Have a consistent, loving cheerleader — The ups and downs of any devastating illness can make you feel like you’re going crazy. You must have someone you can be yourself with and confide in, especially when you’re at your lowest. When I was terrified and needed a shoulder, I had my cheerleader. When I had messy physical mishaps and daily treatments, I was covered. When I looked like death-warmed-over for months, I felt safe, secure, loved, and never worried about being left alone. And my every need was taken care of so all I had to do was focus on healing. What an incredible act of love!
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 Winston.
Lisa Winston is a best-selling author, speaker, soul expression coach, TV host, artist, and mom. A lifetime of extreme challenges including rape, abuse, losing her home to wildfire, breast cancer and neuro-Lyme disease, made Lisa hungry to find her true-life purpose, deepen her faith, and teach others how to navigate challenges with more resiliency and joy. Today, her primary message is clear…life is happening FOR you and challenges are sent to refine, not define you.
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 incredibly grateful to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.
I was born in the small town of York, PA, the middle of three children. I was an incredibly sensitive, anxious child who never felt like she fit in. I don’t remember much of my childhood, although I vaguely remember being molested at the age of 5 by an unknown man, and again, by a neighbor boy who also threatened to kill me, years later. After that, bad experiences continued to follow me throughout my childhood into my adult years.
My only saving grace was my voice. I began singing professionally at 18 and ended up having a fulfilling music career that spanned 40 years and brought me a lot of joy. I was in two toxic marriages and had one child. I never remarried after that, but lived with someone for 14 years, during which time I lost my home to wildfire. Two months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
My life felt hard, but the endless exhaustion, anger, and fear eventually sent me on a spiritual journey; one that opened my eyes to the fact that “God” was gifting me with opportunities to find out who I was and what I was made of. I felt alone, yet time and time again, my family and others showed up in loving support as well as unexpected miracles in the form of earthly and heavenly angels.
Because of the challenges, my determination grew. I began to listen to, and trust, that “small voice within” because I knew it was guiding me. I took big risks to “find myself” because I knew I was here for a greater purpose. And because of that, today, I’m living the life of my dreams and fulfilling my soul purpose. As I look back, it was all necessary and perfect. I’m forever grateful.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two. Not to toot my own horn, but the first is mine. “Life is always happening FOR you and challenges are sent to refine, NOT define you.” I didn’t understand this until later in my life. For most of my life, I felt victimized, and wondered if I was being punished for some past wrong. When we believe that, as many people do, it takes away our power. Our power to choose can change everything. We can choose to see things with a different perspective, to look for the good and take action that moves us in a better direction. We can’t always understand circumstances but can learn to trust there’s a bigger picture and loving energy that’s orchestrating it all. When you say YES to life challenges, you grow, gain new insights, and help others do the same.
My second quote is “We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” — Oprah Winfrey. The “who I was” for a vast majority of my life, could never have been a light to the world, or inspired or helped others to rise. You must transform your understanding and ways of being to step into your full potential, able to affect real change. When you say YES to life challenges, you continue to grow, gain new insights, and help others do the same.
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?
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
In October 2007, the San Diego wildfires took our home and everything in it. We had 10 minutes to get out with 100 mph winds and a 100 ft wall of flames surrounding us on all sides. The fire was a monster. My daughter’s dad had lost his home 4 years previous in the Cedar fires, so my daughter was massively traumatized that night. About three weeks and three moves after the fires, we had to find a rental home, deal with insurance agents, school, and rebuilding. It was a stressful time. I remember noticing a small dimpling in my right breast a short time later. It was new and I was uneasy about it, but put it aside for a short time. I finally scheduled a mammogram, had a biopsy, and was diagnosed with infiltrating lobular carcinoma. What? The fires and now, this? My cancer surgeon had zero bedside manner and told me in no uncertain terms I needed to have a double mastectomy, as “my” cancer was rare and tends to mirror in the other breast. My head was spinning and I felt like I was in a dream. The fire was bad enough, but this was my life, and I knew I might lose it. The biopsy was brutal, but I was more afraid than I’ve ever been going into surgery, not knowing if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.
How did you react in the short term?
The fire and cancer gave me a good deal of PTSD, but a kind of miracle happened as well. Although I experienced very human emotions from time to time, having to deal with two crises daily forced me into present moment living. I was so busy rebuilding my life, I didn’t have much time to think about dying. Oh, it crept in sometimes, but having to raise a child, treat cancer and rebuild my home all at the same time, held most of my attention. One of the San Diego news stations started following our progress and featured us regularly, which brought a sense of fun into our lives. My treatment went on for months, but each day brought a new set of things to do. Honestly, having it all happen at the same time was a gift. It really pulled me through.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I spent hours doing Qigong and reading spiritual books and saw a therapist for a short time. I had lost all my artwork and musical equipment in the fire, and at the prompting of my daughter, began to paint and sing again. Most of my friends disappeared during that time, however, I made new friends, and reconnected with some old friends who showed up bearing gifts and hugs. And my family, most especially my dear sister, who had her own set of serious health issues at the time, showed up with unwavering love and support.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
The year I was treated for cancer and rebuilding remains mostly a blur, so there are things I don’t remember. Some of my musician friends did a benefit for me, which was incredibly loving and generous. I also had more than several angels show up unexpectedly, who cooked meals for my family and gave support. But I have to say that my precious mother (who is now gone) and sister, were the two people who held my hand through it all. They lived on the east coast, so visits were few. We spent hours on the phone together. My sister, who suffered several strokes the June before the fires, flew to CA to be with me during and after my cancer surgery. I remember her “bagging” me (cutting a hole in a large garbage bag and putting it over my head) so I could take a shower. She held me when I cried, made me giggle, and was my rock. She was unbelievably selfless, and I am forever grateful to her.
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?
The cancer (it’s not mine, just an experience) would want me to stop being angry and resentful toward the bad things that happened in the past. It would have me love myself and my body just as it is and, have me immerse myself in the practice of forgiveness of self and all others. It would also say, “Stop taking yourself and everything that happens so seriously. Go have some FUN! You are valuable and have nothing to prove to anyone, so, enjoy and be grateful for every precious second you’re given on this earth.”
I believe most dis-ease is energy and emotion stuck in the body. When we don’t cope with or heal past traumas, our miraculous bodies, which we take for granted, carry that pain, which eventually manifests as disease. I thank the cancer for reminding me that I needed to let go!
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?
My cancer experience taught me that no disease can define me. It was an experience, but not who I am. And getting a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Tons of people survive cancer and go on to live long, healthy lives. Early on, my doctors showered me with gloom and doom, so I chose to ignore the dark, foreboding messages and create positivity around my situation. And why wouldn’t I? No one knew the outcome. I know from experience if we stay in a good place and focus on good things, we have a better chance of a good outcome. Cancer also taught me that we are stronger than we know. If we can muster just enough courage to get through one moment at a time while navigating a devastating disease, we learn to be humble, strong, and confident. It also teaches us gratitude for our precious life and loved ones, and compassion for those who suffer.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
Before I had cancer, my life was a mess. My vibrations were incredibly low. My relationship was a disaster, and I was very unhappy. After cancer, I woke up and turned my life around. I left that relationship and my music career to go in search of my life mission. I realized that time is short, and NOW is all we have to enjoy life and make a difference. I’m grateful for my experience because it helped to shape me into who I am today. It’s also given me insights and wisdom I’m able to share with others.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
- Cancer is an automatic death sentence — Millions of people have beat cancer and continue to; early detection improves the odds, and treatments are getting better and better. Even late-stage cancers are more curable, and life expectancies, longer.
- Cancer is something you have to “fight” — Some people use the word fight to summon stamina and strength for the journey. I get it. But for me, fighting against anything usually means resistance, stress, or violent struggle. I believe finding acceptance on some level, doing things that create laughter and joy, having a consistent, loving support system, and loving self-care are a few things that calm and heal the body and make the journey more tolerable.
- The cancer will come back — I’ve been cancer-free for 14 years and hope to be for life. Many people never have another recurrence. I believe focusing on gratitude and what and whom you love is a better way to spend your time, as opposed to fearing it will come back. Get your yearly exams but don’t give cancer any more attention than it deserves.
- Losing your breast makes you less of a woman — I experienced this feeling for a long time, and I know post-surgery is a big adjustment for most woman. However, being an amazing woman involves way more than your body parts! After my surgery, I felt unwhole and ugly. I felt my partner would be turned off by what he saw, but he wasn’t. And four years ago, I attracted the most amazing man into my life at 59, who loves me just the way I am. I still struggle at times, but in no way am I less than a woman.
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.
- Have a consistent, loving cheerleader — The ups and downs of any devastating illness can make you feel like you’re going crazy. You must have someone you can be yourself with and confide in, especially when you’re at your lowest. When I was terrified and needed a shoulder, I had my cheerleader. When I had messy physical mishaps and daily treatments, I was covered. When I looked like death-warmed-over for months, I felt safe, secure, loved, and never worried about being left alone. And my every need was taken care of so all I had to do was focus on healing. What an incredible act of love!
- Raise your vibes — Science shows that negative emotions hinder the body’s ability to heal. So, why not at least try to be more positive? Believe me, I understand a cancer diagnosis is a terrifying slap in the face. I’ve been there and encourage anyone fighting cancer to be a “fighter” of a different sort. Whether it was cancer or collapsing with neuro-Lyme disease and 12 co-infections, I only allowed myself a little time to feel sorry for my situation and then I got to work. I danced to Jason Mraz, stuck post-it notes with positive messages all over my apartment, wrote in my gratitude journal (even when I didn’t feel grateful), did Donna Eden’s energy medicine and Qigong in small bursts, meditated, took walks and more. If there was a chance it would make me feel better or even heal me, I was going to do whatever it took. And it DID. It raised my vibes, brought bursts of laughter, and gave me the strength to go the distance.
- Look for what’s working — When we’re scared and don’t feel well, we tend to complain and focus on what hurts or what’s wrong. I was a complainer. One day my partner asked me, “What’s right with your body? What’s working?” I looked down and noticed my nails were growing! Small potatoes to healthy people, but a big deal when your body feels terrible. It was a wonderful shift out of the darkness into light. It brought a sense of play to my days. And helped me feel gratitude for the many blessings I had in the moment. When you focus on what’s wrong and what’s bad, it lowers your vibes. It makes everything bleak. When you choose to look for body parts that work, as well as things that are good in your daily life, it’s a game changer.
- Go easy on yourself — There’s nothing you did to create the cancer. You’re not being punished for anything and there’s no perfect way to handle this very bumpy journey. So go easy on yourself. Give yourself love, compassion, grace, and space. Honor your feelings. Love and nurture your body. Find your center with breathwork or meditation. And don’t allow anyone to bring disrespect or negativity into your life. This is your life, your path, and your time to heal. You get to choose how you want to walk it and with whom. Surround yourself with loving supporters. Honor yourself and demand others do so, too.
- Have faith — I’ve always had a strong faith, but early on in my cancer and Lyme journey, I lost my it for a time. After all I had been through, I couldn’t believe I was getting hit again. I knew God (Spirit, the Universe) was always with me throughout my life and trials — through synchronicities, people, and Divine timing. So why did I feel so alone? At one point, I screamed and shook my fist at the ceiling, “I hate you and don’t believe in you anymore!” I felt more and more distant from what I once believed. After about a month of this behavior, I started thinking about what it would feel like to live in a world without a God or guiding energy. It was then I realized if I gave up my faith, I would have nothing. As I looked back over my life again, all I could see was the love of the Divine. And so, with outstretched arms and hands I said, “I surrender.”
We humans want our lives to be perfect. We want wealth, health, love, money, joy, and only good things. But we forget that challenges are part of our existence. Without them, we don’t have the opportunity to refine who we are, or to know the depth of our love or strengths. Without them, we don’t often get to experience the deep goodness and love of others and we easily take everything and everyone for granted. Faith is remembering there’s a much bigger picture we can’t possibly see or understand that’s being orchestrated by something much bigger than us. We can trust it. Let’s face it — we live on a ball revolving in outer space. Our hearts beat without a battery and our lungs are breathed without our help. When I look at the miracles all around me, I can’t help but choose to have faith.
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’d love to inspire a movement where everyone who has any kind of devastating diagnosis would have total access to loving counselors for support, access to any kind of treatment they desired, a network of professionals and volunteers who would answer questions and hold their hands and hearts from start to finish. Too many people are without support and health insurance. I wasn’t even given the opportunity to have breast reconstruction. My insurance barely gave me enough money to buy a prosthesis. After treatment was over, I was kicked to the curb. Too many people get lost in the shuffle. To carry the burden of a terrifying diagnosis along with not having the ability to be cared for on all levels is a crime.
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. 🙂
There are so many amazing beings I respect, honor, and cherish. However, the one woman I’d love to say thank you to is Oprah Winfrey. She is an incredibly strong, resilient, powerful woman, a beacon of love, light and hope to many. I’m blown away by how she overcame so many significant challenges and yet, held her vision and stayed on course to achieve her dreams ultimately, impact the world. What an inspiration. I think we deeply connect with her because she’s incredibly genuine, warm, and knows, first-hand, the struggles people face. Two of my favorite quotes by her are “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” And “True forgiveness is when you can say, “thank you for that experience.” These quotes speak great truth into what we’re talking about in this interview. Thank you, Goddess. You are a gift.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for asking! Readers can find more of my story, what I do, TV episodes and more here — My website: www.LisaAWinston.com My show: www.MindsetResetTV.com Social Media: www.facebook.com/lisa.winston.501, www.facebook.com/lisawinstoncoach, www.instagram.com/LisaAWinston and my email: [email protected]
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I appreciate you! xo