Today, I’m truly excited to be interviewing Samantha Harris on The Egg Whisperer Show. Samantha is an Emmy-winning TV host, and the author of the bestselling book Your Healthiest Healthy: 8 Ways to Take Control, Help Prevent and Fight Cancer, and Live a Longer, Cleaner, Happier Life. She is also a certified health coach and trainer, and a cancer survivor and thriver.
She is a proud mom of two, and an unstoppable optimist dedicated to being your cheerleader and guide as you journey on toward your healthiest healthy. You may know her from ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and Entertainment Tonight, which are two of my most favorite shows. She is a national ambassador for both Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society.
Now she is empowering women to ignite real sustainable healthy living changes with her just launched wellness membership group called Your Healthiest Healthy: Community.
Welcome again to the show, Samantha.
Samantha Harris: Thank you for having me on. This is so fun. It’s so nice to see you. It’s been a while. I’m so excited to be able to talk with your audience and share some tips to be able to really empower and take control of your health, your wellness, and your future.
Dr. Aimee: I’m so honored to have you here. We met in 2015 when you presented me The Fertile Action Award. Then I was listening to HLN, and I was thinking, “Wow, that voice is so familiar to me,” as I was driving to work. And I said, “That’s Samantha Harris. I need to reach out to her. I need her to share her message with my audience.
You’ve really jumped into a lot of amazing things in your life, and it’s always done with such zest. That is the perfect word to describe what you do. I’m excited to have you to talk about healthy living, which is something that has a lot of crossover into the fertility world. Would you tell us a bit about your journey with cancer?
Samantha Harris: Absolutely. It’s interesting. I often share my cancer story. I don’t often, or really at all, talk about my own fertility story. The potential of the crossover of the lead up to a later diagnosis at 40 of cancer.
First of all, let me start by saying I was as fit and healthy as I had ever been when I was just about to turn 40. I thought, you know, my dad died of colon cancer, his mom was a breast cancer survivor who lived to 95, she was post-menopausal when she was diagnosed, cancer was something that I was familiar with. My girls were 3 and 6 at the time. I said, “I’m going to get a jump on that mammogram thing. Let’s set a baseline while I’m still healthy.” Actually, the results came back clear. But 11 days later I was changing after a workout and I felt a lump that I was pretty sure hadn’t been there before.
Quickly, that same week, I went to see my OBGYN. She did a clinical exam, felt up the boobies, and said, “They’re fine.” She’s always been a non-alarmist. She said, “It’s nothing. It’s what 40 looks like. It’s probably glandular. Don’t worry about it.” Okay, fine, she said don’t worry. Of all my doctors, I was with her from the time I was 20-something. I was with her before I had sex, so it was a long time. I was 24 when I lost my virginity. I’m just going to throw that out there. And my kids better also be that old when they do. TMI.
Anyway, the point is that I really trusted her and I had been with her for a very long time, and she said it was nothing. But a month later, the lump was still there. I went to see my internist. He did the same thing, quick clinical exam, told me it was nothing, and sent me on my way.
Four months passed and this pesky lump was just there kind of screaming at me, “What am I?” So, I finally went to see someone who looks at breasts every day, not realizing that the people who do that are breast oncologists, because those are the only ones who need to look at breasts every day other than plastic surgeons and your gynecologist. They too, in the office visits and even after a needle biopsy, didn’t think that it was cancer.
When the needle biopsy results came back, it also didn’t detect cancer. So, good news, bad news. Good news is it’s not cancer. Bad news is I don’t know what it is, let’s take it out. So, I had a lumpectomy. Again, reassured when I woke up from that surgery that it was not cancer.
A week later, I went by myself to my post-surgical follow up. I told my husband, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to come with me. It’s not cancer, I’m fine.” I sat there and found out that it was cancer. It was invasive. After a double mastectomy, I found out that it had gone to a lymph node.
The moral of the story, girls and boys, is know your body, check your body, empower yourself, be your own best health advocate.
Dr. Aimee: I have goosebumps all over my body right now. I didn’t know that story about you.
Samantha Harris: I don’t mean to be so flippant. I feel like I’ve told it so many times because I want to, it’s an important story to share. It’s important to know that when we down deep think something is wrong.
I didn’t think I had cancer, but I also felt that the lump was there and if it’s truly nothing and I’m going to live with it, don’t we need to know it’s really nothing? Can you know just by feeling it on the outside that it’s nothing? No. You need to have more diagnostic tests done, you need to go a little deeper. I had never had surgery in my life before that lumpectomy, so that was a doozy of a year with three surgeries.
That’s where it really comes down to and really knowing that if that inner voice is telling you something is either off or not right, and I’m saying this in the presence of a fabulous doctor, doctors don’t know our bodies as well as we know our bodies. It’s essential that we advocate and let our voices be heard when we then find your way to wonderful doctors like Dr. Aimee, like the oncologist who listened to her gut and took extra tissue she thought was normal that turned out to be the invasive cancer.
So, I had ductal cancer, which is called DCIS. That tissue sample, which was only taken because a doctor listened to her gut, turned out to be invasive. It’s the only reason I went further, and had my mastectomy, and realized that I had more complicated cancer.
Dr. Aimee: You had an angel sitting on your shoulder, literally, telling you to listen to your boobs.
Samantha Harris: That angel may have also been my mom, too, who was constantly in my ear, “Did you check it? Is it still there? Is the lump still there?” No matter how much my mom was in my ear for those four months, I was still the one who had to take action, no matter how much she berated me about this lump that was there. That’s where we have to be confident in our own abilities to take control.
Dr. Aimee: Yes. And now you’re a certified health coach and you have this amazing book all about living a healthy lifestyle. Tell us some of your tips. What information do you have to share about how people can live what you call the healthiest healthy? I love that phrase.
Samantha Harris: The reason I call the book Your Healthiest Healthy and the community Your Healthiest Healthy: Community is because I thought I was healthy, I thought I was living a healthy life, and then I realized I needed to be my healthiest healthy.
I leaned into my journalism background after my diagnosis, because I had no hereditary link and I needed answers. It baffled me that one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, only 5% — 10% of those diagnoses are actually hereditary. When I found out that I was negative for all of the different mutations, I was perplexed. Why are so many people getting a breast cancer diagnosis? So, I really dug deep into research and I read everything I could, I spoke to every expert I could.
It ignited this passion within me to pursue a life in the wellness community. I discovered that it is what you put in, on, and around your body that affects your overall well being, that turns on or off certain cancer cells that might be lying dormant in your body, that leads to other chronic diseases like type II diabetes and heart disease. The healthful changes we make to ideally avoid a diagnosis or recurrence of breast cancer are the same healthful changes that will reduce the changes of other ailments. Even dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive decline issues as well.
To answer your question about what are some of the pillars of your healthiest healthy wellness, one is to fill your plate at least half full of veggies at every meal. I say this one as a girl who grew up in Minnesota eating every part of the cow. Just like many Americans, I had the Standard American Diet (the SAD). When the Standard American Diet is introduced into other cultures is when those cultures start to see skyrocketing cases of chronic diseases.I realized that slab of meat front and center on the plate with a little bit of veggie and a little bit of some sort of grain was actually not the most healthful way to live.
When I started to lean more towards a plant-based whole foods diet, people would say, “Are you vegan? Are you vegetarian? What do you eat?” I don’t know, I’m my own thing. I’m maintaining a plant-based whole foods foundational diet. Then from there, I might have organic, pasture-raised chicken once a week or so. I try not to, but I have kids and the meals my kids will eat these days are very limited. But they are eating some tofu, I got them to eat that. I do eat sushi once a week.
We have to figure out what works best for our family. It’s about bio-individuality. What works well for one person might not work the same for somebody else. No matter what dietary theory you subscribe to, be it vegan or Paleo, or anything in between, all of the gurus in those dietary theory spaces will agree that a plant-based whole foods foundation is imperative.
If you choose to eat a little bit of meat, okay, so you’re eating a little bit of meat. Also, what kind of meat? What’s the quality? Is it grass-fed? Is it organic? How was that cow treated before it was slaughtered? All of that is also really important.
Are you buying your produce conventionally? Are they on the Dirty Dozen list that the Environmental Working Group puts out to show you how pesticide heavy those fruits and vegetables are? Where are you choosing to spend your money when it comes to organic produce? These are the important parts of that pillar.
The next one is really about finding calm. Stress could be our demise. Lately, especially with this pandemic, we’re on Zoom, we’re on Skype. We are constantly in a barrage of activity. Our body and our mind have no time to slow down unless we take the time to choose to do that.
Being able to breathe right, breathe often, and breathe deeply, whether you are doing 30-second micro meditations in your day or full out 30-minutes ones, implementing that sort of mindfulness for your mental health, to slow down, lengthens our lives. The parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest system, and then opposite that is the sympathetic fight or flight system. Now, the wonderful thing about our beautiful bodies is that these two systems can never be engaged at the same time. When one is active, the other one can’t be, and vice versa. When we choose breath work, when we choose to have self-care and calm, it automatically lowers our levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that leads to inflammation, which then leads to chronic diseases. That’s another really important part.
The best thing about breath work is you can be in the middle of a Zoom call and take that deep breath. The person on the other end, as long as they’re talking, they have no idea that you’re trying to calm yourself down.
Dr. Aimee: I feel relaxed just having you talk through those tips. I just feel less stressed. I’m not a stressed person at all. I think I share a lot in common with you. I call myself the most annoyingly annoying positive person on the face of this Earth. Despite all anyone can go through, I’m just like, “What are we going to do next?” with a smile on my face. I know that some people find that annoying, and I’m okay with that.
I find your energy to be contagious. When I see you dancing in the morning or jumping on your trampoline and all the stuff that you’re doing, I want everyone to hear your message, at least everyone that’s going through a fertility struggle, because I think that energy is contagious.
With COVID, and you talked a lot about things that we can do, and you’ve talked about resilience and a positive mental attitude. I know where I get the strength from, but how have you tapped into that positivity, where did this come from for you?
Samantha Harris: My cancer diagnosis was a gift in many ways. I wouldn’t ask to have it again and I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through it. But when I was so down and out, and feeling crushed by the weight of what that diagnosis could potentially mean for my future or the lack thereof, the anxiety I felt was so suffocating. Like you said, I’m a Positive Polly, “What can we do next,” happy, glass half full. It struck that down. I was almost more shaken by that than anything else.
I had to really turn around my perspective. My husband said, “Babe, when life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade.” Just that mere suggestion made me take each blow that came next with a positive spin.
How did I build this positive mindset? Which, I will tell you, the tools in that toolbox of mine now helped a lot when COVID hit. It was maybe a couple of weeks in and I thought, “How long is this going to go?” The walls were closing in on me. I was really starting to have that freak out anxiety loading again. I thought, “No. Wait. Control what you can control.”
I can’t control that I have cancer. I can’t control there’s a pandemic. What can I control? My effort, my attitude, my emotions. We can do breath work to calm ourselves down. When it comes to COVID, I can control that I wear a mask when I go out. That it’s a proper mask, that it’s not just a mask that’s keeping others safe but maybe it’s a KN-95 that I can get access to, so I’m also protecting myself and my family. I can keep my distance. I can make sure I’m doing grocery delivery. Different elements to make sure that I could control what I could control.
The same thing with cancer. I couldn’t control that I had a diagnosis. Positive self-talk, which is another tool of mine, is really helpful. When it came to cancer, I thought, “Okay, I have a diagnosis. What’s positive here?” Well, I have good health insurance. I have an amazing family and support system that are going to be around me. I’m in otherwise really good shape, that is going to lessen my chances of complications during surgery and will lead to a quicker recovery.
The more you talk positively, and you say it out loud, whether you’re alone in your bathroom or you’re on a walk, the more you say it the more you believe it. Sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it. Right?
Dr. Aimee: Totally.
Samantha Harris: So, control what you can control and the positive self-talk. Another one that is really helpful, because I’m a planner and planners also like to worry. I like to worry about a lot of things, because I need to worry, I need to figure it out, I have to get a plan. What’s the plan? The plan is worrying. When I finally gave myself the grace to worry only when I needed to worry, and some days it’s harder than others and I really have to work at it, but it is possibly one of the most powerful tools I have in my arsenal.
I remember there was a TV show that I was up for as a host. I really wanted the job, but I was going to have to be in the makeup chair, and I had already gone through this before where I was in the makeup chair between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning, when my oldest was only 1-year-old, and it sucked. Here I was with a great opportunity, but again I was going to have to be in the makeup chair between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning.
I worried. I lost sleep. How am I going to get up? How am I going to get enough sleep? How am I going to be able to be with my family enough? I’m going to miss seeing my kids in the morning. The worries were just piling up. I call them the worry bullies, they like to sit on your shoulders and just berate you. You have to flick the worry bully off and say, “You know what?” (I didn’t get the job, by the way.) “You worry about things that are looming in the future that may never happen. So stop worrying.”
If you’re worried that you found something on your body, I’ll be honest, I found some lymph nodes in my groin. I’ve always had very visible lymph nodes in my groin. This just happened within the last few weeks. I noticed they looked a little bit bigger than I thought they had been. I went for my regular checkup with my oncologist and she was looking up here on my chest. I said, “Could you just check down there? Are those lymph nodes okay?” She went, “Whoa. I’ve never seen something so big.” I thought, hey doc, could you maybe temper your reaction a little bit more? She said, “I want you to have a CT scan.” First time. Even through my whole cancer journey, I had never had a CT scan. They usually don’t want to do that unless there’s an issue.
So, we scheduled a CT. The anxiety started to bubble. I thought, “Oh my god, I’m going through this again. What the heck am I going to do? Oh my god.” Then I had to tap into the “worry when you have to worry” tool. I said I can’t do anything else about it right now. I controlled what I could control. I asked the doctor to take a look, we set up the diagnostic, that’s all I can do right now. If I, God forbid, have another diagnosis, I’ll have to worry then, but I’m not going to worry now. I actually was able to put it in my back pocket.
By the way, thank goodness everything looked fine. We realized the huge nodes were actually a conglomerate of nodes that you could see on the outside but actually on the scan none of them were of a concerning size. Because I’m thin, you just could see them much more.
Anyhow, it really works. Then breathe. The breaths come into everything. The positive self-talk. Control what you can control. Worry when you have to worry. Breathe right, breathe often, and breathe deeply.
Dr. Aimee: I feel like I should have that on a laminated card for every single patient at their new patient visit to be like, “Remember this at the beginning of your fertility journey.” Listen to Samantha Harris. Join her groups. I want to talk a little bit more about that, too. Tell us about the community and what people can expect to find there. How do they sign up?
Samantha Harris: I’m just so excited. Honestly, it’s weird. I’m 47, and to have this career path shift. Not to say that I’m not going to be doing TV hosting and that life, but I’m so passionate about helping others reach their health goals and ignite real sustainable change so that people can be healthier and empower themselves.
The Your Healthiest Healthy: Community, you access by going to YourHealthiestHealthy.com and all the information about what the community gives you is there, and that’s where they click to sign up. Once they’re signed up, then everything is actually accessed through Facebook. This keeps happening where people go to the Facebook page and then they ask to be part of the community, but they can’t get in until they go to YourHealthiestHealthy.com first.
Every week I give a live health coaching session. Today, for instance, I just did one about creating a healthier relationship with food. We have such disordered eating. It’s not just about eating disorders, but disordered eating is very common. Next week is going to be about getting the toxins out of your makeup supplies, your period routine, purging your cleaning supplies, and swapping out for things that aren’t going to be adding toxins. We’re cleaning and yet we’re adding toxins into our home environment while we’re trying to get them out. That’s just one topic. So, every week I offer live coaching on a wellness different topic. It could be about nutrition, it could be about stressing less, sleeping better, getting toxic relationships out of your life, a whole gamut.
Every week I also lead a live 20-minute workout. Everything from kickboxing to yoga. Tomorrow morning is a buns burner class, we’re going to burn it out on the lower body. We’re always changing up the workout.
So far, every week since the community has been live, I also have a live expert guest. By the way, I think we need to talk, so you can come in and do it. I have either a live expert guest or a live celebrity guest who comes in and it’s a great conversation with a lot of takeaways.
Also, giveaways and monthly health challenges. We did a 14-day cleanse. Not an intense cleanse, but just a really mild one. Just really great healthful beneficial takeaways.
Dr. Aimee: If we do it and we can look like you, then I think it’s a win-win. I look at you on Instagram and I’m so inspired. Just the smile on your face, the glow in your skin. I feel like if we can tap into that for everybody, it’s just a win-win for our community and for our world, for sure.
Samantha Harris: Thank you, Dr. Aimee. I appreciate that. A lot of what I talk about is like what I was talking about earlier with bio-individuality, that there isn’t just one body shape that is the healthiest, there is not one mindset or way of eating that is the healthiest. I really encourage my members of the community to find what is right for them. Also, as they’re shaping what their goals are, I encourage them to find their “why”, because if we don’t have a strong inner pull to achieve these changes, we’re not going to find that success.
Dr. Aimee: For my patients, it’s to be more fertile. If we can decrease inflammation, get the blood sugar under control, be our healthiest healthy, then everything else will hopefully be easier and we’ll have a higher chance of pregnancy, even if it is with technology like IVF.
Samantha Harris: It’s so interesting that you say that. Of course, throughout my pregnancy journeys, that was not something that anyone ever suggested. I was a sugar fiend, literally a self-professed candyholic. I loved all that junk. No one ever said, “You probably have a lot of inflammation. Let’s see what your c-reactive protein levels are. Let’s try to bring down the sugar.”
That’s something that I didn’t realize, too, that sugar is hidden in so many things that we don’t even deem as sweet from the manufacturers of these companies. It’s something that I talk about a lot in the community for Your Healthiest Healthy. If we don’t understand how to read nutrition labels and ingredients labels, and then we don’t understand what the words are. The gurus at these companies that are manufacturing packaged goods, their goal is to make money, to get us to buy it again and again, so they’re putting in sugar and salt in ways that we don’t realize.
There are 76 synonyms for sugar. It’s in pasta sauces, ketchups, things that you don’t think of. If there’s one thing that I want to offer, go into your pantry, go into your fridge, and just turn things around to look at the ingredients. If there’s high fructose corn syrup, it’s the easiest swap because you won’t notice that it’s gone when you find something healthier. I call that one liquid death, so I’m a little extreme on the high fructose corn syrup.
Dr. Aimee: I feel like I need to join your community.
Samantha Harris: I will give you all the goods, I promise.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you. I talk about mantras with my patients. We’re still at the beginning of the new year and people talk about new year’s resolutions, but I like to focus on mantras all year long. What are some mantras that keep you going?
Samantha Harris: I have one that I developed for myself after my cancer journey. It started as I’m strong, I’m fit, and I’m cancer-free. I was told the more you say it, again, fake it until you make it. The more you say it, the more you believe it.
Then I realized a couple of months into it that every time I say I’m cancer-free, it reminds me that I had cancer, so maybe I need to flip the script a little more. My mantra since then, which is many years now, I’m six-and-a-half years post my diagnosis, is I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m fit, I’m strong.
Dr. Aimee: I love that.
Samantha Harris: By saying I’m healthy, I’m choosing health, I’m choosing happiness.
Dr. Aimee: That’s great. I want to end today’s show by also having you tell us about your book.
Samantha Harris: Absolutely. Everything that I talk about in the Your Healthiest Healthy: Community is really an extension of the book itself. The reason that I wrote it was because after my diagnosis, and I came through all my surgeries and I started to do all of the research, and I found it’s what in, on, and around your body that leads to cancer and all these other chronic diseases, I wanted answers.
How am I supposed to eat? What should be my reasoning for working out? What do I ask my doctor when I go into an appointment, either when I think something is wrong or after a diagnosis? What stress is happening in my life that I need to reduce? How do I get out of a toxic relationship? I don’t mean a boyfriend or a girlfriend, but the ones that we sometimes don’t realize are toxic. Like the mom at school who is always just making you feel left out or dragged down. How do I know what I need to reduce or change up when it comes to my beauty routine?
There wasn’t one book that had everything. I just wanted to create a comprehensive action plan that people could really dip into any chapter depending on what they focused on or read it cover to cover and have those tools, from lists of ingredients in your beauty products to avoid to suggestions for cleaner versions and cleaner products, to what questions to ask your doctor before, during, and after a diagnosis.
What I call the doc squad, how to interview doctors and make sure that you have the right squad around you so that you’re ready, and to do it before, God forbid, a diagnosis. We need to have people in place. Obviously, you’re not going to go find an oncologist if you don’t have a cancer diagnosis. But it’s making sure you have the right supportive team for all the other elements of it.
That really was the impetus for the book. It’s the book that spawned wellness retreats and keynote speaking events, and now Your Healthiest Healthy: Community. I invite and would love to have you. I keep it incredibly accessible. It is a subscription-based membership, but it’s really accessible and it has a lot of takeaway with the live coaching, the live workouts, the live expert interviews and the celebrity guests.
Dr. Aimee: So fun. It sounds like fertility will benefit greatly not only from your book but from learning more from you about how to live your healthiest healthy life. Samantha, thank you for all you’re doing for people all over the world. I imagine your message, because of the internet, has reached people in places that otherwise wouldn’t have heard it. I imagine you’re changing lives and making people healthy everywhere. Thank you for all you’re doing.
Samantha Harris: Thank you so much, Dr. Aimee. I really appreciate you having me on and all the beautiful, wonderful work that you do for so many of your fertility patients.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you, Samantha.
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