Why: Naomi's Story

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Growing up, I was always active in some type of sport: gymnastics, soccer, volleyball, track, and cross country. I enjoyed sports, enjoyed challenging myself, and enjoyed “being young.” I grew up with a disabled father, who wasn’t able to do much due to his military service. As a child, I never knew anything different and just had the idea in my head that sports and being active was only for kids. My mom was raising four kids and homeschooling all of us - bless her - so she didn’t have much time to be active either. This helped form my misconception that once you’re an adult, that was it - no sports, no activities. Funny how you look back at your interpretation of the world to see what’s changed, huh?

Near the end of college, I landed an internship at a firm that formed the basis for my career. I was so excited to hear they had intramural sports and was eager to go watch a softball game. Afterall, working while earning my degree didn’t afford me much time to breathe at all, let alone workout. When I got to the game I was amazed to see all these industry professionals (who were my parents’ age!) pitching and rounding the bases like it was nothing. I had a surreal moment that changed my misconception: being active and playing sports doesn’t have to stop when you’re an adult! Look at these “old” people tearing it up on that field!

As a graduation present to myself, I splurged on a CrossFit gym membership. That opened my eyes to a whole new world: nutrition, weight lifting, and a whole new level of challenging myself. That year in my life really inspired me to not ever give up an active lifestyle, despite work obligations and, dare I say, “being an adult.” I was happy to know I really could continue doing this.

A few years later my life, the lives of my family were turned upside down with the shocking news that my sister, only 31 years old, did not have a clogged milk duct after giving birth to my niece just two and a half weeks prior. Instead, that rock-hard lump was stage 3c breast cancer. (Another misconception: that can’t happen, because she’s too young.)

We learned that cancer indeed knows no age, and hers was actually due to the genetic mutation BRCA1 that gave her an 87% chance of getting breast cancer to begin with. As you can imagine, we did everything we could to help her health and help her body fight the cancer, while standing up to chemotherapy treatments and radiation. We researched everything under the sun for her diet, and really looked at a holistic approach to health, which is more than just “being fit.” It’s also managing your stress, being mindful of what you put into your body, getting fresh air, getting enough sleep, and it’s appreciating and loving life, even when it may seem hard.

During the two-and-a-half years of my sister’s battle, I took my health more seriously than I already had to begin with. I was tested and found that I too carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation, putting me also at a significantly high risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other cancers. In the interest of my own health, I opted for a preventative double mastectomy. It was a rough and very painful process. I went from being an athlete that could do push-ups ‘til the cows came home (well, almost) to barely being able to lift my own cellphone or cup of water (thank goodness for my husband who did everything for me). But guess what? I greatly reduced my chances of breast cancer and I now have a much better chance at being alive to be with my family longer.

The last two-and-a-half years drove home even deeper meaning as to why living and striving for a healthy lifestyle is so important: health is never guaranteed, you only have one life to live, and I want to set the example for the children in my life that being active is not just for kids! My Sis (as I called her) fought long and hard for her life, but is unfortunately no longer with us. I have to be around for as long as possible to watch her babies grow up, to teach them who their mother was, and to be that crazy, fun aunt my Sis always loved.

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Being healthy allows me to give the best of myself to those I love. In trying to navigate this new life filled with the grief of losing my sister, I find joy in living for her. I love moving, running, playing, and enjoying being alive. It reminds me of how lucky I am to still be here, how lucky I am to have grown up with her. My sister’s feisty and tenacious spirit remains with me and helps me keep my chin up and my feet moving.