Although, Lacy Arnold struggled with becoming a mom and with her weight, she candidly shares her journey that led her to win a bikini competition and a thriving wellness business as a mom.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.
I grew up in a large family and I always wanted babies from the time I was about 2 years old. My biggest dream in life was to be a mother, but that didn’t easily happen for me. I had years of struggle and infertility. But now I am a mom of 3 wonderful kids.
One of my passions is health and fitness. I have a degree in Health and Wellness and I am certified as a Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.
I was always interested in that field. I love being in the outdoors and being really active.
I own LeanMoms.com, which is a company for moms that provides a holistic healthy lifestyle program. And I’m also a co-owner of a meditation company called, Sculptations.com, a scientifically engineered audio tool that anyone can use to sculpt the life he or she wants. I help write the scripts for the guided meditations.
WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY THAT LED YOU TO CREATE YOUR HEALTH AND WELLNESS BUSINESSES?
It was kind of a long process. Before I had children I got into the health field, earned my degree and certifications. I was fascinated about how women’s bodies function differently and why they need special care, especially after they have children.
For me, after undergoing through years of infertility treatments, it took a toll on my self-esteem as well as my body image. I’d gain 10-20 pounds, then I’d lose some and then gain them back. Finally, after 5 years, I finally got pregnant.
During that time, I wanted to make sure I did everything right, even though I wasn’t sure what that was. So, I ate a lot, because I felt I needed to feed the baby also. I ended up gaining an additional 65 pounds through that pregnancy.
At that time, my main focus was to get pregnant and have the baby. My perception of a mom growing up was that after you have a baby, your body is just shot and you would be fat forever and that’s just the way it is.
Even though I was so ecstatic to be a mom, I remember looking in the mirror one day and just feeling depressed with what I saw. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t have enough energy and I wanted more. Then I felt guilty for feeling bad, because I wanted to be a mom so badly and I had what I wanted.
I started researching and doing different weight loss programs. A lot of them were unhealthy ways. And as a mom, I was stressed out and displayed a lot of emotional eating behaviors.
Then I went on to have two more babies through IVF. As a result, my body was just shot by the time I had my third baby. I felt like I was 60 years old. I really wanted real and lasting change. So, I just took the bull by the horns and decided that I needed to create a way for moms to feel better.
I formulated and followed a health and fitness program, competed in a couple of bikini competitions and won one of them, which was huge for me because I started at over 200 pounds and ended up winning an NPC bikini competition!
So, that stirred up my passion and showed me that moms can be fit, lean and sexy. The question was how to balance it all correctly. It doesn’t have to be something that takes you away from your family or is another task on your to do list per se. You can incorporate all these things that I teach in my Lean Moms program into your everyday life.
WHAT DOES LEAN MOMS OFFER?
Lean Moms is a company based on a holistic program for busy moms. We are just in the process of launching a new program, which has 4 parts and starts with resetting their bodies by doing a detox cleanse. The second piece is reintroducing nutrients for moms specifically, because their bodies get so depleted through childbirth and everything. It’s based on following a whole foods meal plan. Thirdly, there are 15 minute fat- burning workouts you can do at once or break it up throughout the day for amazing results.
My philosophy is going back to our primal state when fitness was incorporated into people’s everyday lives.
Lastly, my favorite part is the mindset component, which is one of the pieces that gets overlooked when striving for a healthy lifestyle. The mindset component is meditation based on MRT Technology to retrain your brain. I have one on emotional eating, ideal body image, as well as, a relaxation one before going to sleep and when you wake up.
TELL US ABOUT SCULPTATIONS.COM.
My business partner and I create audio meditations using MRT technology, which is a unique combination of binaural beats, heartbeat, and breathing technology along with empowering music that are all specially engineered to train your brain for success.
Each MindSculpting Track is scientifically proven to affect brain wave patterns to induce positive effects. This includes laser-like focus, enhanced creativity, greater problem-solving capabilities, and an accelerated learning capacity.
My business partner writes the harmonic meditations and I write the scripts for the guided meditations. We launched the company, because we felt that a lot of people didn’t really understand the benefits of meditation and we wanted people to benefit from this type of technology.
We offer various types of guided meditations for every aspect of your life, such as wealth, health and relationships. And we also have a kid series, which I’m very excited about, because I’m passionate about finding different ways for kids to feel healthier. My own kids had anxiety issues and so meditations help with self-esteem and relaxation at night.
WHAT TOP ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH MOMS WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH GETTING HEALTHY AND/OR FEELING GOOD ABOUT HER BODY AND HERSELF?
My best advice is to just start. Just to do one thing. It could be no soda this week. Sometimes starting an entire health regimen can be so overwhelming. I know about that because I’ve been there. However, a little bit of progress is better than no progress. Set short time goals.
You can start small and as you start to see some results, it’s going to change the way you feel. You’re going to like it and continue doing it. Many of us just tend to dive in where we have to do something perfect or nothing at all. I always tell my clients that if they mess up, like eat something
they weren’t supposed to or didn’t do that workout, to start over right then instead of waiting to start again on the next Monday or tomorrow.
People say everyday is a new day, but my philosophy is it’s a new hour. You always have the new time in front of you to shift, forgive yourself and get back on track.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO A MOM WHO JUST HAD HER FIRST BABY AND IS STRUGGLING WITH HER BODY IMAGE?
I would say to be patient with yourself, but do something. You can start slow and know that your skin will return somewhat normal. You’re always going to have some scars or marks from pregnancy, which I call badges of honor. Your body is just different after having a baby.
My new program is based on what happens after you have babies. Your fat cells multiply and your hormones shift. So, you’re more apt to store fat. Some moms lose weight when they are nursing, but they also need to be more careful when they stop nursing.
There’s a way around it where you’re not starving all the time and you don’t need to work out for 2 hours a day. You can have a lean body after your baby.
Be patient and love yourself. Be proud of the accomplishment you did with having your child. Enjoy that time.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO LIVE A MORE BALANCED LIFE?
There are a couple of things to avoid entrepreneurial meltdown or Mommy meltdown. Make sure you set boundaries for yourself. So often we just let everything happen.
Some of my boundaries are no technology or electronics on Sundays. We’ll spend time reading together, go on hikes or go to the Farmer’s Market. I admit that it’s hard for me to go without technology, but I learned the hard way.
My other is that I refuse to miss my workouts. Maybe I’m strapped to the computer all day, but I’ll take breaks every hour and do 50 squats or 25 push-ups. I have to fit it in my daily life.
Also, I make sure I’m present when I have dinner with my family and to tuck my daughters in bed at night. These are things I refuse to compromise on no matter how busy I am or what’s going on in my life.
SHARE SOMETHING DIFFERENT OR UNIQUE ABOUT YOU THAT MAY SURPRISE PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOU.
When you’re in a health business, people always think that you don’t have moments where you don’t eat well, but pizza is my huge weakness.
My weight fluctuates too. I don’t let it get out of control, but there are times where I just let my hair down. I don’t always look as perfect as I do on my website.
After a 4am wake-up call from an idea, Shelly Ehler shares her journey on how she never gave up and carried her invention from a prototype to a feature on The Today Show and Shark Tank.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.
I grew up in Orange County, California. I went to the University of Arizona and studied to be a schoolteacher. I married my high school sweetheart shortly thereafter and we have two sons who are now 12 and 9 years old.
I invented a product called ShowNo Towels, which are the perfect bath towel that kids can use to dry off on their own. It is a cover-up that keeps them warm and protected from the sun and it is a changing towel that kids can put on and change their clothes underneath in privacy. It is also the perfect beach towel, because it can lay flat on the sand.
SHARE WITH US YOUR JOURNEY THAT LED YOU TO YOUR INVENTION.
I got the idea when I was at the pool with my sons. When it was time to leave and they wanted to change into their dry clothes, my older son asked me to wrap a towel around him so that he could change in privacy. When I was holding his towel, my younger son started to get impatient because he wanted me to hold his towel.
As my younger son started to have a melt down, this situation got me thinking that there should be something that I could throw over both of them and they could change on their own without me having to hold anybody’s towel.
I always think of different ways for kids to be more independent, as well as ways to make my life easier. As I thought a little more about it, nothing really came to mind. So, I slept on it that night until 4 in the morning when I just shot out of bed.
I literally sat right up and thought, “why not just put a slit in the towel and make it like a poncho that would cover their front and back?” It was such a simple idea. So, I jumped on Google and searched for something like that. The only thing I found were little hooded towels for babies and nothing for kids after the age of 4 years. When kids are that young, they still don’t really know how to manipulate a towel to dry themselves off and wrap it around themselves.
Once I saw there was nothing available, I thought about it and immediately started to work on my idea. I got a towel and cut a hole in it. When I put it over me, I thought, “Oh my gosh… I think this can work!”
I couldn’t wait for my kids to wake up that morning. I already had my first prototype done by the time they were out of bed. I put it around both of them and told them to change their clothes. They thought I was crazy, but they did it anyway. And it worked!
When we went to the pool that day, I had at least 5 people come up to me and asked what my boys were wearing and where I got it from. From that moment, I knew that I was on to something. It was such a simple idea and when I looked around the pool, I saw that every kid needed it. All the kids were covering themselves with a towel or changing in public. I saw a need for this type of towel.
And that’s really how it all started.
WOW! YOU DIDN’T WASTE TIME!
I didn’t waste time with the idea, but then I sat on it for months and months, because I didn’t know what to do next. I felt the typical fear and didn’t really move forward because of the same reasons why so many people don’t start with their ideas. I just kept listening to the voice in my head that said it was going to be too hard; you won’t know how to do this; you don’t have any money.
However, when it finally came down to it, my heart just kept whispering louder and louder to me and it wouldn’t go away. Finally, I heard this voice in my heart say, ”Anything is possible and your “how” will appear when you take that leap of faith and go for it!” So, I just went for it and things started showing up exactly when I needed them to make this product a reality.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR PRODUCT FEATURED ON TV SHOWS AND TO THE BIG MARKETS?
The first big step was getting on the Today Show. I got that by sending the Today Show some towels.
I think so many times people think that it’s too hard or they’re not important enough. But you will never know until you try. You’re going to get so many “no’s” as an entrepreneur. Sometimes you’ll send a dozen of emails each day and hear back from no one, but you have to keep sending them. It’s just the risk you take.
One of my goals on my list was to be on the Today Show. Every morning I would light a candle and just close my eyes and call for it in my mind. I envisioned it happening. Within a few months, my towel was on the Today Show.
I strongly believe that your intuition will guide you. So many times people will dismiss that small, little voice in their head, but I don’t. I listen to that voice. It is what guides me now. When I hear that little voice telling me to send the towel to someone, I follow in faith and do it. A lot of times it works out.
HOW DID YOU MAKE IT ON SHARK TANK?
We aired on the Today Show in the beginning of June 2011. It was funny because I didn’t know what to expect. I thought we were going to blow in sales and I was going to be swamped. I was the only person here making the towels and I only had 20 in stock. I was worried my website would crash and I was in panic.
When it aired, none of that happened. I sold about 20 towels that day. I remembered just feeling like such a failure. I had this huge opportunity and I turned it into just 20 towels in sales. It didn’t look like I thought it would be. I was really disappointed and upset.
I told everyone in the world that we were going to be on the Today Show. And now everyone was calling and emailing me and asking how it went after the show. I felt so unsuccessful.
But I got quiet and kept on asking WHY. Then I heard in my mind, “Look. Your product was viewed today by millions of people. Are you going to say… Is that all or will you say thank you? One of those thoughts will lead to a door where anything is possible and one of them will close it.” I gave myself 5 minutes to be mad. I set my timer and I cried. Then when I was done, I chose to be grateful for it.
The next day, I got a phone call from the operators of the largest water parks in the country, who kept on saying no to me after numerous emails and calls. They saw my towel on the Today Show and wanted to establish me as a vendor in their parks.
This is where I got my big aha moment. The results of being on the show can look so different. It can look so many different ways! Just because it didn’t turn out the way I expected it to be, doesn’t mean it was a failure.
On Facebook, I posted to all my friends to share with everyone that I was on the Today Show and to share the link. One of my good friends posted the link and it reached someone who did casting for Shark Tank.
I was invited to an open casting call the following week. Prior to this, everyone was telling me to get on the show, but I had no interest in being on Shark Tank. It gave me anxiety. I didn’t want to be on a national TV show and look like a loser. I had to really think about it.
However, one thing I learned is when something continually shows up in your life, it’s really the universe sending you a message. So, even though I was terrified, I said yes to being on Shark Tank.
It worked out better than I could have imagined. I heard within a week that they were casting me. I started working with the producers immediately and within 3 weeks I was pitching to “the sharks.”
HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEING ON SHARK TANK?
It was crazy! The 3 weeks preparing for the show were the most nerve wracking of my life. I have never been that nervous. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was sick to my stomach.
When the day arrived, as terrified as I was, the minute I walked in there, I felt peace. I can only attribute it to the fact that I just told myself that I’m letting go and I’m just going to let it work out the way it’s supposed to be. I just asked God to work through me, to speak for me and just to take over, which is exactly what happened. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I spoke every sentence beautifully. I didn’t stumble a word. I answered every single question clearly and I was precise. I got my point across.
I left there with a better deal than what I was asking for, which happens very rarely on the show. I was the first entrepreneur on the show that was given a check on the spot.
To me, that was just divine. It all worked out in such an incredible way. I felt so blessed. And I was in shock for several days. I couldn’t believe that it all happened.
Not only that, but I was seen by the largest towel manufacturer in the country who licenses towels. They approached me, because they wanted to take on ShowNo Towels and design them with licensed characters, such as Dora, Spiderman, Spongebob, etc. So, this spring we should be in Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond and other big stores.
WHAT TOP ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH A MOM WHO HAS AN IDEA AND WANTS TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
You have to find that still quiet voice. Get quiet, find silence and connect with that small, small voice inside of you. We don’t easily hear it, because our world is too loud. The TV is always on. We’re on our devices, the internet and all the social media channels. It’s all too noisy.
Find a quiet space and learn to listen and connect to your voice. It’s that voice that will guide you every step of the way towards your divine destiny. It’s not something I think. It’s something I know to be true, because it has guided me all along. And when I’m lost, I just quiet myself and I find it again. And almost instantly people start showing up to help you along your path.
Follow that voice in faith. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you don’t have a dime or if everyone else thinks you’re crazy. Who cares! You put one foot in front of the next. Don’t try to figure it all out. It will overwhelm you and bog you down. Just figure out today. Pick one step to do today.
It’s not all going to happen overnight. I think a big mistake that people make is they don’t realize the challenge that goes into something like this. And that it does not happen overnight. It takes time and patience. If you don’t have the strength, the faith and the patience, you will get burned out very quickly.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU LEARNED AS AN ENTREPRENEUR?
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my journey is that when you follow in faith, it’s all going to work out. You have to believe it will all work out the way it’s supposed to.
Just because things don’t appear the way you think it’s supposed to doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make is that we feel disappointed when things don’t go the way we think they’re supposed to go.
But what you don’t realize is when you keep following in faith you’ll see how it all unfolds. You’ll see how all the twists and turns and the closed doors actually work to your advantage. But if you stop, like so many people do, they just get discouraged over the closed doors and think it’s never going to happen.
The truth is when a dream has taken root within you; it will always manifest the way it’s supposed to if you continue to follow it in faith. So, my biggest advice is to not get discouraged when things don’t look like they’re supposed to. That’s when you must keep going.
Say thank you for the things that happen the way you want and also to the things that don’t happen the way you want, because you’re being protected. The best thing you can do every single day is to say thank you.
WHAT DOES BALANCE MEAN TO YOU?
It’s not always easy for me to stay balanced a lot of times.
The things that keep me happy, at peace and feeling balanced is 10 minutes of meditation in the morning. This makes a huge difference for me. It’s the way I focus my day.
I also get some form of exercise each day. If I don’t make it to the gym, I just take my dog for a walk. I just get out in the fresh air and get some form of exercise, which always helps me get out all of my nervous energy, get centered and ground myself.
Father of his 1-year-old son, Chad Stamm shares his joys and challenges as a first time dad, how he incorporates his business life at home and what he does to balance it all.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a father of a 1-year-old boy and have been living in Boulder, Colorado for about six or seven years now. Prior to that, I had been living in New York for a while and loved it. It’s a very different place to live. But when my wife’s sister and mom moved to Colorado, we saw the opportunity and decided to make the move knowing that starting a family was imminent.
The lifestyle here is great and it’s a great place to raise kids. There’s a little bit of a lack of diversity in Boulder, but we hope to mitigate that by taking our kid out to travel and expose him to things. That’s a big reason why we’re here.
Also, when I was younger, my dad took me backpacking out West in the summers. Since he was a teacher, he had the summers off and we’d pile into the camper and literally drove around the West to hike and backpack in places like the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Rocky Mountain. I really fell in love
with Rocky Mountain National Park, which is about 35 miles from Boulder.
My wife and I have been married for 7 years now. We met at the University of Florida where we are proud and happy alums. We actually went back to our college town to get married and get our pictures taken across the campus, including the 50-yard line of the football field.
A couple of months after we got married, we quit our jobs in New York and traveled to Europe for six months which was how long the money we saved up lasted.
Now that you’ve been a father for a little over a year, what has changed or happened that you didn’t expect?
When were pregnant with my son, so many of our family and friends already had kids. So, everybody told us what to expect and they all had an opinion on things. But, the one thing that nobody told me about, which was the biggest surprise, was how much comedy is involved with a kid. I’m laughing constantly. There is a constant source of entertainment and I feel like I could probably write a sitcom.
What is the most recent thing your son has done that surprised you?
Apparently, he has a thing for brunettes. We were on an airplane flying back to see my family and we were sitting next a young brunette girl. My son is kind of going through the phase now where he doesn’t like
to go to anybody else but mommy and daddy. So, we were shocked to see that all my boy wanted to do was sit on her lap and crawl all over her. He just wanted to hang out with her and didn’t want to be away from her.
Then on the return flight we had a very similar experience with another younger brunette girl who was sitting across the aisle from us. My son wouldn’t stop playing peek-a-boo with her the entire flight. It was sort of weird.
What do you enjoy most about being a father?
At this point, I think just seeing the light bulb go off in his head. Understanding that he has made a connection with something whether it’s vocabulary, an emotional thing or just a sense of enjoyment. To see that light bulb go off makes all the work worth it. That’s the rewarding part, such as the first time we put him in the swing and seeing how big his eyes got. Taking him into the pool the first time and just watching him realize that he was in a much bigger bathtub than he was used to.
My wife and I really value travel and we spent a ton of our savings doing that, as opposed to other things like buying houses. I can’t wait until he gets to the point where he understands where he’s at and where he’s going. Now it’s more of the audio-visual sensory type of thing, but once he starts connecting places, I can’t wait to travel with him.
As far as the travel stuff goes, I’m an active member of Rotary International and I actually chair the Rotary Youth Exchange Committee for our club, as well as serving on the District Committee as Country Contact for Austria,Germany and Switzerland. I’m heavily involved with the Exchange Program. One thing that we want to do is expose our son to other cultures and places. He’s going to have exchange brothers and sisters from around the world, which is going to be a big part of what we do with him.
What is your biggest challenge as a father at this point?
Interestingly enough, it is balance. Especially going through this for the first time, I didn’t really understand the workload involved. Even though we have a very easy baby, he’s still a lot
of work. In addition, add the work of starting a business, I have to balance all that. The one part, which gets put on the back burner a lot, is time between my wife and I to make sure that we’re doing things that we need to do for each other.
Another challenging part is to take some time out for myself. This is something I have to encourage my wife to do more, because she’s hesitant to do that as a mother. I believe she has to take time for herself and go out, whether it’s to go running, go meet coworkers at happy hour or whatever it might be.
I’m a creative person so I know how much I value that time and I have to haveitorIgocrazy. Asahobby,Ioil paint and write fiction. That’s my time.
It’s tough for me because my office is twenty steps from my bedroom, and I have to make sure that I put that barrier up so when I walk outside my office door, it’s family time. I have to make sure what stays in the office, literally stays in the office and it doesn’t invade my private life.
That’s certainly something that I struggle to balance with especially because he’s still young and is at home during the day. Over the next year or so, we’ll start putting him into day care. Since
the very beginning, I take Tuesdays off and spend time with my son, which I call, “Tuesdays with Sharkey.” My nickname for my baby is Sharkey just because he eats everything.
Now that he’s getting older we’re starting to do more things. This past Tuesday we went for barbecue together, which is one of my favorite things in the world. My son loves art and paintings. So, we go to the Denver Art Museum and the Van Gogh Exhibit, which was pretty special for me. We took him out of the stroller and walked into this amazing exhibit of Van Gogh paintings that we had here in Denver. We walked through the doors and I started to choke up a little bit. It was kind of cool just carrying him around, and watching him stretch his arms out and make grunting noises when he sees something that he likes. Next weekend we’re going to the Rothko Exhibit, a mid-20th century painter famous for big blocks of color and juxtapositioning reds and oranges. I think it will be a good way to teach him color.
Share with us what your business is all about?
The business name is Sitters4Charities.org and we provide parents with access to babysitters, nannies and au pairs. In the process, we make a donation to one of four charities, which the parent selects when they sign up.
Between my business partner and myself, both of our wives have always encouraged us to follow our dreams. We didn’t just want to build a company, but do something that makes a difference at the same time. We want to provide a great service and a worthy product, but also give something back to the community in the process.
Especially as a new parent, you realize quickly that many times your social schedule revolves around your child care provider’s schedule. If you’re babysitter isn’t available, then you’re not going out that night. That’s just the reality of it.
When we were creating Sitters4Charities.org, I was four months into fatherhood and started to realize the value of high quality childcare.
What does living a balanced life mean to you?
As a father, I think there are different aspects. It’s about all the requirements that come with fatherhood, being a husband and being a career-minded entrepreneur while making sure I take time for myself as well. I do my best to spend equal time on all of them. Obviously, at some point, work may take over or if you have a sick baby, the childcare takes over. It’s basically about making sure that the time spent and the emotion put into those things are equal.
What are the things that you like to do that help you maintain a sense of balance in life?
Particularly in the summertime, my wife and I just like to put the baby in a stroller and take walks around town. We are about a ten minute walk up and over the hills to downtown Boulder, CO. We enjoy the walking lifestyle. It allows us to spend time as a family. As husband and wife, we can have discussions and be present, and the baby is with us.
Also, I always like to be on the move. Travel is important for us. Taking a walk around the neighborhood isn’t traveling, but it still, in some strange sense, quenches that thirst to move, look around and explore.
A Cervical Cancer survivor, Amy Weber shares her journey of leaving her hometown to pursue her dreams in the entertain- ment industry, battling cancer twice and experiencing infertil- ity challenges. Through dedication and persistence, Amy was able to become a mom of energetic twins.
Share a little background about yourself.
I had a Midwestern upbringing on a small farm in Illinois. I had chores and many things I had to do on a daily basis, which I thought was unfair at the time. But the good thing about that now is that it instilled a really tough work ethic in me.
I had an abusive childhood, which caused me to become a people pleaser. I didn’t want to make any mistakes and I just wanted to make everyone happy. As a child, I used to race motorcycles, which was really born out of trying to make my father happy. It was really not a passion that I had. I just didn’t want to make my father angry.
When I was young, I was always per- forming for our neighborhood or doing fine arts contests. There was something inside of me that really wanted to tell stories and perform.
What was your journey that led you to the entertainment industry?
When I was 22 years old, I made a big move to Los Angeles, CA on my own to pursue an entertainment industry career. I had no support from my family. I remember my mother saying to me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was going to fail. If I returned home, they would not be there for me.
But I really knew at around 20 years old or so that this was something I wanted to do and I was smart enough to know that I wasn’t going to move to a big city without some sort of savings. So, I took on 3 jobs and saved as much money as I could.
At that time, I felt that I really didn’t have much to lose. I didn’t have much of a supportive family. So, I figured if my move didn’t work out, I wasn’t going to be worse off than I was at that time. Pursuing my dream was in my heart and I wanted it so badly that it gave me this strong drive inside of me. It surpassed the fear of not knowing anyone or not knowing where I was going to live when I left.
After moving to L.A., I did a lot of research, reading and phone calls. Within the first few weeks, I ended up getting an agency that started sending me out to theatrical and commercial jobs. I was also able to quickly get my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. I then met a photographer on a commercial audition and ended up doing a photo shoot with him. He sent my pictures to this really big modeling agency that took me on for a lot of print modeling work, which is how I was able to afford to pay my rent and bills if acting jobs weren’t coming in.
I love acting because you see these words on paper that you can bring to life, tell the story and share a great mes- sage within the story. I believe entertainment should be about an escape for people who are watching. It’s supposed to connect and move people.
When you moved to Los Angeles, how did you find out you had cancer?
Prior to moving to Los Angeles, I knew that I was at risk, because my mom told me that she was pretty sure she was given this drug called DES (diethylstil- bestrol) when she was pregnant with me. (According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, DES was used clinically to prevent certain complications of pregnancy, but was later found to be associated with many reproductive problems and an increased risk of certain cancers and pre-cancerous conditions for women exposed to the drug while in the womb.)
I already started to show signs when I was getting checked. I was having these really weird menstrual cycles, which were never regular. They were keeping an eye on me, because I was always having these irregular cells and things were always changing.
When I moved to L.A., I found a new OBGYN who didn’t just want to keep on eye on it. She really wanted to go in there and see what was going on. After she did a couple of procedures, she found Cervical Cancer and I was scheduled for emergency surgery.
I had only been in L.A. for 5-6 months and was gaining momentum in my career, but suddenly this put the brakes on everything. It was difficult for me, because I was going through this alone. I really tried to involve my family at that point, but that turned out to be a mistake. I ended up having to take care of them instead of taking care of me.
It was tough going through all that, but I have to tell you that now I don’t take anything for granted. Nowadays, I always tell people what I think and how I’m feeling, because I never know if I will ever have the chance to do that.
How were you able to go through all that without a good support system?
I had a strong will. In L.A., I was loving my life and what I was doing. I was really happy and my heart was fulfilled with this fire inside of me that was burning so brightly. I think when you pursue what you love, everything just feels right.
However, there were days when I was going through chemo and I wanted to utter the words, “I want to die,” because I was feeling extremely sick and losing my hair. But I didn’t ever want to say it out loud, because that could potentially happen. I didn’t want to manifest that. So, I just got through it.
Each day became a little easier and better; the days turned into weeks. Then pretty soon I was through the other side.
My experience with cancer changed me. When you wake up and parts of your eyelashes are lying on your pillow, it puts a whole new spin on what is beautiful. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter how beautiful you are on the outside. If you are a negative person, have a bad attitude or are not kind to other people, it’s so hard to see that outward beauty. Especially for women, we’re going to evolve and change, but the core of you as a person, your values, your empathy for others is what makes a beautiful heart, which always make you beautiful no matter how old you are. You can look into someone’s eyes and you can see that kind of beauty always shining.
In 2002, the cancer returned. Luckily, it hadn’t reached the margins and it wasn’t spreading. The doctors were able to surgically remove it and I didn’t need additional treatment.
I am cancer free now.
What top advice would you share with those preparing for or currently undergoing treatment for cancer?
Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. You have every right to feel anger, hatred or whatever that is. Don’t deny yourself those feelings. I always say to keep a journal or to write things down so that you’re not taking it out on other people.
As much as you need to care for yourself, try to be aware that people around you have never been through it. They weren’t given a manual either. They don’t know what to say or what to do. Especially before your treatment starts, do your best to think about what you would say to someone or what you would want them to say to you for comfort, because sometimes you’re out of your mind when you’re in the middle of it.
When I’m sick, I’m a different kind of person. I like to be alone. I don’t want someone holding my hair when I’m throwing up. I want to be lying on the bathroom floor, alone. I like to be cold and I don’t want a blanket on me. So, you need to figure out what is going to be best for you and communicate that to people around you, because they’re not mind readers.
Also, I did a lot of visualizations. I felt that was really powerful for me. Every night I would visualize that my cancer was an apple and I would visualize myself biting away that apple and getting rid of it.
Now that your reproductive system was affected, what was your process of becoming pregnant?
I was told when I had cancer that I couldn’t have kids. My husband, David wanted to be a father more than any- thing in the world. So, when we started dating, I told him that he needed to go find somebody else who can give him kids. I loved him enough to let him go. He told me that he loved me and that we would find another way, because was willing to do whatever it took.
Even before we were married, we were researching different ways for me to get pregnant, like acupuncture, taking Clomid, a medication that helps you drop down more than one egg for each cycle, increasing the chances of getting pregnant.
During our wedding, which was being filmed for a show called, Platinum Weddings on the WE channel, I was doing injections, because were trying to retrieve eggs. No one knew that we were doing this. We weren’t ready to share with everyone what we were going through, because we didn’t know if it was going to work and we didn’t want people getting excited and then disappointed.
It was tough, because I had to figure out a way to go upstairs and inject myself with the three injections without anyone being suspicious about anything. So, I decided to change dresses between the ceremony and the reception, which gave me the privacy and some time to do what I needed to do.
After the ceremony, I only had 30 min- utes before the reception, which means I didn’t have time to ice the injection area. Since these injections are intramuscular, the long needle needed to enter the muscle and it was extremely painful. After I did the injections, I had to quickly return to the wedding. When David saw me, it showed on his face that he knew what I had just gone through. We had to do our first dance while I was in so much pain.
When we went through our first cycle, they retrieved 3 or 4 eggs, but none of them fertilized. Unfortunately, when you go through chemotherapy, it kills every- thing. So, it killed a lot of my eggs.
We decided to try again and they were able to retrieve 6 eggs, four of which fertilized. So, we decided to put two in and freeze two. We were so excit- ed, because we were finally pregnant!
Every two weeks, we went to the doctor to see the heartbeats and we started to think of names. But when we went for our 10-week visit, the doctor started the ultra- sound and it remained quiet. She didn’t say anything, but kept on moving around and looking at the ultrasound. At that point, we just all knew. The doctor couldn’t find any heartbeats. So, on my birthday, I had to have a D&C, because they were too far along to pass them on my own.
It was devastating for me. We saw the heartbeats and I felt my body chang- ing and then they’re just gone. One of the toughest things is when they did an autopsy to find out what happened and they found nothing wrong. As a woman, I felt like I failed, my body failed me and that I’m not a woman, because if I was a woman and if I was whole and normal, this wouldn’t be happening. I just really got down on myself and I felt I couldn’t ever do this again.
After a while, we decided to go to a new doctor to try something different. He suggested that I see a Reproductive Immunologist to see what was going on with my body. After they took 16 vials of blood from me and 6 from my husband, they determined that I was producing blood clots and that my body was some- how not producing a protective barrier for the fetuses because my blood was so similar to my husband’s blood and my body was so amped up on “attack mode” from having cancer and going through chemotherapy. My body was attacking the fetuses as if they were cancer.
I was put on blood thinners to prevent any blood clots. They changed my medicine to help me produce the eggs and put me on human growth hormone to try to reverse any damage. The doctor didn’t feel like the eggs were bad, but the liquid they were sitting in was toxic and degenerated the eggs.
In addition, I did a very controversial thing called IVIG therapy, where you take 10-20 thousand of other people’s white blood cells, they clean it and do a transfusion into my body to trick my body into thinking it’s not my body. So, this nurse would come and it would take 6 hours to infuse this bottle of IVIG and it felt like liquid hell going into my veins. The nurse would have an epipen ready in case I would go into cardiac arrest from the procedure.
As a result, I ended up with 4 eggs, 2 of which were awesome and I still had those 2 that were frozen. Because I switched doctors, I had to go get my frozen eggs from the other infertility clinic, which was about an hour drive. I got this giant canister that contained my frozen “kids” into my car and drove like a crazy person to make sure they didn’t thaw before we got to my doctor’s office. It was crazy!
They were able to put in all 4 eggs in me and that is how Madison and Levi were born.
Throughout this pregnancy, I was always on edge, but my husband always had the faith. He said to me, “Look, they said you could not get pregnant, but not only did you get pregnant, you carried.” It wasn’t a perfect pregnancy. I ended up having a blood clot at one point. So, we thought I had miscarried again. Then at 23 weeks, I had to have an emergency Cerclage, because my cervix was incom- petent from being operated on so much.
But at the end of each day, the babies were growing and doing fine. At 27 weeks, I was taken off bed rest and put on modified bed rest. So, I decided to go out to Target to get more movies and that is where my water broke.
I quickly drove to the hospital; valet parked my car and ran to labor and delivery. I thought for sure that I would deliver, but they checked me into the high-risk department. They kept me pregnant as long as they could, because everyday the babies stayed inside me was a better chance they would survive.
After 3 more weeks, I felt something was wrong and I asked them to call the doctor. They checked and couldn’t find my daughter’s heartbeat. So, I had an emergency C-section. When my daughter came out, she was 2.5 pounds and wouldn’t cry. They had a hard time intubating her and they had to restart her heart. On the other hand, my son was in his little water sac and had no idea what was happening. He was 3 pounds and cried when he came out. They were both in the NICU for about 2 months until they were ready to come home.
Today, the twins are 4 years old and amazing. The doctors thought my daughter was going to have Cerebral Palsy and they both had holes in their hearts. But now my daughter is so fast when she runs and she’s just like mom. She’ll make up a song from just about anything and she’ll say, “Does anyone want to come to my show?!” She’s hilarious, precocious and she loves horses.
My son is just all boy. In the beginning, I thought he had OCD, because he didn’t like food touching each other on his plate. He didn’t like to be dirty and he loved to clean. But now he doesn’t care anymore. He loves tractors, monster trucks, playing in the dirt and anything with a motor. They had their own reality show on E! called, Baby Models that didn’t get picked up. You would never know that there was anything wrong with these kids. It’s just a miracle.
What are you up to now in your career these days?
Of course my kids come first, but I’m all over the map. In the last 4 years, I have been away from them for only 3 nights. I had to do Fox News in New York and I sang at Sundance this year. My singing career has been doing really well lately. I’ve charted twice on the Billboard with two of my different singles. So, I’ve been performing a lot.
I produced a feature film called, Crossroad. It’s an edgy, faith-based movie. They’re calling it the crash of Christian movies. I played Rita, the younger waitress in the diner. I love these types of movies. Just because someone’s spiritual or a Christian, doesn’t mean things are perfect. I like that we can have a movie that deals with infidelity and death, because this is what some people go through whether they’re a Christian or Buddhist or what- ever religion. It doesn’t matter. We are all dealing with the same issues. I love the story of redemption and forgiveness, which applies to everyone no matter what religion they practice.
What does balance mean to you?
Balance to me is doing your best to give what you have to every aspect of your life. For me, my kids will get my 200% each day. As a mom, I may go out and go to the recording studio while they’re in school. When I’m at home with them, I’m on the floor or outside playing with them without my phone or my laptop.
Sometimes, you just need to shift things a little bit to make things work with what you have. One day I may get to make my ribs where I cook them on the barbeque for four hours, but then the next day we may just have tuna sandwiches because of our schedules.
I think it’s important to know that things may shift each day. Everything is not going to be perfect and get equal attention everyday. Each day is not going to be the same, but you need to make sure that your priorities stay the same. Even though I think my kids are perfect, life isn’t going to be perfect, because there are a lot of variables I can’t control. It’s what I make out of each day. That’s balance to me.
What do you do to live a balanced life?
For me, getting some sort of work out or some type of physical activity makes me happy. I like to start my day with that if I can. I don’t necessary like going out and getting manicures and pedicures.
Actually, what makes me happy is when I can do something myself. For example, today I’m going to do my own manicure and wash our cars. I like cleaning my house myself, go grocery shopping, cooking a really good meal and folding the laundry. These are the things that relax me and make me feel independent and strong.
Coming from the life I had as a child, it makes me happy knowing that I’m able to tell my kids that I love them, hug them, and tell them that I’m proud of them everyday. They can do anything they want in this world and I will always be there for them.
Creator of the Baby EinsteinTM phenomenon, Julie Aigner Clark candidly shares her journey to amazing success from her basement and how she courageously battled cancer twice.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mom of two teenage girls, 18 and 16 years old. I think I’m so lucky, because they are such incredibly bright and great kids. My oldest starts college in the Fall and my younger daughter will be a Junior in high school. I’ve been married for a little over 20 years and currently live in Colorado.
I grew up in the Detroit area of Michigan. I went to Michigan State University and I studied English and Education. I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to become a teacher in high school. I really loved literature and art.
In 1988, when I graduated from college, I went into teaching. After I got married and became pregnant with my first daughter, I left teaching and decided to stay home with her. I always knew that once I had kids, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.
About 6 months into her little life, I started thinking about the idea for Baby EinsteinTM, because I missed literature, art and what I had been doing in the classroom. However, I also knew that I didn’t want to go back to teaching, because I still wanted to stay home with my daughter.
During this time, it occurred to me that there was nothing available for babies. I wondered why kids were only given things like BarneyTM or “I’m a little tea cup”. Why do I constantly have to sing little kiddie songs to my baby instead of playing some of the timeless, classical music I enjoyed and appreciated? That was how the idea of Baby EinsteinTM began.
What was your journey to get Baby EinsteinTM as a household name?
I had the idea for one, but I didn’t really know how to start a company. I would have to say that it is real critical to always give credit to my husband. By nature, he really is an entrepreneurial guy. When I shared with him my idea, how it was unique and how I really wanted it, he was instrumental in being an amazing support, which is what we all need when we’re starting something. We need somebody who really believes in us and encourages us.
My first concept was to just make a video board book, which typically has images and not words. I would then add cool photographs on the screen with moving images that my daughter liked to look at. Then, I wanted to add an audio component of music that I loved and wanted my daughter to love as well. Since music is international, the video would reach families across the globe, which was a cool thing.
Next, I started purchasing things that my daughter liked looking at and toys she like playing with. At this time, she was about 1 years old and we would go to the mall and find things that would keep her attention. One thing she loved staring at was a lava lamp, which was incorporated into the video.
I would take photographs of outside nature, like flowers, and the things she ate, like a banana or peas and our pet cat.
I did all that with borrowed video equipment from a friend’s husband who was a videographer. He showed me how to set up light and I filmed everything on a table top from our basement.
After I had all the photos and video footage I wanted, I figured out how to edit everything from my home computer using a very old version of Adobe Premiere®.
I did all this while I was home with my baby and my husband was working elsewhere. I would do some work while she was taking naps and at night. In the end, this whole process took about a year to really get it all done. I knew what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure that this was going to be anything more than a cool thing I was just making for my daughter.
So, when all the editing was done and I had a video, I really needed some audio to go with it. This was when the first really big investment came into play. I had to hire a musician to reproduce all of the music that I loved, but I wanted to do it in a different way. I didn’t want to just put a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra playing a Mozart Sonata. I wanted it to be baby friendly.
So, I called a friend of mine, who has since done all the music for Baby EinsteinTM. He is a great musician and produced the sound track, which cost us some money.
People often ask me what really made me go after my idea and make it into a reality. I always say, once you make a financial investment in it, then you kind of panic to make sure you at least make the money back. I drew the logo for Baby EinsteinTM myself and then we had to package it and create the content for the back cover. It was all a learning process.
After I got the first video done, I didn’t know how I was going to get it out into the marketplace, but I knew that I now had something that I invested in. And again I just wanted to make that money back.
In the end, that first video cost me about $15,000. Remember, I was a teacher making about $20,000 a year. So, that was a lot of money for us.
I knew I was my own customer and I thought of the places where I liked to shop. At the time, I mostly shopped at The Right Start©, which was mostly a catalog company. They didn’t have a retail store where I lived.
I was trying to figure out how to get into The Right Start. I sent them a copy of the video, but never heard back from anybody. I didn’t know how to market anything, but somebody suggested that I go to a tradeshow, because I was more likely to meet people who may want to see my video and I could easily hand it to them.
So, I decided to go to Toy Fair in New York. I just went as an attendee and walked the floor of the show literally looking for somebody with a Right Start nametag. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but it worked out in my favor. It was like one of those lucky, synchronicity moments.
I saw a group of ladies from The Right Start and was able to get a copy of my video in the hands of one of them. They had 10 retail locations across the country and they decided to try it in their stores. They bought 100 videos from me and I was so beyond excited!
I had two things in my favor in terms of just being on the shelf at their stores. One was that I had a great name. I always tell people that it is key to have a name that people will instantly be engaged with or attracted by.
The other thing that worked for us was that it was totally unique. There were no baby videos in the market at the time. In addition, the content was special, because it was classical music and beautiful real world images.
So, those two factors encouraged people to first of all pick it up from the store shelf. It wasn’t too expensive, so people bought it. And most importantly, when they played it on the television, their babies loved it. That was the most key thing, because babies never lie. Also, word of mouth really spread quickly. I had wonderful support from moms who trusted me, because I was just like them. I was just a mom who wanted this video for my own child and not this big corporation trying to make a buck.
How did you connect with The Disney Corporation?
I had a one-year exclusive with The Right Start. After our first year of success, I made another video called, Baby MozartTM and I had two little girls at home, because my second daughter was born. We just continued making more and more titles.
For the second year, we branched out to other stores, but remained in the specialty retail markets. The whole market has changed since then. In the late ‘90’s, there were these really beautiful specialty stores that you wanted to just hang out in with your baby, like Zany Brainy© and Imaginarium©.
We continued to see more and more success. Now, it was not just moms talking about it anymore. People magazine called and did a story about it. We started to get publicity and really nice reviews, which was pretty organic, because I didn’t have a PR person. I was still doing all of this from my basement.
In our third year, I got a call from Disney Publishing and they asked if we were interested in moving into books. I became so excited, because I had been an English teacher and for any writer, you always want to be published. So, they basically licensed the Baby Einstein name and I wrote the books.
In our fourth year, we moved into providing math content and were no longer just available in specialty stores. We were available in big stores like Costco, Target and WalMart. An interesting side note during the fourth and fifth year was we only had 5 full-time employees. We were such a tiny company and yet our sales were phenomenal. In 1997 when we first started, we had about $100,000 in sales and by the 5th year, we did over $20 million in sales.
During the 5th year, we sold the company to Disney. When we first started the company, we had no competition, because we were totally unique. As we became successful, more people started jumping on board making baby videos. Even though they were not as successful as we were, our feeling was if we continued to run Baby Einstein the way we had been, we would definitely see ourselves run over by one of the big companies. We felt like with our success, one of the big production companies, like Sony, Nickelodeon, Disney or Warner was going to take over this field. And we would no longer be able to sustain our company with just 5 employees.
So, my husband and I asked ourselves if we wanted to be playing in a game where we had to grow, start being cut-throat and do all of the things that large corporations typically do. Or did we want to excel and be so happy and amazed that we had even done all this and continue to be so proud at what we had created. Not only because it was a financial success, but also because we were exposing these little kids to this beautiful content. We really believed that these videos made a difference in the lives of a lot of families.
Ultimately, we decided to sell. Since we had that relationship with Disney already, it was very natural to approach them first. We called Disney and proposed an offer to sell the business to them and they ultimately accepted.
Throughout the success of Baby Einstein, what major challenge did you experience?
I’m not a business person. I’m more of a creative person. I don’t see myself as a person who likes to play the game of business. I feel like I operate from my heart and my gut. And I don’t like the stress that is caused in me by people who don’t always have the best motive.
I felt it was very stressful for me to deal with companies that were coming on board and stealing some of our ideas. For example, we had to file a lawsuit against another person who had come into this game and had literally duplicated ninety or so scenes from our videos. That was just so awful for me.
I don’t like that feeling. I try to live my life from my heart and that was extremely hard for me. And I’ll tell you; I think that really contributed to the disease that I later developed. I think stress was a huge contributor to that.
In addition, another reason I wanted to sell is that it had been very important for me to stay home with my daughters. The busier we got and the more successful we became with Baby EinsteinTM, the less time I was able to spend with them. I felt too scattered and that was not for me.
What top advice would you share with a mom who has created a product and wants to get out to the marketplace?
First of all, presentation is key. If you really are behind what you’ve done, you need to package it in a way that looks super professional. For example, I put the first Baby EinsteinTM video in a lovely sleeve with a great design on the package. Don’t send or hand something out that doesn’t look really good.
Secondly, find a tradeshow that would be a place where a buyer would be interested in your product. Go online and look up tradeshows for what your product is all about and you’d be amazed on how many you find. You may even locate one in the state you’re in.
Finally, surround yourself with people who believe in your idea. People who are the pessimists and naysayers have no place in an entrepreneurial world. We are all keeping our fingers crossed and just saying our prayers that our idea is going to be the one. Unfortunately, a lot of wonderful ideas don’t make it and it’s not because they’re not incredible and amazing ideas that could be world changing.
For example, my older daughter has written her first novel and she is trying to find her first agent who will take it on. It’s a beautifully written piece of literature, but she’s really sad because
she sent out ten query letters and she hasn’t heard back from anybody yet.
I told her that it didn’t mean it’s not great. Look at JK Rowling, who went through a lot of rejections herself!
So, when you’re an entrepreneur, you need to recognize that it’s not easy and you have to pat yourself on the back all the time that you’re even doing it at all.
When did you find out you had cancer?
We sold Baby Einstein in 2001. And then for a year and a half, we just sort of did a jig. We were so happy and couldn’t believe what all had just happened to us.
Then I started thinking what my girls were now going through as they were in elementary school. Now, they were a little bit older and starting to go to friends’ houses, camp and playing outside more. I realized that the most important thing to me was that they were safe.
So, I started another company called, The Safe Side, which is a non- profit organization. I partnered with John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted and we produced two videos and a music CD. All of our proceeds went to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was a way to teach kids how to stay safe with family members, strangers or if they were in a situation that was uncomfortable for them online.
In 2004, I was in the midst of wrapping up that first video when I discovered a lump in my left breast. It was a miracle that I found it at all, because it was so small (under a centimeter).
I actually found it by accident. I had been exercising a lot and my arms were sore. When I was rubbing that muscle under my arm, I felt a teeny, tiny, little lump. I didn’t think it was really anything, but it nagged at me for a couple of days. I finally went to my doctor who didn’t think it was anything either, but she wanted to get it check out anyway.
After my mammogram, they found it to be Breast Cancer. Within 1-2 weeks, I had a double mastectomy, because I was so freaked out and I did not want this to ever happen to me again. I told them to take all of the breast tissue out. I didn’t do chemotherapy or radiation, but I went through this extreme, horrible surgery. However, I came out of it feeling confident. After my next PET Scan, everything came out clear and the doctors told me that the chance of it coming back was just 3%.
After my recovery, I went back and continued making The Safe Side videos. In 2008, my husband and I decided to take our kids out of school and travel around the world for a year. We home schooled the kids and spent the year together as a family traveling to Iceland, Scotland and England. After 5 weeks, we went home to repack for our trip to Asia.
On our flight home, I had a very strange sensation that I cannot explain, other than to tell you that I believe in a higher power. This sensation was in the same area that my tumor had been, but I couldn’t feel anything there. I just went to the doctor the next day and an ultrasound determined that it was cancer again. Even though I had a double mastectomy, they can never get it all out. They tried, because it looks like there’s nothing there, but there are always a couple of bits of tissues left. So, it turned out that I was one of the 3% where the cancer returned.
The most terrible news of all was that it was diagnosed as Stage 4 cancer. The primary tumor was in the same place, but it had moved into my lymph nodes and my liver. I ended up having 12 lymph nodes and my ovaries removed.. I went through 6 rounds of chemo and was put on another treatment called, Perceptin, which I still receive every 3 weeks. It’s a targeted therapy for a particular type of cancer called HER2+ Breast Cancer.
When I was diagnosed this second time, I decided to get another opinion. I went to the top hospitals in the nation that treat Cancer. The doctor told me that I had so many tumors in my liver; they will never all go away. He then told me that I really need to go home and get my affairs in order.
When I returned home, I decided that I wasn’t going to get my affairs in order. I was 42 years old and I was not ready to do that. I might end up there, but I was not going to start there. So, I just went to my oncologist in Colorado and told them I was going to fight it. Even though it was Stage 4, I wanted to see what we could do.
Finally in February 2009, after all the treatments and surgeries, I had a PET Scan that showed I had no evidence of cancer in my entire body, including my liver. My last PET Scan was literally 4 days ago and it still showed no evidence of cancer.
In October, it will be 5 years of being cancer free.
I am on cloud 9 every second of everyday, living in a state of gratitude. I have no idea why I got so lucky. I know it wasn’t because I prayed more, even though I prayed a lot and many people prayed for me.
If I could say anything good about all of this, it taught me a lot. I wrote a book that was published in 2010 called, You Are the Best Medicine. It’s a beautiful book that teaches children the importance of giving their mommy a lot of love when she’s going through treatment and what to expect. I wanted a way to explain to kids all the things to expect when someone goes through cancer treatment and to let them
know that we fight for them. Nothing made me fight harder to overcome this disease than my children.
In addition, 100% of the proceeds of this book go to Breast Cancer Research. It’s been a really great giveback in a way, because I’ve been able to do something good with it.
I truly believe that being under so much stress like I was caused the disease. Now, I meditate everyday and really try to take time to be outside in nature, even if it’s for 10 minutes. I take time to sit with my cat on my lap and be okay when I’m not checking my emails or Facebook every few minutes, not answering the phone at that moment or not be connected through technology for a short time each day.
What is your new venture, Baby Bytes all about?
When Disney acquired Baby Einstein, it was great for a couple of years. However, for whatever reason, the business of Baby Einstein started to fall off the radar screen as they focused on other things. So, we watched from the sidelines with great sadness that it didn’t have the kind of exposure that it had and we weren’t seeing as many children who were being positively affected by it.
Today is such a different world. People are so connected online with various devices and the Baby Einstein content was not being produced to work on those kinds of devices, such as iPads or other tablets.
So, we started thinking about how kids could not only see great content on an iPad, but also be able to interact with the screen in a way that they couldn’t before.
Baby Bytes is a company that is making really cool apps for babies and giving parents this really neat
feedback on how their child is progressing.
We just produced a video called, Show Bytes. It’s Beethoven music with gorgeous video and photography. It allows kids to not only watch it, but also play and interact with some of the visuals in the video.
We also have this beautiful product called, Lullabytes. It’s our very first app that you can download for free right now. It’s a collection of classical music that is meant for bedtime. You would download it on your phone or iPad, play the app as you get them ready for bed and it continues to play as your child falls asleep. The music gradually gets softer and softer until it stops after the 10th song. When the baby wakes up during the night and starts crying, the app detects your baby’s cries and it turns the music on again.
The other really neat thing on the back end is that the parent is also given a feature called, the Sleep Keeper, which basically lets you know through a graph how much your baby is sleeping. So, when you go to the pediatrician, you’ll know your baby’s sleep patterns.
In addition, I want to share something new that I’ve done on my own and feel really proud of. It’s an app called, Happy Appy. It will be available by the end of July 2013. It’s an app that sends you a funny video to make you happy everyday. It’s never rude or crude or nude. You could watch it with your 5 year old and with your grandma. It’s basically a whole giant collection of videos that I found on the internet where I redirect you everyday to a short, funny, sweet video that will make you smile.
There’s a free version and a 99-cent version, which has an alarm clock feature and allows you to easily share the videos with a friend, rate it and save to your favorites among other cool things.
Everyday we see so much bad garbage in the news and having gone through all that crap I went through with my health, there’s just nothing more powerful than being happy. With this app, I could make someone smile and happy everyday. How cool is that!
What does Balanced mean to you?
In every stage as a Mom, I’ve been searching for balance. Mostly to me it means being okay at the end of the day and feeling or remembering that I’ve done my best. A lot of times I think we beat ourselves up with all the things we should’ve done that day.
I could only do my best. That’s all I can do. And if it’s not what everybody thinks I should’ve done… well sorry and that’s the way it is.
What do you do to live a balanced life?
I try to go to yoga everyday. I love yoga and meditation. I was not always good at meditation and sometimes I find myself really needing to make myself do it, but when I meditate I feel so much better.
If people have never meditated, there’s a really great program that I found on iTunes® called, Hemisync. It’s a type of meditation where I can just take my iPod and put my earbuds in and meditate for about half an hour to this particular guided meditation. I totally recommend it to people who have never meditated before.
Also I love yoga, because I think it’s a lot like meditation, because I’m so focused on maintaining a pose and it gets me out of my environment.
Like a lot of other entrepreneurs, I work from home which means you’re never really away from your work. So, getting out of your house is really important whether it’s to go to an exercise class or ride your bike or walk your dog. I walk my dog everyday and that’s like meditation for me.
Selfless courage describes Angela Schaefers, an amazing mom of three. With a diagnosis of a terminal illness, she has realized her purpose on this earth and has touched so many people around the world. Angela is the epitome of living life to the fullest and serves as a compassionate light for others to share their stories, heal from them and use them to make a difference in the lives of others.
Angela candidly shares her journey from diagnosis, family experiences and blessings to being a speaker and author who makes a big impact in the world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mom of three kids. I have 2 adult daughters in their twenties and a teenage son. I also have a beautiful granddaughter. Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Saliva Gland Cancer. This was when I wrote my first book, Grief to Grace. It is a book that I wrote for my kids and wanted to just share with them but I ended up sharing it publicly.
I also produce a radio show called, Your Story Matters, which evolved from writing my first book. When I found out that other people were inspired and encouraged by my story, I realized there was something to that. Not only do I share my story but I share other people’s stories as well. We all have stories that matter. When I write and speak, I encourage people to share their stories and learn from them. On my radio show, I interview people so that they can share what they’ve gone through, how they overcame it and what they’ve learned.
My most recent book, Your Story Matters, You Matter – A guide to healing, learning from and sharing your story is a platform for people to start looking at their story. Open-ended questions are placed throughout the book for readers to write about their story, the importance of it and finding the message in it. I encourage them to share their story publicly or just within their family. Many times we’re not sharing with our own neighbors or colleagues and if they knew more about us, they might have a better understanding of us, which can build compassion, connection and open communication with each other. That is the goal of the book. I am also doing workshops, book signings and discussions with the book for people to understand how they can use the book and how it can really benefit them. My mission is to change the world one story at a time.
To put it in layman’s terms, Stage IV is pretty much the end of the road. It’s where the cancer has evolved into something almost unmanageable and uncontrollable. In my case, it was diagnosed terminal and that was 10 years ago. I was told that I wouldn’t live long and that I needed to get my things in order. I had the option to do chemo and radiation, since it was Saliva Gland Cancer, I would’ve had to remove a tooth, my throat would be raw and I would be put on a liquid diet among many other things. I asked the doctors what it was going to do for me if I wasn’t going to live much longer. They didn’t have any solid evidence that it would give me a great deal of more time. So I declined it. I just continue to work on being healthy. I have an extreme amount of faith. I pray everyday. And I just keep a really positive attitude.
If this is my last day, I accept that. I’m at peace with that. But, in the meantime, if this isn’t my last day, I want to make the most of my time, which is what I do.
I still have cancer. I have two other slow growing tumors that have evolved which is pretty normal with the type of cancer I have. I never know how things will change and what will evolve. So, my focus is living for today. How can I be healthy? How can I feel good? Right now, there are so many things that people with cancer can do that help, such as alternative therapies. I have met people who are in Stage IV Cancer and have been for years. They’re still alive and trying alternative methods to help them feel better in their situation versus chemo, radiation or even some surgery.
I was just sick. I thought I had a cold. When I went to the doctors, they found that my glands were swollen and I was prescribed an antibiotic. When I wasn’t getting better, I kept going back to the doctor. I went through about 3 rounds of antibiotics including the highest intensity kind. Nothing worked.
So, they did a needle biopsy in my neck where the lump was located. They said it was a benign tumor and that it was no big deal. They were just going to make a little, tiny incision on the left side of my neck, take it out and everything would be just fine. So, I went in and had the procedure. And when I woke up there were a couple of doctors and nurses there, and they looked like they were going to die. I asked myself, “What’s wrong with everybody?”
They explained that when they went in and saw the bump, it was really leading into a whole tumor that was all up and down the left side of my neck. They took out as much as they could, but they knew in the operating room that it was cancer.
Two weeks later I had to go back to get my saliva glands taken out. I ended up getting double surgery instead of the tiny incision I initially went in for. My scar ended up being really large on my neck. It doesn’t look as bad now, but my neck looked really sunken in. I felt horrified and it was shocking and challenging all at once. It was something that I wasn’t prepared for, because there was no prepping and discussion that I was going to look so different after the surgery.
I don’t know if life works better when you have preparation or an indication of what’s going to happen and dealing with it as it comes. I’ve had both situations all my life and I haven’t figured that out yet.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt very suicidal and very desperate. I didn’t want to leave my kids. My kids were a lot younger then and I was just beside myself with the thought of leaving them behind. I was so overwhelmed with the stress and worry about what would happen to them when I’m gone.
After the first year, I literally woke up one day and thought, “I’m still here. There’s got to be a reason.” So, I decided that I wasn’t going to accept death and spend everyday feeling fear while waiting to die. I didn’t have a specific time indication of my life. So, I shifted my perspective and it has just grown and evolved into a lot of gratitude, peace, faith and hope. It’s not a cliché that life’s short. It’s the truth. I feel people need to be constantly reminded of that.
For me, that’s part of my purpose. I discovered my purpose when I was writing my first book, Grief to Grace and realizing that everything that I’ve been through was worth it, because it helps other people.
I can look at it as a victim and say that I’ve had a rough life or I can say that I went through all this and learned a lot of things. The more I share that with others the more I understand that my experiences are for other people just as much as they are for me and my family.
How do you communicat e with your kids, especially early on, about what ’s going on with you?
That was really, really hard. Of course, at that time my son was just a toddler and there was no discussion there. However, with my daughters, we tried to talk about it, but it was just too overwhelming for them. I was overwhelmed. I was certainly a different person than I am today. Back then, I really didn’t have the support I needed to sit down with them and nurture them. But later on, reading my first book was enough for them because I shared so much in it. And as they got older, we began to have open discussions about what the situation is and I’m honest with them now if I don’t feel good or if there are any new changes.
I think they’ve grown into their own appreciation for life and know very specifically that this situation with me is part of their journey as well. I could live until I’m 90 years old or the end could happen tomorrow. But when I pass, my hope for my children is that they take what they’ve learned from our journey as a family, go with that and share that with people. It’s not an area many people talk about – watching people die, death, suffering and how it affects the family. So, I encourage them to do something about their part of the story and inspire others with it. They’ve been a support already, because they’ve had friends who have lost their moms or have gone through cancer. They’ve shared some of their feelings and have been very supportive. Again, it’s another blessing in disguise that I can impact them in a positive way.
It’s not an easy place to be where you just don’t know. Some days I feel better and other days I feel really, really sick and think, “Is this it?” That’s a weird feeling for me. It’s hard for my kids to deal with and I understand that. So, I always roll it back to one day at a time.
I have hopes, dreams and goals. But I’m also in a place where today is enough. I’m not trying to do so much even though I have done a lot. I’ve left a legacy. I know that the book and the show will always be there. Hopefully, they continue to get into people’s hands and I’m at peace with that.
Many people, especially women, have so much power that is not being used. And that’s why I teach others to just do something! You don’t have to go public and write a book, but do something where you can say that you’ve contributed. Even if it is raising your kids, do it well. You’re leaving a legacy in your kids.
What top advice would you give a mom who was just diagnosed with a terminal illness?
The first 2 things I would say is stop where you are, allow support and start taking care of you. One of the things someone said to me early on in my diagnosis was that I ended up that sick with cancer at that point of no return because I was always taking care of everybody else.
That was a true statement for me and for most women. We tend to go out of our way to accommodate everybody, especially when we have kids, but we don’t take care of our own needs and our health.
I didn’t think about eating right and exercising, because I always felt exhausted from raising kids. I always thought about losing weight, but not feeding my body right.
So, take care of yourself. Find out what that is for you.
And the second thing is to find some support. I’ve always been extremely independent since my childhood. I had to decide to reach out to other people and allow them to help me. I didn’t even know what relying on someone else was like.
I was on the phone comforting other people as they cried over my diagnosis. I lived in Florida at the time and I was telling people who wanted to fly over and offer help to stay where they were, not to worry and that I was fine.
In the past, I felt that I never deserved support or felt that was an option. So this really has taught me a lot about self-healing and self-love. The support of people taking care of me, comforting me and helping me with the kids is the same as loving and taking care of myself.
How did your radio show start?
My friend read my first book, Grief to Grace and said that I needed to share it with the world. Originally, I wrote the book only for my kids. I wasn’t planning on sharing it publicly. I didn’t think anyone would really care about my personal story, because I felt that it didn’t really matter.
When I was ready to get the book printed, my plan was to order just 50 copies so my kids and family members can have a few once I’m gone. In my mind, this was the ending part. However, my friend suggested that I order 500 copies, which I thought was a ridiculous idea. At the same time, I also believed that I needed to take heed of messages I received in my life. There had to be a reason why she said that. So, I went ahead and ordered 500 books and ended up selling every one of them by word of mouth. This is when I really realized the importance of sharing your story.
Along this journey, a lady approached me and suggested that I do a show about my story. I couldn’t just talk about myself. So, that’s when I started thinking that I could talk to other people about their stories and experiences.
I created Your Story Matters Radio Show. It has been an amazing experience of meeting and interacting with people who have inspiring and encouraging life stories and lessons. Everybody has a part of their story that they can share and make a difference in the lives of others.
I receive messages from all over the world about people being encouraged and inspired from my show. One lady from India contacted me and said that she finally realized what her husband was doing to her was called domestic violence. We discuss different topics on the show from addiction, suicide to cancer and other illnesses. It’s about ordinary people who went through extraordinary circumstances and found a way to get out of that to heal, learn from it and to move forward.
Share with us your journey that led you to write your 2nd book.
A lot of people started to approach me to help them write their story and help them figure out their message. So, I decided to write a book to answer the questions that I was frequently asked. The book is like a workbook. It has open-ended questions to get people thinking about their story.
It’s a guide to healing by sharing your own story, and why it matters. I share tips in the book on how to condense the story and get down to the message. Which I believe, is the whole point, when we go back and learn things from our stories, we’ll see the patterns and the message. You’ll see what characteristics and strengths you have developed personally from your own story that are unique to you.
What’s next for you?
I have another book coming out in the next couple of months called, Cancer Doesn’t Come Wrapped in a Pretty Ribbon. It’s about my story from the beginning of my diagnosis to now. I wrote it to be really authentic and true, not sugar coated at all. Some people may be offended by what I say or the feelings I felt throughout my experiences, but they are mine. The point of the book is to give people a voice and to help them know that it’s ok to feel whatever they feel, such as feeling anger and/ or feeling suicidal. These are all the feelings we are traditionally taught not to share or talk about.
What do you do to stay balanced?
I eat right and exercise regularly 5 to 6 days a week. I don’t skip that at all because I can feel the difference if I do. My intention is that when I do my best each day, I’ll continue to live and feel better. Since I’ve been on a journey of improving my health, I feel better physically and emotionally.
I definitely take time for myself. I do different activities that I find healing such as yoga, meditation and prayer. Whatever things I find that can feed my soul is what I do regularly.
I appreciate and love that I can inspire others, but I also found that I need space to take care of me. It’s still a constant learning journey to always be mindful of what I do, what I need and what am I f eeling. I check in and ask if I’m feeling overwhelmed by my schedule.
Especially as an entrepreneur, I don’t have scheduled breaks or a 9 to 5 day. Since I’m so passionate about what I do, I can work 7 days a week and/or 12 hours a day. However, that’s not a good lifestyle for me. So, I need to constantly find that balance.
What are the things in life you enjoy doing?
I love the outdoors and being active. I love to bike ride, kayak and I’m into running now. I just did a 5k, which shocked me. I love live music and tea time. And of course, I love a day at the spa. It’s about living my life to its fullest. I think people get confused by thinking they need to be rich, go shopping or go on big traveling trips to get away or have a good time. Although those things aren’t bad at all, it’s really about the everyday.
It’s about doing something that’s purposeful and meaningful to you. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. I love spending time with my kids. Sometimes we’ll just walk the pier or the park. We go on a lot of walks. Those are the things that fulfill my life and make it the best it can be.
Share something that would surprise people that know you.
My kids know this, but most people wouldn’t know that I’m definitely silly and kid-like to the point where my son tells me that I’m embarrassing to him. Before we go out in public, my son will sometimes tell me not to talk to other people’s kids and dogs.
I just love kids and dogs and for some reason, they’re attracted to me. So, we end up talking and I end up buying them ice cream or something.
A dedicated father to his two little ones, Joel Lane has a love of music and a talent for transforming things through painting. He shares what he loves about fatherhood, his favorite moments as a father and what he does to live a more balanced life.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I am 31 years old and live in the Sacramento, California area. I have two children. A 3 year old boy, named Noah and a 6 year old daughter, named Tatum. I am a single dad who is fortunate to have the kids quite a bit of the time.
I own a painting business called, Parkview Painters. I paint interior and exterior cabinets, furniture and also pianos.
Pianos are kind of an interesting thing for me because I used to be a music director at a church in Southern California. I am a musician and music has been my life for a lot of years. Being a single dad, I have not been able to play music much but I always have pianos in my house or at my workshop. Right now I have a total of six pianos in my house and workshop and I get to play around on them a little bit.
I started playing the piano when I was 5 years old and performing when I was 7. I recorded my first album at 13 and I have been in and out of quite a few bands. You can listen to some of my music and download some of my albums for free on my website www. JoelLane.com. I play soft rock music and while I was at the church I did two alternative style Christian albums.
In addition, I do a lot of running and I enjoy it. I did a half marathon last year and I am training for a triathlon happening in June at my hometown. Most of it is bike riding, which I am actually afraid of. I don’t like bikes, because three different times in my life, while riding my bike, the front tire just fell off, the rim and everything. I ate it and got all messed up. Now, I have this fear of riding bikes and I am hesitant to do the triathlon. But I figured it’s time to get over my fear of that and just go for it.
Tell us more about your business, Parkview Painters.
We do interior/exterior painting for residential homes. On my website there is a short video that shows me painting a condo in a minute and a half. It’s a fun, time lapsed video.
I had another business for about 3 years called, The Painted Past where we just painted furniture and pianos. I recently got divorced and I passed that business on to my ex-wife so that she could have income coming in. Now, Parkview Painters is my new business. I have two partners coming on that are also really good painters. I am going to be doing most of the marketing and setting bids, while I have my kids so I can work from home. The days I do not have the kids, I will be out painting as well.
Painting has been kind of something I’ve done since I was young. I’d pick up furniture at thrift stores or classified ads, paint it and resell it. I just like to paint furniture or houses and I enjoy the transformation from old to new.
What do you enjoy about being a father?
Being a father is something I enjoy but something I am scared of at the same time. I enjoy being a role model for my kids and instilling in my children good values and morals. At the same time, I get scared because I just hope I am doing it right. Many times I question myself. As they grow older I adjust and I have to read up on how to protect them, how to communicate with them better and let them know that they are loved.
Mainly, what I love is just the fact that I get to spend time with my kids, even if it is just sitting there having a picnic with them. Whatever it is, we create a lot of good times together.
When I was growing up, my dad worked a lot, all the time. So I make it a point to be available for my kids, at any moment of the day. I want to be around. I enjoy knowing that they know I am available for them and they can talk to me about anything.
At the beginning of this year, I realized that I am growing through them. In fact, a book called, Upside Down Mommy by Amanda Johnson helped me with that. As a parent, that book reminded me that these little human beings, my kids, are transforming everyday and we, as parents, are transforming with them. We are a part of that process. As a result, I have been making it a point to remember that concept and allow myself to transform and not be stuck in the ‘this is the way it’s gotta be’ mindset.
What top advice would you share with a first time father?
I would say to just allow them to be themselves and allow them to tell you what they need. A lot of times I get caught up in, “Okay, this is what we are doing; this is how you should do it; this is what you need to wear; smile like this; talk like that.” Sure, all those things are good, but I think there needs to be a balance. As parents, we need to listen more. I think we need to allow them to use their voice to express themselves and to just be themselves. That’s gone a long way with me recently. Now, I feel my kids can actually be comfortable using their voice and know that they are heard.
What are your favorite moments with your kids as a father?
My favorite moments would be snuggling in bed. For the last few months, they’ve been wanting to sleep in my bed. As a result, I don’t get any room at all with all three of us. I just really enjoy waking up next to them and seeing those smiles on their faces. The other times are when I don’t have anything else going on and I can give them my undivided attention. Anytime we can just get away from the house, get away from stress, we all seem to have the best times.
What do you do to live a more balanced life?
That’s been a pretty tough one for me lately because I am so used to having a partner to just balance things with. It’s been a learning process. At this time in my life, the main thing is that I’ve learned to just keep my eye on exactly what I need and stay focused on that, whether it’s finances, exercise or if it’s a break from the kids. I am constantly staying aware of that, throughout the day. So that way I can tell when I am getting to that point where I cannot handle it. With the kids, I take them for a walk, which is a big thing for us. We go out for many walks and go to the park a lot.
Also, having my goals written out for the week and just knowing that it will happen. I don’t have to stress about it. I remind myself that everything will fall into place and things will get done.
In addition, I think pre-planning is important. For example, today, I have a paint job and the kids will be with me while I am painting. I’ve got everything lined up. Lunch is all pre-made and I’ve got extra clothes for them. All that preplanning makes it easier to be on time to things and to get out of the house in an orderly way. Not too stressed.
The biggest thing for me is just taking breaks, even when I don’t have it planned out. If I plan to get something done this week, but the kids are on edge and everyone is just elevated, I know I need to just be aware of that for myself and know that it’s time to go to the park and go for a walk.
From the challenges and demands of motherhood, Amy Tirion became a beacon of light for many women searching to reconnect and find peace within themselves. Amy shares how the demands of life became detrimental to her well-being, how she creates space that invites the delicious pieces of life and how her new book came to life.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I am a mom of 2 girls who are about to enter the teen years, a 12 year old and a 10 year old. I also have a husband and they all bring me great joy. Right now, I would say that at my core, I just have a great desire to support women in finding their own centers of calm, wisdom and inspiration. It is because I am on this journey myself. It comes from a background of having a very intense ten-year corporate Change Management Consulting career with an international consulting firm. I did that work right up until having my first daughter.
Motherhood has been a very meaningful chapter for me. It has been a role of transition that ultimately brought me to create my business, Delight for the Soul and to author a new book, Knowing Beautiful which I am very excited about as well.
What was your journey that led you to your business, Delight for the Soul?
I think the physical demands of motherhood were pretty overwhelming for me, as I think they are for so many women and men. It is that time, especially in the beginning where, you just push through each day. For me, the days moved to years of pushing until I found myself at this level of exhaustion that I could no longer ignore. It got to the point where I would take my children to school and then need to crawl back in bed before I could even clean up the kitchen from breakfast. I just became extremely disconnected from myself on many levels.
I finally went to the doctor after a wake up call when I was shopping with my younger daughter for her birthday. It was only about 7 o’clock at night, and I literally thought I could not make it home. At the store, I was trying to figure out if I needed to call my husband to come and get us. I knew that there was something wrong with me.
I eventually went to the doctor and found out that I have an undiagnosed condition of Hypothyroidism. It is an auto-immune condition that is going to be with me the rest of my life. It is a condition that absolutely impacts my energy, my physical condition, my mental and emotional condition. Now I am on medication, which works out great.
However, of all the things that it could’ve been, I felt very blessed. Everyday I am being reminded of the importance of staying connected to my physical well being, to be more gentle with myself, and to find an ease in the world that is not going to be handed to me, and I am still working on that. I feel this awareness to be a gift.
That is really the invitation that I received to see my story, and then, really look and see how often it is reflected back, with some of these women I come in contact with. Women who are working so hard and managing so much. Often becoming physically depleted to the point where real conditions kick in.
That really is the birth of Delight for the Soul. It was my desire to honor women and help them see themselves, in all they do, and all that they are. To give them some deep meaningful insights into the fullness of what they bring to the lives of others. So that is my intention.
Delight for the Soul provides retreats. Tell us more about those retreats.
I do mini-retreats and I call them miniretreats because they are uniquely designed to fit into our busy lives. I also do workshops and keynotes for women, for teens and I have done a workshop for men as well, because we all need this. They are designed not only to pamper women, but to really guide them through a journey where they restore themselves from the inside out, on many levels. We focus on the physical side through doing yoga. We focus energetically through meditation. We focus emotionally through a combination of all of these things because our emotions are attached to all of this – all parts of us. The guided journaling around important topics for women and the guided discussion, really help women hone in on what they are personally going through in their own life journey. Sharing and connecting with others is a real source of comfort and support for women.
I also do painting. Painting is an important part of my programs for many reasons. It really is a contemplative tool to help women find another way of being by using the other side of their brain that is not the mental chatter. It is the creative nonverbal part of themselves. It’s there to be playful, fun and to try something new. Even though we really work hard at playing with our children, I find that our own sources of deep play feel far away.
In addition, I offer dance and other special retreats that focus on self-compassion, exploring joys and desires, strategies for renewal and transitions in motherhood.
As mothers, we need to be very aware of what we are modeling and what we are teaching our children, especially our daughters. How are we caring for ourselves or not? It not only impacts us but, with everything we do or don’t do, it is what we are teaching our children. What our own mothers taught us in their own ways is probably what has gotten a lot of us into our patterns.
I was interviewed by Elizabeth Arden for a documentary series they were producing called, “Her Story,” and they asked me the question, “What makes a woman beautiful?” I thought it was such a powerful question. It really was a question that stuck with me because I really wanted to think about my own answer. I think every woman should have a chance to figure out what their answer is and explore what creates beauty in themselves and in others.
In my own life, I started to be aware of that. I found that bedtime is the time when I was the hardest on myself. There is this thing about crawling into bed at the end of the day and instead of going to bed feeling the fullness of me, I often started a story in my mind about what I did not get done and what are the parts of my life that I needed to work on. All the agitations that get in the way of me feeling light about life tend to arrive for me at bedtime. It is hard to feel beautiful and critical of yourself at the same time.
I thought about all the stories I read to my kids and have been reading for years. I decided that I would love to end my day with a different story about myself, and really provide that same invitation for other women. Knowing Beautiful is an invitation for women to really look closely, see a different reflection of themselves and feel complete. It is a perfect bedtime story. It has a section for journaling with questions to guide women through the many wonderful layers of themselves. I wish I could put it on every woman’s nightstand, because it is a lovely way to tuck yourself into bed with a feeling of self-acceptance and serenity. That is why I wrote it.
You were profiled in Elizabeth Arden’s mini documentary series, Her Story. Share with us how that came about?
A woman, who is a regular reader of my blog, was hired as part of the creative team for this project at Elizabeth Arden. She asked me to come to their casting when they were interviewing women on both coasts to find who they wanted to profile. I was really touched that my story was one that spoke to them. There were a total of 14 amazing women who were highlighted. Through this documentary, I think it is another wonderful way to promote a deeper sense of beauty in women.
What does balance mean to you?
It’s an ongoing journey, isn’t it! I would say that I am a serious student. I am definitely not an expert, but I think that balance comes from having a quality of energy that matches what is being taken away by life’s demands. There is a space that I think is an important component of balance. Space between our breaths to send messages of balance and calm to our nervous system. Space between our thoughts to give our minds a break to soften our emotions and lessen the density of the mental pieces of our lives. By creating that kind of space, we make room to invite in all the delicious pieces of life.
If we approach life with space that gives us grace, which gives us mindfulness, it offers us strength to handle life. I am a true believer in space as a component of balance. It is a precious and powerful resource and it is something that I really teach in my workshops.
I also think that being gentle with yourself and playful with life helps to shift the weight of the world over to your side. This strategy is a constant exercise for me and it is how I invite balance in my own life. I know when I operate with more self-compassion, I see what is in front of me in a different way.
When you experience those times in your day when things are happening at such a fast pace, how do you quickly get back to mindfulness and balance?
Well, I think stepping away from whatever that is causing that sense in me is part of the space that I am talking about. Whenever I am working on my business and it is starting to feel intense, it’s time to take a break.
I know I need to give myself the time to power up again. That is when I build in time for yoga. I know that, for me, dance is a re-balancer. It infuses me with a different energy that makes me feel more capable. So I just have that as part of my week and it’s sort of a preventative.
I also think that, literally, just getting horizontal – lying on the floor and putting your feet up helps me see things differently. For me, there is something I love about being upside down. It is all about being mindful of what is overwhelming me and shifting perspective energetically and physically. I bring in selfcompassion and put that in between me and what I am bumping up against.
You mentioned yoga, dance and painting as things you like to do. What are other things you do to live a more balanced life?
I also use writing as a place of self-reflection that helps me process. I think that self-reflection is an important way to work through what is feeling heavy in life. There is a lot of talk about a new formal practice of gratitude. Whether it is a formal practice or not, I believe that connecting with what I am thankful for throughout my day helps ground me.
As a mom of 2 beautiful girls, one with Down Syndrome and in remission from Leukemia, Jocelyn Joiner doesn’t skip a beat. With the foundation she started, she inspires inclusion and acceptance for children with special needs in schools.
Jocelyn candidly shares her journey that led her to launch her foundation, how she discovered that her younger daughter has Down Syndrome and how her experiences helped her live a more fulfilled and purposeful life.
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
First, I am a mom of my two girls. Alyssa is 3 and Kendall is 9 years old. I run my volunteer-based nonprofit foundation called SNAP, which stands for Special Needs and Abilities Project. I started SNAP in 2009 after Alyssa was born. She has Down Syndrome and was diagnosed with Leukemia. She inspired me to start this foundation.
We mostly work in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to facilitate the Best Buddies and the Best Friends Programs in as many schools as possible. We work for children with a wide range of special needs. I named it special needs and abilities so it will have a very broad range to include children who are experiencing medical, physical and mental issues.
I knew there was a need for programs that inspire people to be more accepting of children with special needs and to bring awareness to the belief of inclusion which brings them together in school classrooms instead of sending them to a different school or to the other side of the campus.
How do the Best Friends and Best Buddies Programs work?
The Best Friends Program takes the class of special needs children and they bring them into the class with the typical children. They have their buddies or partners and it is a one-onone program. They play games and do crafts together, build friendships, sing songs and/or go outside to the obstacle course. It’s mainly for the kids to get to know each other and reduce the fear that children feel about people with special needs. The program really develops their friendships and from their friendships, they become more accepting of each other. They discover they have more in common than different.
The Best Buddies Program was started by the Shriver family, Maria and her brother, Anthony Shriver. They do the same thing, but at the college level and it’s now in the high schools in LBUSD. However, they have their own counselors and programs. We just try to facilitate with them and bring more awareness to the program.
Share your journey to what led you to start your non profit.
When I was pregnant with Alyssa, I did not know she had Down Syndrome. I didn’t want to take any of the tests because of my age. I was over 35 years old. I knew about the risks, but I didn’t believe any diagnosis would change my mind. So I just thought I would wait and see. When Alyssa was born, I honestly didn’t know she had Down Syndrome. I couldn’t see it in her physically, probably because I was so exhausted from labor or just because I was filled with love for my newborn baby. The next morning, her pediatrition came in and she noticed certain physical characteristics. In addition, Alyssa had some issues with feeding and they ran some tests. After the results, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
After her diagnosis, the responses I received from people were interesting. Instead of congratulating me, they felt bad for me and kept saying they were sorry. I thought to myself, that she was healthy and so beautiful and meant to be in our loving family. There’s no need to be sorry. I was confused by that. I see it as more of a gift for myself, my family and my older daughter. So then I started pondering on the reasons why people have this attitude, because I didn’t really see it as a problem.
Since I had past experience as a teacher for children with special needs, I was exposed to that world. That made me really think that I needed to do something to change people’s perception. There was so much in the special needs world to focus on, but I wanted to focus on acceptance and inclusion. Since the world of elementary school was the environment I knew, I contacted LBUSD and told them about SNAP. Once they were on board, I worked with the Best Buddies program to spread the word out to schools and parents.
The schools are so overwhelmed right now and class sizes have gone up along with the teacher caseloads. They love the idea of the programs, but it’s the workload involved that scares them. However, my vision is to help the teachers and facilitate the programs in the classroom and not make it a big ordeal like field trips and parties. It is a very simple philosophy. One-on-one during lunch period, playing games, making crafts, listening to music, etc. Simple.
We need volunteers that want to do projects or help at events, such as the silent auctions, security, selling tickets, helping the bands get on and off the stage. I love volunteers. I welcome anyone who wants to come and help.
What top advice would you give a mom who just found out they have a child with special needs ?
I think accepting help would be the first bit of advice. Also, to educate yourself on what the child’s rights are as far as getting them services and early intervention. Get in touch with their local Harbor Regional Centers as soon as possible to get their child evaluated. A lot of people want to get the tests done and the paperwork started for the necessary services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and respite care starting from birth to three years old.
Lastly, maintain a positive attitude by speaking to other moms who can share with you their ideas and journeys or reading other people’s blogs or starting your own. There are a lot of great books out there. I read a book called Babies with Down Syndrome. It goes through the type of medical issues they may have, what to look for, what to monitor, doctors, physicians and centers you can go to for help.
What do you say to your older daughter or family members on how to handle other people’s perception of Alyssa?
I talk to Kendall a lot about other people’s perspections of Alyssa, because she has only seen the positive reactions. I tell her that some people might be afraid of Down Syndrome, because they really don’t understand it. Other people may act in a mean way towards Alyssa and that is when she will need to protect her in some ways. I also tell her that she may need to educate her friends and tell them that Alyssa has Down Syndrome, which means she is just like them except that she may look and talk different, but inside she is the same.
I have friends of mine with typical children who have told me they’re really happy that their child gets to grow up with Alyssa, because they won’t grow up being afraid or have that negative attitude when they see someone that may be different than themselves.
I think now it is better than when we were growing up, but I think in the special needs community there are still some fears or prejudices that people have. They don’t see with education, people with special needs can become so much more than what they have been labeled with. With Down Syndrome, just like Autism, the spectrum range is so huge. I have friends with children that have Down Syndrome who are not verbal and I also have others with children who are reading and writing and functioning just like a typical child.
One thing about Alyssa. She doesn’t have a problem having Down Syndrome, but a lot of other people have a problem. Alyssa has no issues with who she is. She is a very happy, confident and out going girl who is friendly to everyone.
When was Alyssa diagnosed with Leukemia?
When she was 18 months old. People with Down Syndrome have a higher probability of being diagnosed with Leukemia. Fortunately now with all the funding for research, people who have been diagnosed with Leukemia can live a lot longer. One of the doctors told me that when people were first treated with chemotherapy, they were afraid to try it with people who have Down Syndrome because they already had low immunity to begin with. They thought treating them with chemotherapy would kill them, because it is so hard on the body and it basically just wipes out any immunity that you have. Interestingly with the type of Leukemia Alyssia had, which is called AML, people with Down Syndrome do better during treatment, not necessarily with the outcome of survival, but during treatment they don’t’ have as many side effects. So when Alyssa was treated, she did lose her hair, but she was not nauseous, she had a good appetite and she was not physically wiped out. She was up at 6:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night with no nap. At that time, she was not interested in TV in the hospital. So it was 12 hours of providing continuous entertainment for her. She had a lot of energy.
Alyssa lived in Millers Children Hospital in Long Beach, CA for 6 months when she was treated for Leukemia and she had a great time there. She was surrounded by nurses, doctors, therapists and staff who were so positive and loving towards her. They were all phenomenal. Currently, Alyssa is in remission.
What is your biggest challenge as a mom of a child with special needs?
Time management is hard to balance with my older daughter’s activities which are swim team, dance and homework and the daily routine of preparing meals and the activities with Alyssa throughout the day and evening.
Another big challenge for me is keeping myself organized and not overbooking. I tend to take on too much. I do PTA for my older daughter’s school. Once a month I go to Miller Children’s Hospital to meet with a social worker for a foundation called, Parents Against Cancer where we meet with newly diagnosed families and talk to them about the experiences, because when your child is newly diagnosed your world as a parent changes in an instant. You are forced to make medical decisions and change your home life. A lot of times, a parent will come and live at the hospital with their child and if there is a second parent, that parent will need to run the household on their own.
So how has your perception on life changed because of Alyssa?
Huge. I think probably the biggest change for me was to not be so hard on myself as far as setting goals, achieving everything and trying to being the best at it all. I was so overwhelmed and lived in a state of hyperactivity by being constantly on the go. I have learned so much more from Alyssa than she could ever learn from me.
I have learned to be much more patient, kind, forgiving, honest, strong, sympathetic, apathetic, loving, affectionate and she has also given me the determination and confidence to start my foundation. She has opened my eyes to a new world and to see life from a different perspective. I am able to be more accepting of other people and see where they are coming from. I listen more and don’t judge people. I am so very lucky to have her and if I had a magic wand I wouldn’t use it because I wouldn’t want to change anything about her!
Talking with friends and family helps alot. I pray. I accept help. I try and find the little things in life that help me be more organized. I eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle by going to the gym, walking to the park with Alyssa and getting a good night sleep. I have to have my sleep! I mostly like to read about health or education and to find the best ways my children can learn.
One of the most important things you can have to maintain your life is your faith, whatever that may be. Having faith in a higher power, something that is bigger than you that has good energy or vibrations can help tremendously.
When I went through my journey with Alyssa, I really felt that God gave her as a gift to me because he saw me heading in a path that was a little more egocentric and I was missing out on things that counted more.
As a mom of 4 beautiful children, Danielle Augustin has tackled a variety of challenges head on with her strong faith and determination to turn obstacles into something positive in her life. From living a difficult childhood that sunk her into depression, to discovering that one of her children has special needs, to battling cancer and traveling thousands of miles to adopt her daughter, Danielle shares her journey through it all and how each event led her to a blessed and magical life today.
Share a little bit about your life growing up.
I was born to an amazing mother who had a rough marriage. My father was an alcoholic and basically left us when I was around 3 years old, which was the same year my mom was diagnosed with terminal Lymphoma Cancer. She was given 6 months to live, but she really defied the odds and lived well beyond that.
When I was 7 years old, she married my stepfather who is my dad still today. My mom survived until I was 15 years old, but no one really knew that she was sick. She had so much energy. She was my softball coach showing us how to slide and run the bases. She coached hundreds of kids for 10 years and had one of the most profound impact on them. They still talk about that today.
She just had this amazing, positive light in her life and had so much peace. And I think that’s where I get a lot of that from her. She was basically dying most of her adult life, but you’d never know it.
While my mom was living such a vivacious life throughout her illness, I struggled watching her because she would go in and out of remission. She would be this bundle of energy and then went in and out of remission three times. Even when she lost her hair, she would still be at the softball field or at a slumber party and she would rip her wig off and run around. The kids just loved it! She had the best sense of humor and that’s where I think I get my sense of humor. However, at that time, I was 13 years old and I felt humiliated seeing my mom running around with her bald head in public. At that point, it wasn’t funny to me. Now, it’s hysterical to me and I love that she did that.
When my mom passed away, I really fell into a deep depression for about a year. I went from playing sports like softball, soccer, cheerleading and being on the honor roll to basically just giving up. I stopped playing sports, my grades flipped and I started to hang around kids I shouldn’t have been hanging around with. I dropped out of school and I ran away from home.
After a year, I was finally able to pull myself out. I definitely had those moments where I was at my wits end because things were incredibly crazy for me. So, I decided that I needed to get away. I was living in San Diego, CA at the time and ran away to Orange County, CA to my grandma and told her that I needed help. I wanted to get back in school and live a good life. I wanted to make my mother proud. So, within a week, I enrolled back in high school and I resumed that positive life that I was living. I started getting good grades, ran track, played softball again and made the varsity squad for cheerleading. Although that was a bizarre time in my life, the things I saw and experienced as a teenager was what formed the empathy for me to do what I do today. I now represent boys and girls just like that as an attorney.
What was your journey that led you to become an attorney for kids?
In college, I met my husband when I was 19 and then was married 2 years later. I continued my education at California State University Fullerton and was 7 months pregnant with my first daughter at my graduation. Then I enrolled in law school (Western State University College of Law) when my daughter was 18 months.
One of my last assignments as a District Attorney was the domestic violence deputy. Coming from a father who had perpetrated domestic violence on my mom, I’d seen that as a child and just to come full circle and be the domestic violence deputy at Central Court was pretty amazing.
My son was born during my 2nd year of law school. Then I had my 3rd child, my son, while I was involved in the D.A.’s office. At that point, I really wanted to spend more time with the kids since I had been working full time. So, I switched over to a job sharing position and worked part time.
During this time, we were noticing some socialization issues with my 2nd son when he was in kindergarten. We were meeting with his teachers and day care providers. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome. This is what opened my eyes to Special Education Law, which is what I currently practice. I had never been exposed to that at all and it was a shock to me. I really didn’t know how to handle that. When they gave us the diagnosis, I was devastated. There were a lot of tears not knowing what to do and just worried about his future. But we really got deeply involved in his therapy and dedicated ourselves to him living a healthy and happy life with friends and success in school.
After a year of crying, thinking “why me” and feeling helpless, I began to pray with grateful tears and felt so blessed to have him as my son. He has taught me so much about faith and love, which made me a better mom. All these trials that we went through brought us closer as a family.
This is what really motivated me to open my law office. Based on that experience, I wanted to dedicate my business side of my life and beyond to practice Special Education Law. So, in Spring of 2003, I opened my law office out of my home. I had a computer, a phone and an idea. But before I left the D.A.’s office, I had been assigned with my job share partner the Truancy Deputy to prosecute parents and kids who weren’t going to school and that’s what really opened my eyes to Education Law.
I spent nearly 2 years of my career in the D.A.’s office implementing a truancy project and that’s how I met a lot of administrators for the school district and special education administrators. I was exposed to children who weren’t going to school and who had disabilities. I realized there was another side to why some kids weren’t going to school.
I designed my own website, put it up, got a phone number and just started making connections from scratch. I started getting clients and donating my time in pro bono cases just to give me experience.
Now, my firm has 4 other attorneys and a full legal staff in Anaheim Hills, CA that represent children and families with special needs and kids that are involved in school matters and juvenile court.
In the midst of all that , you discovered you were diagnosed with cancer. How did you find out?
In the Summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. We caught it early enough to where I just had to have surgery. I did not have to go through chemotherapy or radiation. And I’ve been cancer free since the surgery. It was scary on so many levels, because I had seen my mother struggle with cancer. Then when I got that news that I had cancer, it was incredibly emotional. Going to the oncologist office was so surreal. I could not believe that it was happening to me. Fortunately since the surgery, I’ve been cancer free and the doctors believe I will remain cancer free. Although having cancer was devasting, going through my recovery was the catalyst to adopting my daughter, Gracie.”
What inspired you to adopt your daughter and how did you adopt from Ethiopia?
I always have a lot of energy and I’m usually on my feet on the go. As I sat in bed for weeks recovering, I had my laptop and I just felt a calling. Prior to cancer, we discussed possibly having another child and now I couldn’t because of the surgery. We always talked about adopting. I started researching and calling a lot of adoption agencies and I was basically rejected from every one of them because I had cancer. It was an absolute deal breaker if you had any kind of illness like cancer within a 5 year period of time or at all for some agencies.
Finally, I found an adoption agency based in Oregon called, All God’s Children International. They just requested a letter from my doctor stating that my prognosis was good. So we started the long process with them and wanted to adopt a child from Ethiopia. My husband and I knew what was going on in that country in terms of the poverty and diseases and we felt called to go over there.
In May 2007, we received a phone call that they had identified a “referral”. Originally, we had thought that we would adopt someone a little older, but I was told she was born on August 2nd. Well, that date is my mother’s birthday. When we heard that, the chills that my daughter and I felt were unbelievable. We couldn’t believe it. She sent pictures within 5 minutes and we knew she was our little girl.
In July 2007, we traveled to Ethiopia for 3 to 4 days and she’s been with us ever since. She is an unbelievable light.
Gracie is now 7 years old and in first grade. If you meet Gracie, there’s something very magical about her. Everybody that meets her says that when she walks into a room, it just lights up. She has this amazing personality that’s bigger than life. She greets everybody by name. When people meet her, they just fall in love with her. She’s had such an impact on our family, friends and our entire community.
What would you tell a mom who feels a calling to add to her family by adoption?
Especially if you are a couple, make sure that you both are feeling that. It’s a really big decision to make. I think really the decision is if you adopt domestically or outside of the United States and to do a thorough research. There are a lot of agencies to look into and call. I contacted multiple agencies and I really got a feel of whom I was comfortable with. You’ll want to work with someone who has done this before, who is well respected and works efficiently. You can research a lot through the internet, but be sure to pick up the phone and call them, ask them questions and you can tell pretty quickly if they’re going to be a good fit for you.
There are groups that provide adoption assistance and support for those seeking to adopt and post adoption. There are so many services out there that offer help to get you through the process and even after it’s done. There are so many ways to adopt. I think after some prayer, open communication and researching, it will come to the point where you’ll feel what’s right for you and your family.
What do you do to stay balanced?
Even though I work hard as a mom and a business woman, I also play hard. My family and I enjoy life and take time to travel together. We may drive down to San Diego for the day and go out to lunch.
I also find it important to have good friends in your life that love you and support you. Take time to be with friends. Take a group of 3-4 women friends, go out and have lunch and laugh, go to a movie and eat popcorn.
Also, finding balance for me is with my husband. We’re really conscious about taking time for each other and having a date night at least once a month, if not more. We go to the gym or have a quick lunch. We find that time.
In addition, finding balance is that spiritual side. I do have a very deep faith in God. And I’m constantly working on personal development. I’m always reading and listening to audios or videos and going to seminars on character. I really believe that if we live a life of character and pursue the dreams that are personal to us, we are going to be better moms, business women and in life. That’s really how I find balance.
All your experiences and insight has led you to become a speaker who inspires women. What is your main message to your audience when you speak?
My message now is that you can overcome obstacles in your life and live a magical life. I could have given up many times, but I chose not to and chose to overcome and rise above it. You can take those obstacles to climb higher to where you’re supposed to be and turn it into something positive to find your destiny and live magically.