I have enjoyed a largely healthy life, with a few exceptions. I had the common tonsilectomy and an uncommon bout of pneumonia as a 5-6 year old. Later I got overly enthusiastic about jumping and after months of competitive broad jumping in my basement, I had injured my heels so badly, I was given a forced two year prohibition on running and jumping (impossibly hard for an 8-year-old). When I was 15, a significant amount of neck and upper back pain led to the discovery I had a secondary scoliosis (spinal curvature), that would keep me out of the military draft, but would also affect my energy and health in significiant ways. Becoming a dancer in my late teens, and later studying T’ai Chi and Yoga, became indispensable tools in managing this condition.
In my adult life, my health remained strong. I followed a healthy mostly vegetarian lifestyle, and I had learned many skills for managing stress. My career had moved from New York actor/singer/dancer to California publisher and marketing executive and eventually to HeartMath “founding director”, and throughout this time my health remained a strong foundation for me.
Having lived what some would call a charmed and glamorous life, the three-year series of “unfortunate health events” (as I’ve whimsically called the period) which began in late 2009 was nothing i could have prepared for. It tested me to the core of my being — to look deeply within my heart to live my values and principles like nothing I had ever experienced in my life.
It’s Definitely Cancer
The first chapter in the story was uncomfortable, scary symptoms, leading to tests and a meeting with a surgeon who firmly told me I had a tumor, “and it’s definitely cancer.” A plan of surgery, biopsies, and “immunotherapy” treatments was outlined that would cover several years. My doctor was guardedly optimistic. Based on my general health, and even though the tumor was considered large, he maintained an optimistic body language as we spoke. I entered the process fairly optimistic as well, believing the plan was doable and hopeful. The surgery went well, the biopsy a few weeks later confirmed the tumor was isolated and had not spread, and the treatments began. They were uncomfortable (as anything involving the treatment of bladder cancer happens to be), but when a few weeks later I was told I had a staph infection, I had no idea that this problem would plague me for the next six months. The scariest moment was when I received a call from my family doctor telling me a test revealed the staph had spread to my blood, this was “life-threatening”, and I would need to go to the hospital immediately. That got my attention!
A hospital visit and the implanting of a PICC line so I could infuse a very strong antibiotic into my blood for the next six weeks, provided a sudden and stark change to my lifestyle. I was now in daily treatment for a life-threatening condition that was a side effect of the treatment for the cancer. This irony was not lost on me, but I determined to remain positive through it all.
This period had a surprising and unpleasant side effect: as I was prohibited from sweating during the six-weeks of the daily antibiotic infusion (which lasted about six hours per day), I was therefore unable to do any significant exercise. This led to the deterioration of conditions in both hips, arthritis in both hip joints that had found me after a very physically active life. Within a few months the staph infections had stopped, but now the hip pain was considerable and worsening. Several therapeutic attempts to avoid surgery over the next few months failed, and I was forced to consider the “ultimate solution” — total hip replacement surgery. I had both hips replaced during a three month period in the summer of 2011.
What makes my heart sing?
I have been a self-reflective person most of my life, thanks to very thoughtful parents who deeply considered global issues such as war, civil rights, social justice. The three-year health journey brought these skills to the forefront. I couldn’t escape some uncomfortable conclusions as I pondered my life over the months. Finally healing and optimistic in late 2011, I had become convinced I needed to step down as CEO of HeartMath and transition to a variety of new roles more closely matching my passions. I needed to live this idea of “what makes my heart sing?” Since late 2011 I have been Global Director, HeartMath HealthCare. In 2012 I took on two new roles as founding director of both HeartMathUK and HeartMath South Africa.
My great passion remains singing and creating beauty in every aspect of life, and I have co-founded “What Makes Your Heart Sing?” with my dear friend the Emmy-award winning composer Gary Malkin. This work involves a range of programs including our flagship “keynote performance” called What Makes Your Heart Sing?, on the power of aligning your life and your work with what is most alive in your heart. (See the tab describing What Makes Your Heart Sing?)
It was the three year period navigating my way through all these health challenges, and the accompanying anxiety, fear, frustration, and gratitude, that showed me how deeply I value beauty and inspiration in all aspects of life …beauty in communication, in art, in relationships, in nature, in product design, in customer service, in poetry, in spirituality. To me beauty is about inspiration, and if I can inspire others with a photo I take, a song I sing, or I post I make, this is my greatest fulfillment.