I grew up in Southern California on a ranch where we raised avocados and horses. I spent most of my childhood riding and hiking in the hills on and around our ranch.
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982 at the age of 22. I had surgery, which included removing my spleen, and radiation. That diagnosis was a shock—I had never had more than the flu!
The doctors told me the radiation increased my risk of breast cancer. I didn’t realize how high my risk was until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 at the age of 46. Studies done later suggest that women treated with radiation were “likely” to get a second cancer. Hearing the words “you have cancer” was devastating.
I had a lumpectomy and then a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by nine months of chemotherapy. My hair fell out, which wasn’t so bad but it was winter in Montana! The chemo made me sick, but I was determined to stay active—hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. I had to scale back how much I could do and usually gave myself a few days to feel better before doing these activities, always listening to my body and what it needed.
Having cancer again really changed my life. Back when I had Hodgkin’s, one of my doctors thought it was caused by chemical exposures in childhood. My family used lots of chemicals, including DDT on the ranch. Being aware of that possibility, I became more conscious of toxins in the environment and tried to avoid them. The more I learned about food and household cleaners and cosmetics, I became more concerned. I started reading labels early on, finding petroleum in chapstick was alarming, and I didn’t want to eat petroleum!