Sickle Cell Anemia: Vanessa & Elijah’s Story

In 2017 a beautiful lady began following my IVF Instagram account. Her account was about Pilates, not IVF.  I was intrigued as to why she was following me, but I accepted her.  I liked her energy and the mystery. There was a pure vibration from her page so I let her follow.

My IVF page was very personal and dear to me. It was where I shared my journey to a cure for my son Elijah. Elijah was born in 2011 with sickle cell anemia which is a chronic and life threatening genetic blood condition; the only cure – a bone marrow transplant from a matched sibling. Treatments for this condition were limited; it affects mostly Afro Caribbeans, Indians and people from the Mediterranean. I learnt it was, and still is majorly underfunded compared to conditions that affect White people.  So we set ourselves on a mission to firstly create an HLA match for Elijah via IVF PGD with a longer term mission to set up a charity called Crescent Kids. Crescent Kids would be our way to shine a light on this condition and push for funding towards medical research for better treatment options and a cure.

I later discovered that Nikki was following me because she was also doing IVF. We began talking and supporting each other on the journey. My journey was long and complex. I had 4 miscarriages and was 5th time lucky with my beautiful son Eden. The IVF/PGD meant Eden was born without Sickle Cell – the amazing wonders of modern science 🙂

Nikki fell pregnant before me which I found beautiful and inspiring! I’ll never forget one of her dance videos; shaking what her mama gave her  when she was in the 3rd trimester. So entertaining !! I always felt a special bond with Nikki. I loved her light; she continues to inspire me till this day 🙂

Anyway, after Eden arrived into our lives I knew it was time to begin the journey with my charity – Crescent Kids. Elijah has been unwell for 6 yrs with the majority of that time spent in the paediatric ward in hospital. Admissions were awful times; we watched our son connected to IV Morphine, IV Fluids and IV antibiotics time and time again – the management protocol for this debilitating pain. This pain would render him to a bed for days on end. Once the pain left, he would slowly learn how to walk and move around again. It’s heartbreaking and relentless.

While I was pregnant we were in and out of hospital until deep into my third trimester. We then spent most of Eden’s first year in hospital. During one of our hospital admissions Elijah asked me if he was dying; I asked why and he answered ‘ because it hurts so bad’. My heart broke into a million pieces.

It is no secret that Elijah’s condition is vastly underfunded. Sickle cell anemia affects a minority. Crucial funding doesn’t come our way. I knew I would have to do something and as soon we achieved some stability with Elijah’s health and (Eden was 9 months old) I drove Crescent Kids forward. I launched a Covid -19 campaign to provide care packs for children and families with Sickle Cell. The care packs include face masks, gloves, hand sanitisers and key natural supplements (like elderberry syrup) to boost immunity. We are generating interest and parents globally are coming forward for care packs and to share experiences.

Our wider aim is funding for medical research, we are excited & hopeful for the future!

More information can be found on our web site and our instagram page @crescentkids

Finally, big thank you to Nikki and Andrea for supporting Crescent Kids with the June sales of your Batch Nutrition Recipe E-Book!


La Patria: Female Entrepreneurs Making a Difference


I recently met the amazing women behind La Patria, Permpreet Soomal and Fernanda Sequeira.  I immediately fell in love with their bags (had to have one!) and their inspirational story of entrepreneurship making a difference around the world. Two local Toronto women are really having an impact! In fact, I was so inspired that I asked to interview them for the blog. Read on! 


1. What inspired you to start this business? 

Our love of tradition and travel inspired us to set out in search of uniquely crafted everyday objects from distinct places. As two young women and conscious consumers ourselves, we appreciate handmade goods with a story and sense of belonging to the people and places where they originate. This is what led us to create the label La Patria – meaning homeland in Latin. Our goal is to provide quality everyday lifestyle goods that are distinct, ethically sourced and enable economic and social change in the communities where they are made.

Our goal strongly aligns with our slogan “Handmade for Life” because our products are meant for everyday use, are high quality and meant to last a lifetime. And most importantly, our products empower and inject life into local communities through employment, education, and entrepreneurship.


2. What is the story behind each bag?  How long does it take to make them, the materials, etc?

The Bolsa Collection is our first line of totes and baskets originating from the rural highlands of Guatemala. Traditionally made to serve as carryall bags from the local markets, villagers would stack the totes one within another and fill them as needed. The lightweight and sturdy design was perfect for carrying all their markets essentials on foot. Today the totes are commonly used by Chapines (local Guatemalans) in cities and villages alike, keeping their tradition alive and useful!

Each tote begins with a wooden box frame mould built to a custom size and shape. Our skilled artisans carefully hand weave strands of recycled plastic through the frame to create a sturdy base that will stand the test of time. The straps are woven separately and fed through the body of the bag. This process not only requires skill, but also patience as each bag takes about 4 hours to complete. We are proud to say our totes are made with 100% recycled plastic. Even the seams are expertly fused together using only an open flame to melt  the two ends together, creating an unbreakable bond. The finishing touches of our label are also applied by hand, making each tote truly one of a kind works of art!


3. Your company is all about social entrepreneurship.  Can you tell us more about the impact you are making in the local community?

One of the most rewarding parts of launching this business has been discovering shared values with our artisan team. In getting to know their local community, we found ourselves sharing in a common language of beliefs, passions, dreams and values. This led us to discover an emotional connection and realize no matter where you live in the world, as human beings we are almost always motivated by the same thing – family. As such, it’s incredibly important that La Patria makes a positive impact on the families and communities of our artisans.

We are strong believers that much can be achieved for families through the value of education.  In fact, mostly every artisan on our team will tell you the same thing: They work to ensure better educational opportunities for their children. This common desire made it easy for us to decide which area of the community we would focus on supporting.  With every purchase of a La Patria product, a portion of proceeds go to support local schools with much needed resources.  Currently, we are working directly with the Principal of the local school where the young children of our artisan team attend in order to support their much needed breakfast program.

Thanks so much Ladies! You can learn more about La Patria on their website, or on instagram. 

Making Friends with Fear: My SVT Heart Ablation Surgery

Six years ago today in August of 2012, I did Tough Mudder for the first time. It’s a pretty wicked 18 km obstacle course designed by British Special Forces meant to “test the limits of endurance, strength and heart.”  You literally heave your up way up and down a massive ski hill ten times. It’s pretty much the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at these things) obstacle course you can imagine. There’s mud, ice, barbed wire and paramedics with stretchers at the ready.

Spoiler alert: Turns out I needed one of those stretchers. I completed the entire barf-inducing course, including the grand finale obstacle called the Electric Eel. It features hanging 10,000-volt live wires that you must run through in order to cross the finish line. There was a sign saying “not recommended if you have a heart condition” or something like that. Whatever. No biggie.

Right after the “Arctic Enema”, a pool of ice water, mud and barb wire!

Of course, in my infinite 30-year old wisdom – despite having a heart condition – I ignored it.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself barely conscious lying in some ski hut with an IV in my muddy arm, surrounded by shouting paramedics.  I was in SVT or supraventricular tachycardia. I’d had these episodes of severely fast heart beat of 200 beats per minute since I was 14, but I’d always been able to make them go away on their own. Not this time. This time I needed a drug called adenosine to essentially restart my heart to reset the normal electrical rhythm.

Back in the ski hut I heard “you’ll feel some pressure!” and it felt like an elephant was crushing my chest. I lurched, Pulp Fiction style. My friend Kyra was with me. I remember her bawling hysterically watching me. Adenosine sucks. It feels like you’re about to die for about 10 seconds – like the grim reaper is hovering. Drama drama drama.

Then it’s all over and your heart beats normal. Relief floods you.

Needless to say, I was pretty freaked out by it all. I saw a cardiologist. My options were 1) Do nothing  2) Take beta blocker drugs everyday and feel like garbage 3) Have an ablation surgery to burn out the extra electrical pathway I have in my heart.

I chose the first option. Do nothing and hope for the best.  I started living my life trying to avoid having another SVT episode. This is hard when you make a living as a Pilates instructor. I stopped running, I stopped pushing myself in class and cut out caffeine, but every few months I’d experience that horrifying rapid heart rate. Sometimes I’d end up in the ER in an ambulance, sometimes it would pass.

To date, I’ve needed adenosine 5 times.  It’s gotten worse, which happens as your heart ages. But I still did nothing. Beta blockers would rob me of my energy, and ablation surgery was petrifying.

Then I got pregnant. Shit got even crazier. I could barely walk up the stairs at home without feeling like my heart was going to pop out of my chest. Pregnancy makes this condition worse because your heart has to work harder from the extra blood volume.

I reached a breaking point when I needed adenosine in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy.  All of a sudden it was no longer about me anymore. I wrote about that pregnancy experience here. 

I gave birth to a healthy baby girl this past April 2018.  I’m beyond grateful that my hospital labour and delivery went smoothly. 12 hours of labour, no epidural, not even an IV – despite what I was told by doctors that I’d “likely need”.  Funny how motivation works. I was bound and determined to experience something natural after using IVF to conceive and all the heart issues in pregnancy. Kind of felt like I had something to prove. My body is not a lemon. 

I freaking did it. It was a combination of luck (baby’s head was down, my heart stayed in normal rhythm, no other surprise medical issues), an amazing doula, the hospital bathtub, prenatal pilates (shameless plug, but it’s true!) and fierce fierce stubbornness.

My birth experience is what finally gave me the courage to do the heart ablation surgery. It’s now August 2018, and it’s been a week since the surgery. Waiting in anticipation for this heart surgery – a procedure where I’d have to be awake, and one that could leave me with a pacemaker at 36 years old – was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.

(Listening to music so I don’t have to hear the surgeons talking during the surgery.)

But I did the surgery despite the raging fear. And it’s over. And I’m ok. Here’s what I learned.

Becoming a mother has taught me to make space for fear to exist in my life. Every time I feel it, it reminds me that I am alive. I have been blessed with so much to lose. With that comes fear, but also so much love. Feeling fear is the epitome of being human – of being a mother. Surrendering to that fear and acknowledging its importance means I am no longer controlled by it. I am stronger than my fear.

And my body is not a lemon. Neither is yours. Fear is normal. We are all stronger than we think.

(Wires in my heart during the ablation)







Life Lessons from a Pregnant Fitness Teacher

I hate running. I’m that person who buys overpriced loungewear that says “Shopping is my Cardio” across the front in block letters.

But it wasn’t always that way. The truth is, I’ve come to convince myself that I hate anything my body can’t do. Call it sour grapes rationalization (a term I recall fondly from that Psych 101 undergrad course back in ‘99), call it a defense mechanism – my utter distain for running is actually a highly useful psychological tool, especially for a girl who has chosen a career in the fitness industry.

I have a congenital heart condition called Supraventricular Tachycardia, or SVT. SVT is an electrical issue. Most people have one electrical pathway in their heart. I have two – a good one and a bad one.  This condition often affects young, athletic healthy people. I was first diagnosed at the age of 14 while competing on my high school swim team.

It’s not painful and you don’t die from it, but it’s a pain in the ass – and somewhat dangerous. Your heart beats crazy fast, sometimes up to 220 bpm and your blood pressure takes a nose dive until it feels like you may pass out, and you might.  It happens whenever my heart skips a beat. Everyone’s heart skips a beat now and then, often during sustained aerobic exercise (read: running) and sudden high impact movement.  However, a skipped heartbeat for me can trigger my bad electrical pathway and the heart rhythm gets confused. It basically becomes an electric disco party in my ventricles.

Many times I can convert out of the arrhythmia through certain vagal maneuvers (bearing down, massaging the carotid artery in my neck, lying on my back with legs in the air), BUT sometimes that doesn’t work, and then there’s a 911 ambulance trip to the ER to get an intravenous drug called adenosine to basically stop and restart my heart, Pulp Fiction style.  The drug makes you feel like an elephant is crushing your chest. In fact, a paramedic in training once told me his text book read “…patients will feel an impending sense of doom following adenosine treatment.” It’s a pretty accurate description. Luckily the feeling only lasts about 10-20 seconds before your heart resets.

I’ve had this drug 4 times in my life.  Once after finishing Tough Mudder (should not have ignored the “DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE A HEART CONDITION” note at that electric shock obstacle), once while half naked on an exam table in a fertility clinic, once while teaching an intense fitness class and most recently at 6.5 months pregnant while attending a friend’s baby shower.

Getting pumped up for Tough Mudder.
Taken after receiving adenosine for the first time after completing the Tough Mudder course back in 2012.

The most recent episode at the baby shower was incredibly dramatic.  I had been sitting on the couch reaching for some fruit salad when boom, enter SVT.  I quietly excused myself and tried to get out of the arrhythmia in the powder room, but no such luck.  My friend’s baby shower was completely ruined once two teams of paramedics showed up.  I still feel horrible about it, and definitely traumatized several guests in the process. No one likes to see a massive pregnant woman lurching around on the bathroom floor while getting shot up with drugs. It was a memorable baby shower for all!


Celebrating my amazing friend at her shower (she’s on the right). Taken 20 minutes before SVT episode.
Less than an hour later. She left her OWN baby shower and came to the ER with me. Love this woman.

Now at the ripe age of 36, I’ve been dealing with this condition for well over half my life.  As a self-proclaimed A-type personality, living with SVT has taught me so much about learning to let go of control.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is surrender to your body, without fear or judgement. It’s hard to describe the sensation of trying to calmly breathe through a racing heartbeat, not knowing if you’ll be ok in 2 minutes, or if you need to call 911.

If it wasn’t for western medicine, I’m doubtful I’d still be here. That’s a bold statement, but a true one.

I’m now 8 months pregnant and have had to stop teaching group classes much earlier than I’d hoped. The risk for triggering another SVT episode is too great. Pregnancy makes the condition worse because your heart has to work harder to pump 50% extra blood volume. Yet to be honest, there’s a certain amount of  ‘fitness instructor ego’ I had carried with me into this pregnancy.

I planned to teach until 39 weeks pregnant, gain no more than 20 lbs., and basically stay ripped. That has not happened.  I also wanted a glorious drug-free water birth with midwives, but now need to be at a level 3 hospital with an OB, Cardiologist and epidural to regulate my heart rhythm.

I wryly chuckle to myself as I write this. The lessons keep coming.  We had to do IVF to conceive this baby (NOT part of the plan), and now I must again relinquish control over my body and learn to release judgement over myself. I’ve decided to get an ablation surgery this summer that will hopefully fix this heart condition once and for all. I was too scared to do it in the past, but becoming a mother is bringing out the bravery in me.

There’s so much insidious pressure on women surrounding their bodies and surrounding birth – particularly to “go natural.” There’s a sense that natural conception and birth is a choice, and many traumatized new moms have confided in me their dark feelings of guilt and shame in not having been able to stick to their plan.

We need to celebrate ALL births and women, regardless of how or where they happen.

I’ve come to realize that the people who suffer most from self judgement and fear are the ones most likely to pass judgement over others. The mommy world is rife with guilt, shame and judgement. If we could just learn to be easier on ourselves, we would be easier on others.

But perhaps the greatest lesson in this whole journey is this:  It is through learning how to release self-judgement that we become truly free and empowered, and can then empower and support others.


Our Struggle With Infertility: Part 1

This might be the most personal I’ve ever gotten online. I can remember shaking with nerves when this video interview was first posted to YouTube. See, I’m supposed to be the one inspiring others with health and wellness – sharing pictures of perfect kale smoothies and video tips on how to get strong flat abs. I never imagined I’d be posting Instagram selfies in pre-surgery hospital scrubs and a video interview with a psychologist about the very real struggles with infertility.

But here we are.


We are in the middle of our first IVF cycle after three failed IUI cycles, one miscarriage and almost 2 years trying to conceive. Through this journey I have met so many women who have also walked this path – some for as long as a decade. And they are still resilient, positive and hopeful at one day growing their families.  If this journey has taught me anything, it is the breathtaking strength of women and the powerful community that forms when we open up and share our most vulnerable moments with each other.  These women are my inspiration and give me strength to keep going.

The fact is, no matter how much acupuncture you do, or how pristine your paleo/gluten/dairy-free organic diet is, or how many Naturopath recommended supplements you take – infertility still happens. Miscarriages still happen.

There should be NO shame in this. But it still exists. Women often don’t openly share their struggles precisely because of this outrageous notion that they’ve done something wrong to deserve it – that they are somehow inadequate. Shame around this topic breeds silence, and silence is so, so isolating for the 1 in 8 couples experiencing infertility.

The fact is, women’s bodies bear the double burden of invasive medical interventions and society’s judgement when it comes to infertility, regardless of the cause. I’m sharing my story to let others know they are not alone. There is no more room for shame in this conversation of infertility.

Please watch part 1 of this conversation as I talk about the struggle of infertility with my friend, psychologist Dr. Stacy Thomas 


The Only New Year’s Resolution You Need to Keep

‘Tis the season of starting fresh, seeking motivation and getting pumped up by phrases like “New Year, New You!” The majority of us have New Year’s resolutions for 2017 – whether or not we actually write them down or say them out loud.

I’m a big fan of goal setting, and do honestly believe in the power of writing down your intentions for the year ahead. That said, the past year taught me that even the most organized of plans can go awry.  Some things are truly beyond our control. We cannot control all our circumstances, but we can decide how we react.  Instead of looking back at 2016 feeling defeated or doubting in our ability – remember this: embrace resistance.

That’s it. The only New Year’s resolution you need to keep is a promise to yourself that you will embrace resistance, you will keep moving, you will start on your journey and continue to push through those difficult moments when you’d probably prefer to throw up your hands and crawl back into bed.

Because resistance is normal. It does not mean you have failed, or are destined to fail. Because the hardest part of any new project is getting started. The energy is takes to set a big boulder in motion is massive. Once that boulder picks up speed and starts rolling along – life gets much lighter. So remember, when you’re pushing hard against something that feels like it won’t budge – embrace resistance. It won’t always be as difficult as it is in the beginning. You’re making progress, even if you can’t see it right away.

girl was rolling down the hill, she stopped it, I grabbed the camera, what can I say?

There is no perfect set of circumstances waiting for you.  There is no perfect time. You already have everything you need to start. The pursuit of perfection is a big fat lie we tell ourselves when we are afraid to take a risk.

The process of growth, it seems, is the process of falling down. Growth is measured by the gentleness and awareness with which we pick ourselves back up, the lightness with which we dust ourselves off and the openness with which continue to take the next unknown step, beyond our edge.

Wishing you a 2017 filled with health, light, love, and truly powerful growth.  We are in this together!

New Year

Why You Should Make a Vision Board

Heart-to-heart I want to share something with you. I used to really struggle with holding a vision of what I wanted. I tried meditating, I tried writing things down (although I wasn’t diligent), I tried holding a vision of myself, but felt there was a constant battle in my head. During this time, my inner circle doubted me and never acknowledged my small wins.  On top of that, I used to have a lot of self-doubt and negative self-talk.  When things didn’t go my way, I used to wallow in the sadness.  Trust me, wallowing and feeling sorry for yourself won’t get you anywhere – especially if you have a specific vision of what you want and what goal(s) you have in mind.

I kept making excuses as to why I wasn’t reaching my goals and visions. I even remember making an excuse to myself saying I didn’t have time to make a vision board of what I wanted (how crazy is that?).  When things weren’t going my way, and I began to see these negative patterns develop over and over again, I realized I had to switch my mind-set.  I had to change my story, ditch the negative friends and circle, and stop focusing on all the things that were wrong or could go wrong.  I needed to be my own cheerleader and step it up.

I began to realize that I had to shift my focus.  I had to adjust my attitude.  I believe in the Law of Attraction and as an Energy Medicine practitioner and holistic nutritionist, I also believe the Universe is always listening.  Knowing this, I had to make some real hard changes, but I had to shift my focus.  Sure things didn’t happen over night, but I really delved deep into personal development, creating a vision of my ideal life, creating my vision board, and reading the likes of Napolean Hill, Bob Proctor, Tony Robbins  and Leanne Jacobs- all my favs!

*photo courtesy of Adenorah

I realized, if I really wanted something bad enough, I had to eliminate the b.s. excuses I kept telling myself, put in the effort and work for it. Creating a vision board was just a baby step as to how I put in the effort, but it was and still is my daily reminder and declaration to the universe as to what I wanted.  It’s my reminder of what’s my why and how I want my future. Creating my vision board was a small action step that reminded me every day as to why I should strive to reach my goals, no matter how tough it gets some days.

I encourage my clients to create a health and wellness vision board for themselves.  It helps them stay on track, establish healthy eating habits and acts as a daily reminder to shift their focus, especially when fear and negativity creeps up on them.

Here are my top reasons as to why everyone should have a vision board:

1. Seeing your vision helps lead you to the path to create what you want.

2. It acts as a daily reminder to reconnect and reestablish your WHY.

3. In the process of creating your vision board, it helps you get super clear on what you want and declares to the universe what you want.

4. It can lead you on a path to create meaningful change in your life.

5. You can have a dream big or small – and your vision board can help deem yourself worthy of your dream.

6. These images, words and phrases represent what your life will be like when you step into your highest form of self.

Dedicate a day, or a week, looking at books, magazines and art for inspiration.  I love going to art galleries and museums and walking in nature to get inspiration. Cut out photos and images of inspirational quotes, foods, personalities and/or celebrities.  Focus on one thing you want in your life, like career, love or several areas of your life where you want abundance and positive growth.  It’s your vision board, so feel free to create your board with visions and dreams you want in your life.  Your vision board is your new story, where you include your inner most wants and desires.

Place your vision board in a prominent place and/or high traffic area that you see each day.  Some people keep their vision board in their bedroom or bathroom. I keep mine on my fridge, this way, if I’m ever tempted to eat something bad, the first thing I see is healthy food and a beach.

Creating a vision board is one helpful way to keep your health and wellness resolutions fresh in your mind and in check each and every day.  All you need is some magazines or a printer and some scissors, glue and bristle board. You can take the time to search online for specific images you want (Pinterest or Instagram are both helpful for inspiration) and add these images to your Bristol board.

I love working on vision boards and create one every year.  When people come over and they see my vision board on my fridge, it’s always a conversation starter. It’s nice to show people my visions, goals and what I aspire to be.

This year, take some time solo, invite your partner or your besties, and schedule in time to create your vision board.  Even better, make it a date night or small group activity. Remember, pictures and images hold meaning, so take the time to select and surround yourself with images of who you want to be, what you want to have, where you want to live, or where you want to travel.  Choose images and photos that you are energetically pulled to.

Let’s cheers to new year filled with visions, goals and achieving your dreams!



*Warning – creating a vision board may leave you with feelings of happiness, motivation and may even feel therapeutic. : )

Cancer Wellness TV


Jeff-Sirlin 2
“I never went completely bald. My hair just thinned out big-time. If I had gone bald, it wouldn’t have been a big deal because I see it as a sign of strength. There’s nothing tougher in this world than fighting cancer. I basically lived in my hat for six months. It was important to me to keep things as normal as possible for my 2-year-old son, Noah.”


You were first diagnosed with colon cancer at 37 with a 2 year old child at home. What went through your head at that time?

Shock. Disbelief. Confusion. Anger………There were so many emotions that I was dealing with. It was hard to grasp it all. It took some time to settle in. Eventually, I got a support team and medical team in place, and a game plan I was comfortable with. I came to grips with my situation and faced my challenges head on. Once I got my mind right, I was able to handle the physical challenges my body was enduring.

What inspired you to create Cancer Wellness TV? 

This is an easy one for me to answer. Lack of access to cancer complementary care! When I was going through treatment, it was hard to get out of bed, let alone leave the house to go the hospital where some complementary therapy classes were offered. And I was fortunate that the hospitals in my area offered these services. In many areas, there are no complementary care services available, and if they are, there’s a substantial cost involved. In this day and age, I wanted to access this information online, but there was no central source that offered online video content for these services. That planted a seed in my head that one day I would develop this resource, and it would be a FREE service! Fast forward to 2015 and Cancer Wellness TV is now a reality.

What advice would you give to other people coping with cancer who might be reading this?

That today is as good a day as any to take back control of your life. You can fight against cancer by treating your body and mind. Complementary therapies such as tai chi and mediation were a huge help to me. But each person responds differently, so try a few different modalities to find the best fit for you. The goal should be to reduce your stress and build your physical strength. Start off slowly and take it one day at a time.

What is your vision for Cancer Wellness TV? And beyond for cancer treatment at large?

Well, I have some grand visions for Cancer Wellness TV, but I understand we need to walk before we run. But I would love to see the video content from Cancer Wellness TV in every hospital in the world that offers cancer care. We hope to offer live streaming videos on a daily basis with a wide range of offerings. There is so much that is needed and we hope to have the resources to cover all of them. We are excited to go down this road and see what the future may bring!

In the Face of Cancer: meet Kathleen Henderson

(originally published in The Purple Fig, written by Nikki Bergen)


The following is an interview with Belle student Kathleen Henderson. Kathleen joined our weekly BelleFusion classes over one year ago while in the middle of treatment for breast cancer. That first day she walked into the studio – timid yet quietly determined, cap on her head – I saw her incredible bravery.

This mom of four was diagnosed at the age of 38, when her twins were just 16-months old and her older children 5 and 7. I’ve been privileged to watch Kathleen progress in class and honoured to be a small part of her recovery. She’s a true and humbling inspiration to me. This interview is my attempt to share her story and hopefully inspire and encourage other women experiencing the trauma and fear of cancer.

I know it can be emotional to relive the events in your head. Thank you for doing this. Could you please tell us the story of your diagnosis?

I actually brought myself to the doctor because I felt something was wrong. There was a sizeable thickening in my right breast that was very painful. At first I thought it might be related to having just finished nursing the twins, but my gut told me to get it checked out. My doc recommended a mammogram right away. They phoned 24 hours later with the news this was cancer and it “… seems unlikely that it isn’t invasive”.   I had stage 1A cancer in the milk ducts and the initial treatment would be a full right mastectomy and lymph node removal. Due to the confirmation of the invasive nature of the cancer and my Her2 positive status, I also underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation, and a year of Herceptin injections.

It just goes to show that women need to trust their instincts and get checked out, even if they’re told “it’s probably nothing.” I had no idea that I was in the running for breast cancer. Check yourself out – don’t talk yourself out of it. And if you still have a concern and your doctor says it’s nothing, go back. Follow your gut.

So you had surgery right away and then rehab?

Yes. After the surgery in November, nurses gave me specific exercises to help with range of motion. You’re told to do them as soon as you can move after the operation. They set me up to meet one time with the hospital physiotherapist. I did the exercises religiously, as instructed. I understood how important they would be to my recovery. Throughout my life, I have been told, “Kathleen, you’re so strong”, and returning to a physical sense of strength was important for me to maintain as part of my identity.

Surgery was in November 2013 and you first came to class in March 2014, just 14 weeks later. Did you have any fears about joining a regular group exercise class?

I remember being petrified thinking “now I’m going to have to take my hair off and put my cap on.” I was so self-conscious, mortified. It was intimidating. Then I thought well, that’s stupid. As soon as I walked in, I liked the vibe of the class.

I had no idea! You seemed so quietly confident when you walked into class for the first time. How did the classes help?

They helped me a lot. They helped me re-establish a positive connection with my body. Everything about having breast cancer is negative – this terrible invasive thing is happening to your body and you have very little control over it.

It was good to go in and work hard, and be able to work hard. It’s like hey, these bad things have happened but I can do this. I could keep up. I’m a pretty active person so I needed to stay active – it’s something I’ve done my whole life. The classes were both a physical and mental help. Sometimes the class was really hard but the mental part of it was, “I CAN do this,” and the endorphin release was key.

How did you stay so mentally determined and positive?

In the grand scheme of the whole experience, this was “better than nothing”. I kept telling myself “it’s ok, I’m trying”. When I was walking slowly around High Park, barely able to move, at least it was “BTN, better than nothing. I’m doing the best I can with this bad situation”.

Sometimes you feel a bit ripped off. Why did this have to happen? I’m 38 years old, why do I have to my own cheerleader and give myself a pep talk just to go for a walk? But, in the end, I am proud of the way I managed it. I realized how important it is for me to remain positive to be able to make the best of this day. The idea of that strength is part of my identity and in retrospect, I think I stayed true to who I am.

That’s an interesting phrase “I have to be my own cheerleader”

I think everyone does, and that’s ok. The key is that for some people how I’ve done some things, wouldn’t work for them. You have your own worldview, your own identity. I didn’t spend too much time thinking about how to approach it. I had always been strong, and I had to keep that intact. For example, for women who have always defined themselves as “creative”, they might have a different and equally effective way of coping.

What advice would you give to other women reading this who are going through the same thing?

It is very difficult for women of our generation to be vulnerable or to need help. We have grown up in an era where we are doing it all. I would say you should try to allow people to do for you. Not because you can’t do it, but because they want to show their love.

Have the grace to accept their dinner, to accept their love. I’m going to take their dinner and be graceful in accepting it. You don’t have to prove that you can do things. Be open. Be open to the fact that people don’t know what to do. They’re not trying to hurt you. Maybe they’re out of touch for 3 weeks because they don’t know what to say. Allow for people to not be their best. Eventually they come around. This sounds awful, but I felt that I was their worst nightmare – I imagined that all the dads in our neighbourhood couldn’t look me in the eye at first because I represented the worst thing that could happen to their wives. In retrospect, maybe they were trying to keep a respectful distance, so they just nodded as I walked by.

But people do want to help. I had a cooler on my front porch and everyday for months our family had dinner dropped off through a program called Meal Train. Our neighbours and friends signed up online and took turns. It was a huge gift and a great way for a community to rally and help someone.

Wow, that’s a really cool program.

Yes it was. Our friends organized it for us. It allowed us to focus our best efforts on being together with our children instead of worrying about how to feed our family of 6.

Do you have any other advice?

One other thing that someone told me regarding how people react to cancer – often parents and siblings and friends don’t know what to do. Picture a bull’s eye graphic and the centre is the sick patient. The next circle around is your husband, sister or mom. The next circle is your best friend. The next circle contains more extended family, friends, coworkers etc. Supporters need to find someone less connected to talk to. So it needs to move away from me. My sister can’t come to me sharing her fears about my cancer. She needs to talk to her friends or husband about that. The sick person in the middle shouldn’t have to deal with quelling their concerns. I had to explain that to my family and once they understood that, it really helped.

How has this experience of cancer changed your outlook on life and on motherhood?

Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a loss of innocence, of expecting good things to happen to good people. All of a sudden you realize all the things you’ve imagined just may not be. I’ve been given so much love and opportunity. I’ve been walking through life with all these really small problems and now I have a really big problem. It’s a mental exercise to process it. My life may not be the life I imagined. There’s a darker side to it. You also have this sense regarding those old problems, that they really don’t matter as much.

I knew there was going to be emotional fallout. All of a sudden the chemo is done and you start to think about what happened because you have time, you’re not rushing to appointments. I called it the reckoning. When it happened to me, I was beside myself for 3 weeks and it was very hard.

As for motherhood, once my energy returned and I was able to be more present for my kids, I realized that I appreciate things differently. You know more in a really sad way – you know more about life. It takes a lot more to make me upset with them now. Because it really doesn’t matter. I’m much more laid back now. Focusing more on fun. My kids aren’t going to not go to university if we take a trip to Antigua. And that time is important for a couple also – so we did go!

How important was exercise to your for your recovery?

It was crucial. I had to move. I remember running in High Park and bawling. Some people saw me…they must have thought I was crazy. I was crying because 6 months earlier I could barely walk, and now I was running up that damn hill.

I turned to exercise all the time. Even if you feel bad, you’re going to feel better. If you’re feeling really awful mentally, at least you can physically feel better and remind yourself that your body is still strong.

How to feel about being called a hero?

No! For my recent 40th birthday, my good friend got me a necklace that says “survivor, hero, role model”. I can’t handle that. People talk about being a survivor. They are such loaded words. I think those words should be chosen by people for themselves. So no, I’m not a hero. I just tried to stay alive for my own selfish reasons and did what the doctors told me to do. Why do I get a prize for having a really bad thing happen to me? I’m not Mother Theresa. I don’t want people to feel like they have to be “that.” Figure out who you are in this part of your life and be true to that. Sit with what’s happening, and sort out how you want to deal with it. Define how you’re going to do it and stay true to yourself.

This has been pretty emotional, so thank you again for sharing with me today and allowing other women to hear your story. Your honesty is going to inspire a lot of people. Now go enjoy a glass of Chardonnay on your deck!

Oh (laughing)! I’m already there Nikki!



4 Tips on Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

This isn’t an article about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. We already know they need to be specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic and have a timeline to be effective.  And if you don’t believe in resolutions, that’s totally okay.  This time of year can be annoying for those of us who dislike the whole “New Year New You!!!” thing.  Noted.

That said I’m going out on a limb and saying that 99% of us have areas of our lives we’d like to improve upon.  Fact: setting goals is simply more effective than just wishing for some sort of change.  If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. I’m pretty sure Einstein said that first. So, in the name of getting everything you want in 2015 here are some tips.


1) Know Your WHY

We know goal setting requires you to be specific. But don’t just say what you want; understand WHY you want it. A resolution must be either one of two things: exciting enough or scary enough for you to persevere in the face of challenges. If you’re not clear on your WHY, it just won’t happen. Your reason for persevering must be compelling.

Example of an excitement goal:  you want to run your first marathon, look good at your high school reunion or overcome an injury so you can take a hiking trip with your kids.

Example of a fear goal: a health scare where the doctor has told you to lose weight or risk having a heart attack or getting type 2 diabetes.

Whatever your goal, make sure you really know your why! Bonus points for a long term why.  A bride who wants a hot body just for her big day is more likely to gain weight back after the wedding since her WHY is over.  A bride who wants to look and feel amazing on her big day, and forever after, well that’s powerful.

2) Watch Your Words

Here’s where we get a bit new-agey, but this stuff is proven to work. It’s called Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP and it has been around for decades.  NLP describes the relationship between mind (neuro) and language (linguistics) and how their interplay affects our body and behaviour (programming).

Saying to yourself “I want to lose weight”, leads your subconscious mind to focus on the word “weight” – the very thing you’re trying to avoid remains on your mind. Another example is saying “ I want to quit smoking” – the mind focuses on the negative, “smoking.”  This is counterproductive. What you do? Turn it into a positive present tense statement. Trick your mind into thinking you’ve already accomplished your goal.

Flip it: I want to quit smoking à I want to have healthy lungs à I have clean healthy lungs

Flip it: I want to lose weight à I want to be fit à I am fit, healthy and strong


3) Change Your Breakfast, Change Your Life

Do you know how many health-boosting nutrients you can cram into a smoothie? Ever tried overnight oats? So easy. Experiment with different recipes to find what you like and put it in a traveler mug or Tupperware if you’re not hungry first thing in the morning. You will be by 11 am. Starting with a healthy first meal will set the tone both mentally and physically for the rest of the day and leave you much more likely to pass on the boardroom donuts or mid afternoon vending machine junk. You’ll also have improved energy to tackle all your other projects!


4) Stop judging yourself

This is a process, and it is not linear. If you fall off the wagon it’s not only ok, it’s totally normal. Everyone falls off the wagon. It’s about getting back on. When you judge yourself, you set yourself up for failure and a defeatist mindset that leaves you discouraged and thinking “what’s the point.” Believe that you CAN and WILL do this. Love yourself, be kind to yourself and have a sense of humour about the whole thing. You are not alone!

Remember WHY this is important to you. If it’s important enough, you’ll follow through. Choose your resolutions wisely! You can DOOOOO it! For reals.

How to Call Your Own Bullshit

Spoiler alert: It’s about asking yourself the right questions and being honest about the answers.

I was recently part of an intense 2 and a half-day Leader’s Discipline course in Victoria, BC that focused around coaching.  It quickly became clear by the first morning’s coffee break that my preconceived notions about coaching were biased at best.  This was a huge gift.

Allow me to explain.

See, I am not a fan of the whole life coach industry Tony Robbins thing. He’s inspirational, to be sure, but I’m more impressed with his personal branding success than his coaching methodology. I’m not new-agey, I don’t do affirmations in the mirror and I really, really don’t like buzz words like “synergy” and phrases like “step into your greatness.” I do Pilates. I talk anatomy. I prescribe green smoothies. I forbid bagels. I don’t do poetry and blankets.

So there.


I had discarded the idea of becoming a bona fide “coach” because I believed I didn’t quite fit the profile. I had painted a picture in my head of what a coach should be, and I wasn’t it.  I wasn’t yogic enough. End of discussion.

What a rash of shit!

How often do we have some strongly held bullshit belief that’s (knowingly or not) holding us back from doing something truly great?

I’d say the answer is pretty often.

The crazy thing is that if we were to ask 10 different people to describe their ideal coach, we would invariably get 10 different answers.  Yet I was convinced, wholly and utterly that not only do I not have coach qualities, but that the whole industry was a sham. And why? Because I felt I didn’t fit the bill. “If I can’t be one, I don’t want to be one. Bah Humbug.”

(I’ve come to smell my own BS, thankfully)

It starts with our beliefs. Mine were biased and flawed. It boils down to not feeling comfortable in what I perceived to be an arena reserved for much more new-agey yogic souls than myself.  Because of this belief, I felt that any attempt at being a coach would be inauthentic. In short, I’d be an impostor. And nobody wants to be found out as an impostor.  Fear is a powerful thing. (side note: there’s actually something called Impostor Syndrome)

The point is that we all have internal stories surrounding fear that smell like BS.  We too often tell ourselves crap that just isn’t true. It starts with a belief, then a rationalization of that belief. And it holds us back.  Here are some examples:

  • “I won’t ever be an executive in my career. (Because I’m too soft. I’m not experienced or savvy enough. Besides, they’re all tough bitches/assholes, and I wouldn’t want that job anyways because they have no life balance, psh.)
  • “I’ll never be one of those Martha Stewart moms who has it ‘all together’ and does Pinterest. (Because I am so busy, not to mention untalented in the domestic realm. I will never have the time or talent to bake cookies and make my kids’ Halloween costumes. Besides, those women have no life, psh).
  • “I’ll never be a size 4. (Because I’ll never be in shape, since my metabolism is slow and it runs in my family. I don’t have time to workout. Besides, those health nuts deprive themselves and obsess over food and I wouldn’t do that to myself, psh)

Try reframing your beliefs. Just take them out of the equation for a moment all together. Pretend there are no barriers.  You have the skill and the will, the time and the money. Close your eyes and envision your most ideal future, 6 months or 1 year from now. What are you doing? Where are you? What does it feel like?

Chances are, it’s pretty awesome. It’s still you, authentic you, and it doesn’t smell like bullshit.



Powerful Mindset Training


I recently attended the CanFit Pro Fitness Conference – the biggest of its kind in North America – at the Metro Convention Centre. It was a weekend of Jillian Michaels, Olympian keynote speakers, crazy choreography workshops (was I ever sore by Sunday night!!) and seminars from experts across the continent.
One seminar stood out in particular and I decided it’s worth sharing. Gotta love the Cole’s Notes version! You’re welcome.

A person’s fitness level is primarily determined by how they see themselves.


Did you get that? Let’s review. A person’s fitness level is determined by how they see themselves. Most would agree that each year, the number one New Years Resolution is, “I want to lose weight”. Diving deeper here, we see that this paradigm is all about what the person is trying to avoid: “weight.”
The trouble with this is that the unconscious mind recalls the word weight. The same goes for another common goal, “I want to quit smoking.” The mind ruminates on the thing you’re trying to avoid: “smoking.”

Now I realize this sounds a bit new-agey, but bear with me. We’re all familiar with the notion of the pink elephant; when someone tells you not to think about one, it’s all you can see dancing around in your head. “Whatever you do, don’t eat that chocolate fudge cake!” Guess what you probably want, right now. Chocolate freakin fudge cake (sorry).

Let’s relate this to a scenario we’ve probably all experienced. You’re driving down a country road at night and start to swerve onto the gravel shoulder. You immediately correct the vehicle and get back onto the asphalt. Easy! Why was that easy? Because you were thinking about getting back onto the road. Because you did not focus on the ditch.
See what just happened here? You must stop thinking about the ditch. You must think about where you’re going. Envision yourself clearly achieving your desired results by using positive language this is NLP folks, neuro linguistic programming, it’s super powerful stuff). And remember with goal setting, YOU HAVE TO WRITE IT DOWN BY HAND. Even better, be specific and write it down by hand as if it’s already happened.

I want to lose weight (lame) → I want to be fit (better) → I am fit, confident and healthy and rocking my high school jeans (best)

Your mind is now focused on high vibration words like “fit” “confident” and “healthy” versus the low energy word “weight”. Let’s do two more.

I want to quit smoking (lame) → I want to have clean lungs (better) → I have clean lungs and breathe easily when I run (best)

I want to get out of debt (lame) → I want to have more money (better) → I am financially free and live in abundance (best)

I urge you to practice this at home. It will feel uncomfortable at first to write things in the present tense that haven’t happened yet. Do it anyways. And do it consistently. Here’s a tip: make it exciting. Picture wearing that hot little red number at your holiday party, crossing the finish line of that marathon, getting the keys to your dream home or seeing a big balance in your checking account. How does that feel? Get detailed.

No really, stop reading and do this exercise.

Motivation is powered by two things:
1) You’re sufficiently scared into action (example: Doctor says your arteries are clogged and you need a lifestyle change or a triple bypass)
2) You are sufficiently excited in action (example: your positive emotions are super charged when you picture crossing that finish line)
Motivation through excitement is much, much more effective than motivation via fear. The internal pictures we create in our mind lead to behaviours, which lead to real results.

It all starts with a powerful positive internal dialogue. So please, speak kindly to yourself. Create exciting visions for your life. You truly can think yourself fit!
Yoda would be so proud!

How Amanda Lost 40 lbs: A Belle Transformation

The following is an interview with an amazing Belle student named Amanda. Amanda has lost 40 lbs in 5 months doing two Core Fusion classes per week and making powerful changes with her nutrition. She is stronger, leaner and more confident than ever.

We are so thrilled with her progress and hope this interview may inspire others to truly evolve their life and reach for the stars, whatever their goal may be!

Amanda's went from 190 lbs to 150 lbs in 5 months eating clean and doing 2 Core Fusion classes/week!
Amanda went from 190 lbs to 150 lbs in 5 months by eating clean, prepping her meals and doing two Core Fusion classes/week. She’s an inspiration!

Amanda’s Before: 190 lbs (Size 14-16)

Amanda’s After: 150 lbs (Size 6-8)

Tell us Amanda, what was the catalyst for making this big change?

For sure! I was definitely ready for change and was tired of being unhappy with my weight. We did a Biggest Loser competition at work and that really started it. I had gotten a new job with a new routine so it was an opportunity to start fresh. I realize now that I’m very socially motivated so doing this with other people was key for me.

Why do you think diets failed in the past?

I never really committed to making a lifestyle change before. I would cut out certain foods but never stuck to a plan. It wasn’t a lifestyle change all the way.  I would find excuses about being too busy, too tired etc.  One of my blocks was not being organized – I was not prepared in the past.  I was also an emotional eater.  I needed to change how I thought about food.

How has your relationship to food changed over this process?

Education!  I’ve finally learned what my body needs to function.  I’m more in tune with my body’s signals and understand what I should be eating. Food was more of an activity in the past – if I was bored or wanted comfort. Now food is still very enjoyable but it’s more about whole ingredients – fuel and nutrition.  What’s going to give me energy and make me feel my best? I now understand how to meal plan to avoid hunger.  It comes back to being prepared.

I feel like if you really commit you can find alternatives for your “cheat foods.” For instance I’ll have Greek yogurt with fruit versus ice cream. But I still see that cupcake and think “that’s delicious,” and I give myself opportunities to cheat for special occasions. Giving myself permission to eat that food in the future actually makes the craving go away.  Usually 9 times of 10 the craving has passed by the time “cheat time” has arrived.  I think your taste buds start to need less sugar!

How much do you credit exercise to your success?

A lot! Core Fusion Pilates is fun, and I see results! Feeling stronger after class is a big motivator to keep going. Finding the right exercise was key. It has to be something I enjoy. I tried to be a runner – hated it. I felt uncoordinated in other group fitness classes and it was very un-motivating.   If I lost weight in the past it was losing fat but never gaining muscle so my metabolism never sped up.  Feeling stronger makes me want to be more active in general – moving around more biking and walking.

How are you going to maintain this, what makes this time different?

It’s been a real lifestyle change! I have learned so much about nutrition and have changed the way I think about food.  I’ve found a fitness program I love – something I want to do and actually enjoy! Never had that before.

What advice would you give to other women looking to lose weight and transform their life?

1)   Plan ahead. Try to make your own meals as much as possible. Get into a routine. Think of food as fuel.

2)   Find an exercise program you love and can get excited about.

3)   Figure out what motivates you. I am socially motivated so the competition at work was key. I needed to be accountable to others.

4)   Harness other changes in your life. I had a new job and used it as an opportunity to start a new routine.

Here’s a look at Amanda’s typical diet before and after her transformation

Half the time you don’t need much dressing if you put enough awesome stuff in your salad (fruit, avocado, hummus – anything goes). I love my “kitchen sink” salad.

Breakfast Skipped breakfast Green smoothies, fresh fruit
Lunch Subway, other fast food near work Salad with lean protein (often dinner left overs on top of greens)
Snack Chips, Chocolate, cereal Raw nuts, fruit, veggies/hummus
Dinner Frozen pizza, perogies, canned stuff, quesadillas Veggies and protein, curries, stir fries, homemade soups


5 Tips on Setting Goals

Goal setting is one of the most powerful things you can do to evolve your life in the direction you want. Here are some simple but effective ways to ensure your goals turn into results. So here’s to making awesome sh*t happen!

Find a quiet moment to visualize what you want to achieve. I recently found one of those moments looking out at the full moon from the window of a quiet plane, free from wifi and distractions.

Tip 1: Reflect on WHY you want to achieve the goal.
Saying “I want to lose 20 lbs” is a good for nothing. Why is that goal important? Why are you hungry for it? Finding your “why” will keep you motivated for the long haul. “To be healthy” isn’t enough. Be specific. Are you losing 20 lbs before you complete your first marathon in June? To get off of a particular medication? To fit into those high school jeans for your class reunion? To get back at an ex and feel vindicated? (Hey, whatever it takes!)

Tip 2: Write it down in the present tense, like you’ve already done it.

Our minds are incredibly powerful. When you speak in the present tense, your subconscious brain understands that you’ve already reached your goal. That creates certainty. It’s having that subconscious certainty that helps you activate your potential, overcome fear and take massive action. This stuff sounds hokey, but it works.

Tip 3: Make your goal quantifiable and specific
Instead of saying “I want to lose weight in 2014” or “I will pay down more debt”, say “I shed 20 lbs by June 2014” and “I pay $10,000 down on my debt by December 2014.” These last two statements are in the present tense, measurable and very specific. You’re setting yourself up for success this way!

Tip 4: Find a role model
Fear can be one helluva saboteur. Fear of failure is why most people fall off the resolution band wagon. Once you’ve decided on, and written down your amazing goals for the New Year, find an inspiring person to encourage and keep you on track. Reading the biographies of people who have struggled and persevered can also be an effective tool for staying motivated. Remember the power of the mind!

Tip 5: Take Massive Action
Progress means happiness. Don’t wait until January 1 to get started. Try something new. You become your daily rituals. Get that juicer, hit the gym, write that letter, start that savings account. Go, do it now. You are ready!

It’s going to be an awesome year!