When you think of what it means to be “fit,” what immediately comes to mind? Someone who goes to the gym on a regular basis, eats a healthy diet and practices self-care, right?
What if those habits alone are simply not enough?
Samantha Harris was blindsided by breast cancer at 40 years old. With no hereditary link, she wondered how she — a vibrant, healthy, fit woman — could be faced with such a terrifying reality check.
“[When] I found out I had breast cancer, a passion was ignited in me,” she says. “It compelled me to become the healthiest that I have ever been. I researched everything I could to try to understand how this could happen to a healthy, fit 40-year-old. From that, I determined that it was what I put in and around my body that contributed to my cancer.”
After her diagnosis, Harris began making sweeping changes in her life — from what she ate to how she exercised to which products she used for hair care, makeup and house cleaning.
Out of this research, her book Your Healthiest Healthy (Sterling, September 2018) was born.
“I eliminated toxic relationships in my life and built positive support networks that encouraged resiliency,” she explains. “I wrote Your Healthiest Healthy because it didn’t exist at the time when I needed it, and I wanted others to benefit from what I had learned.”
In her book, Harris talks candidly about her experience being her own best health advocate after being dismissed by several doctors.
Harris went in for a routine checkup and had a mammogram, which came back negative. Eleven days later, while changing at the gym, she felt a lump in her breast.
“Two doctors told me that the lump was nothing, but my gut was telling me something wasn’t right. I know my body,” Harris says. “That’s one thing about exercising regularly. You notice these small changes, and you’re more in tune to when something isn’t right.”
That feeling drove Harris to seek a third opinion, four months after she initially felt the lump. She was referred to a breast cancer specialist. After a small surgery and a battery of tests, her intuitive sense became reality and the diagnosis was confirmed. Harris had to undergo a grueling double mastectomy.
“As women, we’re conditioned to be a doer for everybody else,” she explains. “One of my biggest take-aways from this experience is to always allow time for yourself. It’s not selfish or lazy to meditate for 20 minutes or to get your workout in, even if you have to put other things off in order to do so. The better you can take care of yourself, the better off everyone else is.”
When it comes to nutrition, Harris’ biggest piece of advice is to up your veggie intake by filling at least half your plate with greens. She also has been diligently reducing her intake of animal protein.
“This is coming from a girl who grew up in Minnesota eating every part of the cow,” she says. “We all thought our plate should have a slab of meat on it. [I think] we need to change our perspective on that as a country.”
Harris has found that by removing animal products from her breakfast in the form of eggs and yogurt and trading these in for a plant-based smoothie with greens like spinach and kale, she feels more energized throughout her day. She’s putting less potentially harmful cancer-causing agents into her body and reducing her footprint on the planet at the same time.
“Reaching your healthiest self isn’t a final end goal,” Harris says. “It’s a journey for life. You need to make small steps you can realistically hang onto. I’m about two and half years into my journey, and I’m leaps and bounds from where I began.”
Harris also emphasizes that health goes beyond what we are putting in our mouths and on our skin. It also has so much to do with what’s happening between our ears. We are the product of those with whom we choose to spend our time and energy — in our thoughts and actions.
“We all have toxic friendships,” she says. “You know that friend who leaves you feeling anxious at the end of every conversation you have with her.”
Little by little, these interactions are preventing us from living our best lives and need to be assessed for the potential detriment they are causing to our health.
“I have always been a glass half full kind of girl. Cancer struck that [mindset] down so violently. After the diagnosis, I had never been so full of anxiety. I felt wretched. I had to take everything that came with cancer and put a positive spin on it,” Harris explains. “That has helped shape how I view things now when I’m having a moment — whether it’s missing a flight or something as devastating as a health diagnosis.”