October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a stage IV triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve been sharing my survival story for the last six years with patients and survivors, as well as giving back to UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation. Triple-negative cancer (the most aggressive type of breast cancer) became the inspiration behind my company, Zero Negative, as I learned firsthand, every negative challenge we face has the potential to become a transformative, positive life experience. I believe in order to turn negatives into positives, we must embrace our challenges with love, gratitude, trust, and a willingness to grow.
No one ever expects to hear the words, “You have cancer.” As patients, it’s easy to feel like victims. We feel we have no power over our situation, and everything is out of control. And it’s true, we are victims. But we don’t have to be. In fact, we have a lot of power over our situation. We have the choice in how we want to perceive it. We can choose to look at cancer as a “blessing” or a “curse.” How we perceive our situations sets up what we intend to get out of situations, and this is what defines our journeys.
Instinct kicked in when I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, I like to think my soul took over, and I’ve been processing the lessons ever since. If I can understand how and why I survived, then I can help others do the same. I was very aware that death was a high possibility, and that the odds were against me. I also knew I didn’t want to be miserable for the last years of my life. I wanted to make every day amazing (even through treatment), and celebrate the journey I was about to undertake … Could if be my last one? In order to achieve this, I realized there were two ways to look at something, positive or negative, and I had the choice. And what I focused on make me feel good or bad. SO, I embraced everything positive, my family, friends, my husband who immediately became my “caregiver,” our amazing dog who was by my side the entire time, and had a deep appreciation and trust for my team of doctors. I embraced chemo as “medicine” that was saving my life, I saw my tumor as part of me, not against me. I paid attention to it, felt it dissolve, thanked it for dissolving, and understood the reason it was there in the first place. Wow, I became grateful for this tumor that was the size of a tennis ball, it led me to see how disconnected I was to my true self. I never came to grips with my past, and because of this, I didn’t love myself at all. This tumor wasn’t trying to kill me, it was trying to show me how to love again.
My advice for anyone who is recently diagnosed, ask yourself the question, How do you want to experience cancer? How do you want to experience chemo? Can you be at peace with having cancer, and look for what is trying to be healed? Because you are in charge, not cancer or chemo, it’s up to you. That is where your power lies. When you choose to learn and grow, you feel empowered, you feel blessed, you feel like the Universe is on your side, and you are writing the story you wish to live out. In fact, with gratitude as your sword, we don’t even need to know the end. We walk step by step, day by day, enjoying the ride no matter where it ends. And just so we’re clear, death IS the ultimate end, for everyone, so wouldn’t you want to walk towards death, living in gratitude, love, and peace, enjoying every moment possible?
I didn’t know if I would live or die from cancer. But I chose to believe I would live. I wanted to believe cancer was going to be the best thing to happen to me, and in order to make that happen, I had to believe cancer was a vehicle to reach my end goals, a life full of happiness, peace, and joy.
Who would have thought that decision would guide me into past trauma that needed healing? I see it all now as I continue to process. I had lost track of who I was, and cancer was a wake up call. Cancer was the journey back to me, to what life is all about …
It’s easy to try LOVE on, you don’t need to get a cancer diagnosis. Practice when you are going through something annoying, or in an argument with a spouse, a boss, or someone in your family. Practice loving the irritability, the energy that you experience, the disgust or anxiety that comes up when you get annoyed. It’s not pleasant at first, and it’s natural to run away from it. But if you can say to yourself, I get to be annoyed right now, I get to be pissed off and irritable…I get to choose LOVE over FEAR, I get to do all of this because I’m ALIVE! Bringing awareness into every moment is a lifetime practice. Getting to know ourselves through our reactions is also a practice. But I can definitely say, it’s worth it.
Isn’t it fun to be alive?
I hope I can continue to inspire others through my story, as I am also learning as I go, so, thanks for listening.
For more information about Zero Negative, www.ShopZeroNegative.com, and check out the book I wrote with my husband, Everyone Needs a Larry, on Amazon. It’s a he-said-she-said story how we survived love, marriage, and stage IV cancer, and it’s written by the patient and caregiver. We hope to help couples turn their negative cancer journeys into positive, healing experiences!
To a healthy and happy world,
Jennifer Greenhut Tollin turned her stage IV breast cancer diagnosis into an inspiring, uplifting story. The lessons she learned led her to create Zero Negative (www.ShopZeroNegative.com), which promotes love and positivity through accessories. A portion of the company’s profits is donated to UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation to support cancer research. Jennifer’s story and products have been featured on Extra Tonight, Good Morning LaLa Land, the Hallmark Channel, Ventura Blvd Magazine, and in various podcasts. In addition, she was honored by UCLA Health and the Lakers in their Laker For A Day program, sharing her story at a Lakers Game. She was a US National Gymnastics Team member and an actress, singer, songwriter, and yoga teacher.
In addition, she also wrote a book with her husband, Larry Tollin, called Everyone Needs a Larry. Told from both the patient and caregiver perspectives, Everyone Needs a Larry is a he-said-she-said quirky and humorous survival story that shares the mistakes, lessons, challenges, and joys of a couple fumbling their way through love, marriage, and cancer. Whether you face the challenge of cancer or another adversity, Jenn and Larry demonstrate how our scariest times have the possibility to become our greatest chapters. Life is about sharing stories, healing ourselves, and helping others, and now on the other side of cancer, Jenn believes you will always win at life once you LOVE who you are and the challenges that come with being you.