By: Dr. Toby S. Jenkins, Assistant Professor
Georgia Southern University
As a breast cancer survivor, my boobies have taught me a lot about leadership. Yes, leadership. What do boobs and bras have to do with leadership? A lot!
I am a chronic over achiever-a very hard worker. In college, I was involved in everything—student government, peer mentoring, residence life, program board, greek life. I was in the honors college and had a 3.8 GPA. Each summer, I had a high paying internship at Bank of America. I started pushing my body at a very early age. I never though much about what I ate. College was about good times and working hard. Not about health.
My first job was driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. Hello fun!! We were a group of 30 recent college grads driving around the country on a mega road trip auditioning kids for a television commercial. Life was great. Oscar Mayer paid for our meals so we always ate out. We never had time to exercise because we were always travelling. We were go-getters. Being a young professional was about advancing not about health.
I then became a student affairs administrator in higher education. I loved event planning and decided to take that career and do it on a college campus. So I started working in student activities and planning campus programs like concerts, lectures, and festivals. I put in very long hours. I was often on campus well into the night. But I loved what I did and I loved my students. Being a student affairs staff member was about being dedicated to the students and the campus not about health.
I also looked healthy. Most of my adult life I’ve been very thin—a size 4-6. We often associate poor health with being over weight—that’s wrong. There are a lot of unhealthy skinny people out there and I was one of them. But I didn’t know it. I felt great. Life was good.
Then one day I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. Literally. I couldn’t walk.
I went to the doctor and found out that I had Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune condition where your body begins to fight itself. Normally if you get sick an army of little immune system soldiers wake up and go to war on the cold or illness. Once its wiped out they go back to sleep. In my body, the little soldiers never go back to sleep. They just keep on fighting even when there is nothing bad to fight. So my body is literally killing itself—it can attack my heart, kidneys, skin, vision, etc. if its not controlled through the medicine that I have to take. Lupus affects women more than men and African American women are at greater risk to develop the disease.
But it doesn’t end there.
A few months later, I’m lying in bed one morning and decide to give myself a self-exam. That was something I never did. I have no idea why I decided to do it that day. But I actually felt something and it felt hard as a rock. I knew it didn’t belong. I had it biopsied and it was breast cancer.
After crying my eyes out, I started researching and learned a lot about inflammation, autoimmune disease, and cancer. I knew I had to do the basics like surgery, chemo, radiation, etc. but I also wanted to understand not just how to treat illness but what causes it.
And that’s what I’ve been sharing with young women leaders around the country. Now, while they are still young. While they still have an opportunity to start life practices that will keep them healthy. I’m a professor who teaches leadership. In college, we can urge you to understand your responsibility to be good citizens who are committed to changing the world. We can help you get jobs. We can help you to become successful. But you can’t do any of that if you don’t have your health. You have to be well to have the energy and ability to be the activist, servant, leader, sister, friend, mother, daughter, partner, lover, and change agent that we know you are destined to be. I can’t tell you how much time I spend in doctors’ offices and hospitals when I would rather be out doing community work. Even if it doesn’t kill you, poor health takes your energy, your focus, your time—it takes your life. So its better to take time to build a healthy lifestyle than to waste time fighting disease after it develops. I mapped out a simple plan that I call “A Dozen Roses.” I don’t want to fight cancer. I’m not going to battle lupus. There are casualties on both sides when you are at war with the enemy. So, instead, I am dedicated to loving disease out of my body. Here is what I do. I see it as giving my body a dozen roses everyday.
A Dozen Roses
A fruit shake and a green shake every day packed full of fruits, veggies, vitamins, and herbs like turmeric, milk thistle, flax seed oil, blue green algae, and ginger.
A pseudo-vegan diet with the exception of some good fish like herring, mackerel, sardines, and wild salmon once/twice a week. I just generally cut out meat, processed foods, and dairy. If I have one of these every now and then its no big deal. but when I do I still go for organic, cage free, and grass fed.
Eat LOTS of veggies everyday…don’t just depend on the “fake” vegetarian meals and things like tofu (soy actually fuels some forms of breast cancer so I cut it out). But I make sure I have alot of whole vegetables.
Realized that it wasn’t just about what I WAS eating but also what I WASN’T eating so I added nuts, flax seeds, açai, pure pomegranate, pure cranberry, pure carrot juice, and raw veggies as daily snacks (pure means its bitter…cranberry juice doesn’t taste good..if it does then it has added sugar and other juice concentrates).
Got rid of the gluten and the sugar.
Added vitamin supplements.
Changed my lifestyle and stopped overworking.
Exercise: Though I ate okay, I was lazy. So I got moving because a lack of circulation promotes cancer. I zeroed in on exercise to ensure I was doing cardio, yoga, and weightlifting. And when all else fails, I just dance!
Get outside once a day and enjoy the fresh air…it makes me happy!
Focused on my attitude and spirit…I strongly believe that love is going to be the key to my recovery. I am determined to maintain an enthusiastic spirit of love, peace and joy…I smile and laugh often, I get out and do the things that bring me joy.
Find time for stillness: I meditate, pray or simply sit still.
Make time for friends…they give you life.