Lisa interviews Christine Egan author of The Healthy Girls Guide to Breast Cancer, on what healthy means to her post-breast cancer. Christine is a mum of three who has home-schooled her kids, grown her own veggies and made all her food from scratch. She thought she was healthy. A breast cancer diagnosis came as a shock. Her journey will delight you and the essential element to a healthy life might surprise you. ‘Maximising joy’ sounds like a good small step to take. She offers many others. Check out Christine’s new beauty line Life On Mars https://www.facebook.com/
Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Lisa: It is an absolute pleasure today to talk to a lady who I met in November last year, I think it was. The absolutely lovely, delightful and inspiring, mega-inspiring, Christine Walsh Egan. Thanks for joining me.
Christine: Hello. Mega-inspiring? Hmm. But the bar has been set pretty high.
Lisa: Look, it’s nothing much today. Just a chat about how you can change everyone’s lives, is really all I’m after (Laughter). I’m only joking. I wanted to explain that when I met you, it was at a retreat, a mastermind retreat, with other women who have online businesses. Women who are really trying to create change in the world, a lot of them, through lots of different means. And you and I immediately gelled, because I was like, ‘Hey, I think there’s a hippy in the room.’ (Laughter.)
Christine: Not only a hippy, but a mum of three.
Lisa: Yes, yes. And you have such an amazing story, that I just feel, like, needs to be shared everywhere. And you are doing an amazing job of sharing it, through your Redefining Healthy movement, and your book, The Healthy Girl’s Guide to Breast Cancer, which is amazing, and essential reading. Because the thing about you is that, you know, when I think of cancer, I think of either old age, I think of unhealthy people, and what I’m realising as I get older is that it doesn’t discriminate. And you can be as healthy as you like, but you could still end up with this diagnosis. So what we’re going to be talking about today is how a really healthy girl dealt with her diagnosis of cancer, and what she learnt along the way, that has lead her to this movement of redefining healthy. So, no mean feat. Let’s do this. Tell me, who was Christine before the diagnosis? Give us a bit of a background.
Christine: So, the girl before the cancer was this really healthy person. Like, two of my kids were born at home. Like, this whole country granola lifestyle. We grew most of our own food here, at the house, in a garden, and if it wasn’t at our garden, it was at a community garden, like, in my town. We home schooled our kids, like, this whole small, close-knit family. And we had been living this really healthy lifestyle for 25-plus years. Like, this wasn’t something that, you know, since my kids were born, I kind of, just, you know, got healthier. It was something that we were practicing for, you know, quite a number of years. And then, like, bam, out of leftfield, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But let me even say one other part. That I was so ingrained in this health field that I went back to school, to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and became a certified health coach. So I had my own private practice of helping mums in my community become healthier, so that they could have healthier families. And then that’s when I was diagnosed, you know, while I had this whole, like, thriving private practice. And it was, like I said, totally out of leftfield, and had to come up with ways on how to go about dealing with this whole cancer treatment.
Lisa: How were you? Like, were you cross, when you were diagnosed? How did you actually react, because I would feel ripped off. So, number one, how did you feel, and then number two, what did it help you start to realise about what healthy really meant?
Christine: Well, when I was first diagnosed, I kind of just took that, ‘Okay, what do I need to do?’ mentality. I didn’t even give myself time to be angry. It was more like, ‘Okay, here’s the list of things that I’m supposed to do. Let me start with number one.’ I mean, I didn’t even know how to call a doctor’s office, to say-,’
Lisa: Get out. Get out!
Christine: I’m serious. I didn’t know what to say. I literally didn’t know what to say, like, on the other line. Like, ‘Hello, I have breast cancer. What do I do?’ Like, I didn’t even know what the verbiage was to say to the receptionist on the other line. I, kind of, just went into that work mode of, ‘Let’s figure out how to go about fixing this.’
Lisa: Because how old were your kids at that stage?
Christine: I don’t know. Maybe eight, ten, and twelve.
Christine: Yes. Still young, and we home schooled, so they were, you know, here. The whole diagnosis helped me realise how to have fun, and how to reprioritise things in my brain.
Christine: And when you were asking me about the old Christine, I wanted to interject in there that the old Christine was so stressed about raising three kids, and being this mum, and being this healthy person, and home schooling these kids, and trying to do everything right. For not only myself, right, because I thought I was doing everything right, but for my family too. And when that diagnosis got me, and shook me, I think the big part of it was letting all those preconceived notions of what being perfect, and what being bright, look like. All that went out the window, because I was forced to have fun with my kids when I was feeling well. So in-between treatments, and whatever, we snuggled, and we watched comedies together, in bed. Or, you know, we wouldn’t do all the things that we were supposed to be doing.
We wouldn’t go to every single Karate tournament, we didn’t go to every dance class. You know, we didn’t run from place to place, like we were doing for so long, because I just couldn’t. And that, kind of, just forced us to all, like, take a step back, and regroup as a family, and have fun. And the kids became a really big part of that. Meaning, they would call me out if I was driving, and I would start getting anxious because we were behind a slow car, and I had to get them someplace. They’d be, like, ‘Relax, mum.’ Like, they were ready to call me out on things, and they still do, and I love that. They’re always, you know, reminding me of how to stay grounded, and how to stay present with them. Because I wasn’t doing that. Even though I thought I was, I wasn’t.
Lisa: And do you think, from what you’ve learnt now about healthy, you know, it’s not just ticking the box of eating organic food and having babies at home? So you think the stress, the pace of life, all those things. You know, how much of that do you think plays a part in an overall healthy life? Because everyone’s so busy. Everyone’s so stressed. I say to my husband, ‘I’m at capacity.’ And I’m really conscious of those words now, especially through stories like yours.
Christine: Yes. I think that the stress level played a huge role, in not only how I felt up in here, in my own head, but what it was doing to my body, right. The best way I can describe it is, like, when the cell phone battery drains, and we just plug it in for a few minutes, and it never fully charges. And it’s always, kind of, going down, and you’re sitting down, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I hope it lasts.’ That was pretty much my life.
So now I’m so conscious of what it takes to recharge that battery. And sometimes, some days, it’s eating really good, healthy food, because I know that that’s what it’s going to take for me to get to that 100%. And other times, it means having lunch with my kids, and being really present, because that’s what’s going to get me to that 100 on my battery life. Sometimes, it’s exercising, because I know that’s what is really needed. And maybe it means exercising with the kids, not just by myself. You know, how to get joy, like, maximum capacity.
And I don’t mean that, like, in a stressful way. Like, adding another stress, and like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to find the joy, got to find the joy.’ It’s more like a fun challenge of, ‘How can I find the joy in today?’ And believe me, my kids know when I’m doing laundry, because I’m miserable. Alright, I’m always yelling, I’m grumpy. They know it. But, I get to watch my, like, crappy TV while I fold the laundry. Like, highlight, joy in the-,
Lisa: Yes, right. I mean, the only reason why I now do ironing is because it gives me a free pass to watch Netflix, guilt free, because what else am I going to be doing, you know? Okay, so is that what, you know, #redefining healthy, is that what redefining healthy is for you? Is that the message that you want to get out there?
Christine: The message I want to get out there is, you know, ‘We could eat broccoli 24/7, and if we’re in a loveless marriage, that broccoli isn’t going to keep us healthy. We could be drinking green smoothies all day long, but if I turned around and I’m barking and yelling at my kids the rest of the day, that’s not going to keep me healthy.’ So, I like to say it’s finding the unexpected and delightful ways that make us feel healthy. Now, for some of that, that could be a dance party. That could be a dance party with the kids. That could mean making sure I get out in nature every day, and that could be by myself, or that could be with the kids. Like, it’s finding that balance of the things that make me happy, and sometimes it incorporates the family, and other times it doesn’t.
Lisa: And that’s okay. And tell me, what about your relationship with your husband? You know, what does a diagnosis like cancer do, and how have you guys redefined a healthy relationship?
Christine: Yes. Well, I talk about in my book literally coming home later that day after being diagnosed, and looking at myself in the mirror, and saying to myself, ‘How did I not give my body the gratitude that it deserved?’ I mean, I gave birth to three kids, I breastfeed three kids, I ran half-marathons. Like, how could I not be in love with this body? Like, how could I be mad at this body? And that mind-shift that I worked on all the time, and still to this day work on, has changed me from the inside, of not nit-picking.
Meaning, I’m not looking at my thighs. I’m not looking at the scars that have been left over on my body, like, picking at that every day, like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I can’t believe, you know, you could see this through the shirt,’ or whatever. It’s really showing your body the gratitude that it deserves. And that has translated into a better relationship with my husband, because if I feel better about my own body, and about my own self, then I’m more apt to share that with him. And also, the other part was, I was so afraid that I was going to be sick, like, just physically sick for long, that whenever I felt good, I wanted to say, ‘Yes,’ to him. Because I was afraid that there would be a time when I wouldn’t be able to, so why not say, ‘Yes,’ now? And I still try to take that mentality now.
Lisa: Yes. Well, I mean, there is no other time when life is better than when you recover from feeling sick. When you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I just need to remember how bad I can feel,’ you know, from gastro, or whatever it is, ‘So I’m just going to be grateful every single day.’ And then of course, you forget, and, you know, it’s so interesting what you say about being grateful to our bodies and not seeing all the little bits and pieces. Because do you know, I reckon the person who sees the least is our partners, who just want to touch, and want to be held, to hold. And it doesn’t matter that now that arse is a bit droopy. And sometimes, if I say to my husband, ‘Oh, don’t look,’ you know, if I’m having a fat day or something. And he’ll be like, ‘Who are you? What?’ And I realise how ridiculous I sound in that moment, and the times when he looks at me with most, sort of, desire is when I feel amazing.
So it’s like, I don’t want to get to a diagnosis of cancer before I can just-, like, hearing your message, and hearing you say that, and reading it in your book, was a big eye-opener for me. Because, you know, we have our health right now. Well, we never know what’s looming around the corner, but, it’s like, hang on, when you stop and think about it. What do I really want this lifetime for? Do I want this lifetime to be about sticking to strict rules about food, and exercise, and routine, and the expectations that everyone else has of me as a mother? And, you know, can’t say no to invitations to things, and must push on. Really? No.
Christine: But we all get caught up in that. I mean, it’s an easy trap to get caught up into. But it’s how to make those conscious decisions, that maybe I’m just not going to play into that today. Try it for the day. Or maybe it’s, you know, for that weekend. You know, it’s those baby steps, right? We can’t just say, ‘No,’ to everything. Like, that’s just not realistic, but maybe, ‘What can I say, “No,” to today?’
Lisa: Or, you know what I’m finding is also-, it’s about being able to tune back in with yourself and realise, I guess-, I love that mobile phone battery analogy. You know, when is it getting low? When is it in the red? These are the moments when I need to stop. Because yes, life is full. I want a full life, but I don’t want an overwhelmingly stressful life. I would love to know, were there any sneaky things, when you really-, do you think you knew everything about, you know, health, before you got cancer? Like, even things like, I know your new business venture involves cosmetics, which is very exciting. Is that something you feel more passionately about now, because, you know, there are so many other different things lurking that we’re not consciously aware of? Like, food is an obvious kind of thing.
Christine: Yes. I think that’s an excellent point. I was just interviewed on WebMD as a breast cancer expert, and that was something that, honestly, came up organically. Because the woman kept pressuring me, saying, ‘Well you were doing all this before.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re right.’ One of the big things that I’ve changed in my life was the things that literally went onto my skin, and I talk about it in my book. Do you have Costco?
Christine: Okay. So, for years, I had this huge Costco-size lotion, of a brand that I’m not going to mention, that I used, I don’t know, 25-plus years. Like, since college.
Christine: That I was using every day, when I got out of the shower, to put on my body, and moisturise me. And after I was diagnosed, I started reading about what are called endocrine disrupters. Like, there are actual things in products that adversely affect your hormone levels. And since my breast cancer was hormone-related, I really started taking a look at, well, what are the things that I can control in my life, that might be affecting my hormones? When I started looking at this label, it had a very well-known endocrine disrupter as one of the first ingredients.
Lisa: Oh, Christine.
Christine: I’m not saying by any means that this is what gave me cancer.
Christine: But, what I am saying is, I have control over the things that I can put onto my body, so let me make a smart decision about the products that are touching my skin. And that’s, kind of, how this lead to this whole non-toxic make-up. I’m not a very big make-up wearer, but there are so many people that are.
Lisa: Yes. I am, Christine.
Christine: (Laughter.) You are not.
Lisa: I am. I love make-up. I swear, yes. I would put make-up on most days. Yes, totally.
Christine: I put on, like, lipstick. That’s what’s so funny about this, is like, I don’t really even wear make-up. But so many people do, so why not keep them safe? And especially, like, I think about my daughter. I don’t have that breast cancer gene that gets passed down. So what other things can I do for her, to keep her healthy and safe? And this is just one of those things, and I’m going to circle back to something we were talking about before, about when a mum might say things out loud about not feeling pretty.
Like, if we were alone in a room, that’s one thing. But both of us have other ears that live in our house, and those are definitely messages that we don’t want to let our kids hear, whether male or female. Alright, there’s a difference between, like, ‘Mummy doesn’t feel well today,’ and, ‘Mummy doesn’t feel pretty, Mummy feels fat today.’ You know, or, ‘Ugh, that made my belly feel fat,’ or, ‘I’m hanging out of my jeans,’ or whatever it may be. But I’m very, very conscious about saying those words. And my kids will call me on it all the time.
Lisa: They sound like the coolest kids ever.
Christine: They are.
Lisa: I’m exactly the same. I really don’t want my kids to hear me talking like that. But then, also, you know, it’s a fine line when you’re eating foods. And I’d love to know what you did, because I feel like sometimes, you know, kids rock up to my kids’ birthday parties, and they’re like, ‘Oh, like, where’s the crazy coloured birthday cake? And where are all the lollies?’ And I’ll just have out popcorn, and some homemade biscuits, and, you know, a beautiful cake, but it doesn’t have all the crazy colourings and all that stuff. And, you know, some homemade sausage rolls, whatever.
And I feel like I don’t want them to miss out, because they’re going to other places where there are very exciting things for them. Like, they’re pumped, when they see foods that they wouldn’t have at home. And every time, my son, who’s now five, he’ll be six in September, goes to a birthday party, he ends up with an ulcer in his mouth. He gets run-down from all the sugar, and he just will default get an ulcer, and it annoys him. And, you know, they last for days, and he can’t eat properly, and he’s really grumpy.
And I talk to him about the connection between food and how we feel, and what’s going on. So this morning, he’s like, ‘I need something really, really healthy for breakfast.’ But then, you know, I also don’t want them to ever feel guilty about experimenting with different foods, and eating different foods, because they have to make up their own minds. From someone who obviously brought their children up in a really healthy environment, how is that something that you’ve spoken to them about? And, you know, even getting a diagnosis like cancer, how has talking about ‘healthy’ changed in your family, and with your kids?
Christine: Well, it’s like you said, it’s making those connections to how you feel. I mean, he’s so little, still, your son.
Lisa: He doesn’t get ‘fat,’ like, he doesn’t get the concept. I would never say, ‘If you eat that, you’re going to be fat.’
Christine: No, it’s more about, like, the sores in your mouth.
Lisa: The connection, yes.
Christine: The connection of how he feels when he has those foods. And maybe, nothing’s ever black and white in our house, and we talk about that as a concept. It’s never all or nothing. So, I never ever say, and never have for years said, ‘You can’t have Oreos.’ Do you have Oreos?
Lisa: Yes, we have Oreos.
Christine: Okay. So, like, I would never say to my kids, ‘We can’t have Oreos in the house.’ And they might even buy a package at the supermarket, if they were with me. But they’ll sit on the shelf.
Lisa: Yes, right.
Christine: It’s almost, like, the concept of, ‘Can we have it?’ And maybe they’ll have one or two, but they’ll go stale before that box is empty. And that’s the same, like, we’ll have chips. Like, chips are a thing at our house. I’m talking, like, tortilla chips, and maybe a potato chip here and there. And again, I’ll say, ‘Yes,’ but they’ll sit on the shelf. Like, they might have them here and there, but they’ve always been like that, though. Like, they’ll ask me, and I’ll say, ‘Yes,’ and then it just doesn’t get eaten.
Lisa: That’s really amazing. It is about the asking. It’s about the, you know, just knowing how far that they can push. And sometimes, yes, I don’t want to create more battles in my house.
Christine: And I never wanted to be that mum to say, ‘No.’ I mean, I didn’t want them growing up-, I mean, I’m sure there’ll be stories, regardless, about me.
Lisa: Our kids will all end up in therapy about us, for something or other.
Christine: Right. I didn’t want the Oreos to be part of it.
Lisa: Yes. Oreos are small fry. No, but I do, I mean, I like hearing that. You know, for all of the values that the mother can hold around food, our children need to move through their lives, and we can’t control their choices. We can just do what we do at home, talk about what we talk about, and you know, it’s also the no guilt factor is something that I’m really big on. As in, no guilt for myself. So, if I do buy certain things, I’m like, ‘Whatevs.’ You know, we move on. Like, holding on to that is toxic.
Christine: Like, for example, my kids might have oatmeal in the morning, but they might have the oatmeal with the sugar in it. Do you know what I’m saying? Like, is it the best? No. Is it better than, like, a sugary cereal? Yes. So, I’m just going to let that be, and I know eventually they might have some of mine, that is just an oatmeal with some fruit in it. And it’s the same for, like, a smoothie. I’ll make a morning smoothie every day. They don’t all drink that smoothie, but two of them do, now. Like, I really believe all my job is, is to offer.
I mean, now they’re older, but the line of it is, ‘This is what I’m cooking. If you’re not interested in what I am cooking, you need to prepare something yourself.’ I mean, like I said, they are older now. My older two will eat whatever, but that fifteen-year-old, he still will prepare his own meals because he won’t eat as healthy as we are. And believe me, he’s a healthy kid, but he likes things the way he likes things, so he’ll just make it himself. But the offer is always there, do you know what I’m saying? Like, the offer of the higher-quality, or whatever you want to call that food, is always available if you choose to eat it. And if not, then you need to find yourself something else.
Lisa: Yes. Oh, Christine, yes. So many little nuggets of gold in this conversation. And every time I talk to you, or every time I see what you’re doing online, it’s grounding. Because it’s not lofty. You know, you’re basically telling people to have more fun, to let go, and, you know, just to roll with life, instead of push. But you’re also a driven and ambitious woman, and you’re trying to pack a lot in, but, you know, you still prioritise your children. I don’t know, I just love everything that you’re about, so thank you, today. I would like to know, can you tell people how they can find you?
Christine: Sure. You can find me at redefining-healthy.com, and then you could find me on Facebook, which I’m sure you’ll give out the link to.
Lisa: Yes, of course.
Christine: And then, you can find my book on Amazon. I’m on Amazon, and I’m on Barnes & Noble, which I think you guys get out there, right?
Lisa: No, we’re not Barnes & Noble people. No, so Amazon will be the way to go for the Aussies listening.
Christine: Yes. And my book will be coming out on audio soon.
Lisa: Oh, I love listening to your voice. Can you tell everyone exactly where you’re from?
Christine: Do you want me to say it with that accent? Is that why you said it?
Lisa: Yes, totally.
Christine: I’m from New York. Or, I should say, I’m from Long Island.
Lisa: Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted you to say.
Christine: I’m from Long Island (Laughter).
Lisa: I love it. Well, thank you so much for sharing today. Your message is just amazing.
Christine: Oh, thank you so much.
Lisa: Oh, I just love talking to you. We’ve just got to do this more often. And then, you’ve got to organise an Australian tour, and then, you know.
Christine: It’s on the list, it really is.
Lisa: And also, can you just tell people, these cosmetics. What is the name of the brand?
Christine: I know. The brand name is amazing. It’s called Life on Mars.
Lisa: Love it.
Christine: And it has so many meanings, besides the obvious David Bowie meaning. But, there are a lot of different meanings with the Life on Mars portion, so, I can’t wait to share that.
Lisa: Yes, I can’t wait for it to arrive. Thank you Christine.
Christine: Well, thank you so much for having me. And remember, don’t sweat the small stuff, and go have a dance party with those kids.
Lisa: Done. Dance party it is.
Lisa: See you.