I’ve known Leah for seven years now and I first met her when she owned Become Fit, a beautiful cycle and yoga studio in Fort Collins. Leah is the epitome of good health; she is an avid cyclist, fitness guru and health and wellness advocate. She is the last person you would expect to get an ovarian or breast cancer diagnosis and yet she did.
In 2013, as Leah wrapped up a training session with me, she let me know that she wouldn’t be able to train with me anymore because she was going in for surgery for ovarian cancer. They would remove the mass and determine her treatment. I was an emotional mess on this particular day because my husband and I were undergoing fertility treatments that were not working. I went on and on throughout our session with no idea that Leah was staring down her own mortality. She was gracious and had a shield of bravery that I can’t ever forget.
What followed for Leah was a year and half of chemotherapy and treatment for ovarian cancer. During this time she was also identified as having the BRCA1 gene which is linked to hereditary breast cancer. The cancer risk for women with this gene is 80%, a compelling reason to have a mastectomy and avoid breast cancer all together. This is exactly what Leah elected to do but in March of 2017 she was diagnosed with breast cancer leaving all doctors more than puzzled. During her battle with breast cancer, she got personal and began to share her journey openly on social media with video diaries from the hospital and through her blog. I think that everyone who knows her was not only cheering her on but also so inspired by her courage and willingness to share her fight with an open heart.
As I’ve watched from the sidelines rooting for Leah, I’ve had so many questions and so I was thankful when she agreed to sit down and share the story of her fight with me. As you will see, my curiosity is planted in her bravery and courage. I was also curious to know how mortality changes your relationship with beauty and keeping up with our current day standards.
Me: I’m inspired by your fight but, part of me wonders how it feels to hear from others that your courage, which has come from a place of pain, is the source of inspiration for so many. How did you find courage in such a scary time?
Leah: To be humans means to struggle. It’s that common thread that makes my version of pain no different than your version of pain. It’s only a different “flavor” of adversity. I find courage in witnessing our collective strength.
Me: What inspired you before and after cancer?
Leah: Before cancer, I was most inspired by people who set out to achieve a goal(s) and with hard-work made those aspirations come to fruition. After cancer, what most inspires me is witnessing human beings being human. I think this takes great courage.
Me: Your diagnosis really stumped your doctors, which I know has created an unknown future. How do you live life with uncertainty?
Leah: Through my past treatment, I learned to live through the fear. Each day, I had one more day under the belt. The fear is still there, but each day I become more confident and learn to be with the fear.
Me: There are so many studies linking cancer to our personal care products and practices. How has your diagnosis changed your products and lifestyle?
Leah: When you are diagnosed with cancer, the doctors tell you to watch what you eat and put on your body, but there isn’t much education beyond that in regards to personal products. Today I use natural deodorant, natural skincare and cosmetics, and I no longer dye my hair.
Me: How has your idea of beauty changed?
Leah: As many women in their mid-forties, my definition of beauty before I was diagnosed with cancer at age 46 relied heavily on my external perception of self, better known as body image. I took pride in being fit and looking fit. I was always a low maintenance minimalist make-up kind of girl. So, for me, health meant beautiful. And, I wanted my body to look healthy. Since being diagnosed with both ovarian and breast cancer, my body has changed radically. I have a scar running from the tip of my pubic bone to the tip of my sternum. I have had a double mastectomy. I’ve been bald twice while losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. My body has at times grown so weak that I needed help getting to the bathroom. My definition of beauty had to change or that meant I could no longer see myself as beautiful. Now, beauty is not just an inside job, it goes deeper than that. Beauty is a reflection of the soul. I can no longer rely on my body to reflect beauty. I look to my body to carry my soul. And, that’s a pretty important job so I thank it daily for being the protector of my beauty, the protector of my soul.
Me: Do you have words of advice for your younger self?
Leah: Be gentle, more compassionate, forgiving, and don’t strive so much.
Me: Fill in the blank. I am _________.
Leah: I am relieved. With humility comes grace and I’m relieved to be so humbled. I feel like I don’t have to try so hard anymore. I’m good enough!
Beauty services are often halted during cancer treatment. This past year, we committed to offer non-toxic products for all services we offer at She She Beauty Lounge, so I invited Leah in for some pampering with us. Giving back to this beautiful woman who has fought for her life and inspired others in the process was a no-brainer. I was honored to step into the treatment room to give Leah a facial using Eminence Organics. Krista did a makeup application using clean products by Beautycounter and Kylie did a manicure and pedicure using non-toxic polish by Zoya.
Leah is a psychotherapist and care navigator for Hope Lives!, a local non-profit organization founded by breast cancer survivor, Lydia Dody. The organization provides funding for various services related to breast cancer treatment and services individuals in Larimer and Weld counties. Leah also maintains a private practice. If you have a moment, go check out her blog and I highly recommend her post “I wear lipstick to chemo, “ where she candidly discusses beauty being an inside job. Please spare a minute and share a kind word or encouragement below for Leah!