating work and family and appointments and living life now.
I formed an online support group for women facing breast cancer to share their stories, support and learn from one another. I hold workshops and online wellness programs in my signature program The Re-Treatment where we work through many of the things I share below in the video, Five Things That Helped Me Survive Cancer, including returning to Self to navigate your new way forward after a breast cancer diagnosis and live with clarity, purpose and joy. I learned that supporting and witnessing women with breast cancer was very similar to the work I did as a midwife
I had more advocacy and education that I wanted to do, to inform women about dense breast tissue and the mammogram screening process so I Founded my nonprofit organization For The Love Of Cups.
Breast density is recognized as one of, and possibly the strongest risk factor associated with development of breast cancer, according to the National Institute of Health. Dense breast tissue is made up of more connective tissue and it appears white on a mammogram, you can not feel it. Cancer also appears white on a mammogram in this case a breast ultrasound is needed for screening. Cancer is often hidden by the connective tissue in dense breasts. One radiologist described it as trying to find a polar bear in a snowstorm.
When you consider that 50% of women over the age of 40, half of all women of screening age, have dense breast tissue and understand that breast ultrasound is not being consistently offered, you begin to see the severity of this issue. More information and resources for navigation your mammogram appointment can be found on my website For The Love Of Cups, listed above.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
I believe one of the bigget misconceptions is that you don’t “beat cancer”. Although I was declared cancer-free by my doctors five years ago, I’ve maintained that until I can tell my daughters that they will never have to face this disease, I will not be cancer-free. Until our friends stop getting diagnosed with cancer and until our friends stop dying from cancer, none of us are cancer-free. Which is why we all need to continue fighting until there is a cure.
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 five things that helped me survive after my breast cancer diagnosis and many of the tools I teach in The Re-Treament Program for other people facing breast cancer.
- Let Go — Let go of what you think this journey should look like and how you should feel. This is your path to walk and you get to decide how you navigate it.
- Seek Out Support — Find an online community or a local community of survivors that you can connect with to help guide you through treatment and beyond. If you’re a breast cancer survivor you are welcome to join our online community, link can be found on our website.
- Self Trust — You will receive more advice than ever before once you’re diagnosed with cancer. It can be overwhelming. At the end of the day you need to trust yourself to make informed decisions that will give you the most peace when you go to sleep each night.
- Body Forgiveness — Strengthen your relationship with your body so that you can be in partnership during your treatments, healing and beyond to live and feel more whole.
- Embrace A New Way Forward — There is no going back to the life you had before. Allow yourself to see things in a new way, align more clearly with your purpose, values and desires to live the way you were always meant to.
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 want to collaborate with other organizations, government agencies and communities to ensure that people facing this disease are seen as the true heroes that they are. If the rest of the world knew the storeis of these survivors as intimately as I do, I know that change and even a cure would come more quickly. Our society needs to bring more of its attention and resources toward community care to celebrate and honor survivors. We do this by shiftiing our priorities. The way we do business and spend money needs to shift so that we can ensure people are treated with dignity, receive quality medical care with mind, body, spiritual and financial support.
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. 🙂
I would really love to know MacKenzie Scott and work with her to change the world. She’s done incredible things as not only one of the wealthiest women in the world, but as the greatest philanthropist of our time. With nearly 8.6B dollars in charitable giving in just 12 months, she is single handedly transforming nonprofits and leading us to a better way of doing business.
It would be a tremendous honor to receive a charitable gift from MacKenzie Scott for my nonprofit organization, For The Love Of Cups so that we can continue to expand our reach, support survivors, extend our education and screening progams to ensure everyone receives a figting chance.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can connect with me on LinkedIn, Follow my organization For The Love Of Cups on Instagram @fortheloveofcups and on Facebook. They can also visit our website for more information.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!