LIVE YOUR PASSION.

Today – June 5 -- is National Cancer Survivor’s Day. A day dedicated to celebrating life. I have always been a lover of life but after battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (2x!), I found a deeper meaning. For me, loving life is finding + living your passion. No day but today. We owe it to ourselves + the world to find the things that make our soul shine. Nearly 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to try to teach. I was terrified + full of doubt. Who was I to teach? 

Trudging through my fears + doubts was not easy. Step by step, day by day, I slowing gained the confidence to take action. Initially, I had a tough time deciding which training to take – I loved barre, yoga, cycling and running. So many things! I researched lots of options, gathered information + asked friends + strangers oodles of questions to try to figure out the best fit – which lead me to the barre teacher training at exhale. I completed my 40-hour barre training while I was working full-time. Once I auditioned + got accepted into exhale’s 200-hour teaching program, I knew I needed to take a LEAP of faith + start Chi Chi Life.

The past 1.5 years has been a wild ride – finding the best balance of my passions: fitness, events + fundraising + cancer advocacy.  Teaching core fusion barre at exhale has literally been a dream come true. I am grateful to learn from the best in the industry: exhale’s founders Fred DeVito + Elisabeth Halfpapp + Barbara Boolukos + Tyler Ingram.  My teachers have been teaching for nearly 35 years. They live + breathe this work. It’s not simply a job -- it’s their life, their craft. They are passionate about the method because they’ve seen it change lives. It changed mine.

At the encouragement + recommendation from my childhood friend, Michelle, I stepped into my first Core Fusion Barre class about 1 year after my stem cell transplant. Even though I had steadily been gaining my strength back + felt pretty strong, I literally wasn’t sure if I could make it through class. Bit by bit, I fell more in love with the method + I discovered strength within me that I didn’t know existed. Nearly every Saturday, you could find me at 980 Madison at Catherine Hesse’s 10:30a class. Catherine’s energy + passion for the work literally lights up the room. Catherine is the reason I wanted to become a teacher. She knows how to work hard, encourage + motivate her students – all while having a great time + cracking some jokes.

I am blessed to have crossed paths with many cancer fighters, survivors + angels. My friend “M” recently won a competition for honorary batgirl for a MLB team. My friend “A” went back to nursing school, got married, had a baby and started his own business. My friend “I” ran a half marathon + fundraised for The Leukemia + Lymphoma Society, had a baby and just celebrated her 5-years cancer-free with a HUGE bash. We are all bursting at the seams to soak in all of the goodness of life. We live our passion. Today + everyday, I honor each + every one of my cancer rockstars. You hold a super special place in my heart.

At my core, I want to serve others. In my fundraising + event planning work within the nonprofit space, I raise money to help others. But teaching gives me an incredibly dynamic platform to directly impact others. I never take it for granted + I am honored each time I step into the studio. I am alive. I live my passion. And in doing so, I hope to inspire others to live their own passion.

REVEL IN THE STORY.

Big Sur Marathon

I love people. I’ve always been eager to meet new bright souls + learn their stories. {THE GOOD} {THE BAD} {THE UGLY} A few weeks ago, I met Allison at the Big Sur Marathon Relay + I heard it all.  Everyone has had a struggle that they’ve faced -- perhaps more extreme for some than others.  But the suffering is there. And it is in our shared suffering that we have the ability to heal our hearts + minds.  We can allow ourselves to soften into the comfort of knowing that we are not alone. 

My Stem Cell Transplant birthday fell on the same day as the race – April 24th.  So, when Captain Meg sent the email, I knew I HAD to join.  Many people may not be aware, but my Stem Cell Transplant birthday is a really big day of celebration for me.  It’s the most special day of the year, landing just 1 week after my true birthday. My Stem Cell Transplant Birthday is the day that I was given a second chance at life.  Just prior to the transplant, I had 2 weeks of radiation + high dose chemotherapy.  My blood counts were at zero.  That’s what high-dose chemo does – brings you to the brink of death + the transplant whispers to your body “come back to life”. Thankfully, my body listened. I had another chance to shine in this world.  I never ever take that for granted.

Back to the race…A 3:45AM shuttle bus brought me to the transition point where my teammate Laura would pass the baton and I would cruise along the oh-so-hilly yet breathtakingly stunning Route 1 in Big Sur.  I shared a seat with Allison.  As we chatted in the pitch black hour-long ride, I learned that she had recently moved to Boulder with her boyfriend from Los Angeles.  We spoke about how her + her boyfriend love to climb + they are crafting a business plan to open a “climber’s ranch” in their favorite spot.  She enthusiastically shared that it would be a dream to live their passion + create a space for other climbers to enjoy. She also told me about how this was her second time back at the Big Sur Marathon. Last year, she was the first leg of her team + just kept running the entire race, completing the full 26.2 miles without any training.  That was Allison’s first marathon.  I was blown away by her strength. {THE GOOD} Right after the move to Colorado, both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer. {THE BAD} They are both thriving now – thankfully - but we did also chat more about our families.  Allison said she had a brother and he’s passed. {THE UGLY} We left it there and I didn’t pry.  I listened and touched my heart as she shared that sacred life detail with me.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to her brother. 

As we weaved through Allison’s story and the light peeked over the mountains, I noticed she had a few tattoos. I’ve always been curious by what motivates people to ink themselves forever so I asked her about them. When Allison responded, she simply said, “They’re my life story.  Each is a reminder of where I’ve been, what I’ve been through and how I’ve become strong with each experience.” How powerful. As she told me this, I looked down at my 6 radiation tattoos + took a moment to honor my journey to wellness + thought of my fellow thrivers, angels + fighters.  And just like that, I had found my source of inspiration to guide me through the race.

So, I encourage you to REVEL IN THE STORY. Be curious. Listen. Open you heart. Release judgments. Life is not easy; however, it is because of our supportive community that we can rise up + truly soar together. As a team.

Blueberry Muffins by Deliciously Ella

Note from Baker Chi Chi: OH LORDY …YUM! These muffins are life-changingly tasty + ridiculously easy to make. I used brown rice flour - which worked very well.  These dreamboats are super filling + will happily settle into your belly at any time of the day + work quite well for a breakfast-on-the-go.  I can’t wait to hear what you think! 

Makes 12 Muffins

  • 3 1/3 cups buckwheat or brown rice flour (about 14 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1¼ maple syrup
  • ¾ cup ground almonds
  • 4 cups of fresh blueberries
  • coconut oil, for greasing

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Pour the buckwheat or brown rice flour, cinnamon, almond milk, maple syrup and ground almonds into a mixing bowl, stirring them to form a smooth batter before adding the blueberries.

Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with the coconut oil, scoop the mixture into it and then back them for about 45 minutes until the tops begin to turn a golden brown.

*Recipe taken from Deliciously Ella’s cookbook.

START FRESH

Every day when the sun rises, we have the choice to create our best life. Mornings tend to be my most favorite part of the day because they are full of possibilities. We have the chance to start fresh + a new blank slate lies ahead. April is National Stress Awareness Month + I think we owe it to ourselves to s l o w  d o w n. HERE’S WHY...

Starting Chi Chi Life last year was an exciting leap of faith.  Working for myself also creates the feeling of never “leaving the office”.  Most people have the weekends off + last Fall I ran into the problem of taking on too much work with my teaching fitness, training people 1:1, Pilates Mat training + several event clients.  I had 3 days off in 3 months.  Often I worked nearly 16 hour days and I quickly ran myself into the ground.  I promised myself when 2016 arrived, I wouldn’t let myself fall into that pattern again.  I did this by establishing boundaries + learning how to feel more comfortable with saying “no”.  I have a huge heart so I always want to be giving, doing, helping. However, I’ve been learning that it is essential to build downtime into my life.

When we create space, we allow the opportunity for new + magical experiences to show up. I used to feel like I wanted to have every moment planned to soak up the most in life but lately, I have actively carved out open time to ensure I recharge but also have the time to wander + explore.

Managing my schedule + time has been my largest challenge + the mantra of “start fresh” allows me to remember that I have the power to dictate how I spend my energy.  The balancing act is certainly still a work in progress but I am so grateful I have the ability to create my own work.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Thích Nhất Hạnh quotes with I shared in my article feature on The Sweat Life.  It goes: “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” 

STAY ON YOUR GAME

One of my favorite people, Marie Forleo, ends her Q&A Tuesday videos with the same quote each week that I literally have memorized by now -- “Stay on your game + keep going for your dreams because the world needs that special gift that only you have.”  In a world where everyone can easily voice their thoughts + feelings, we can often wonder if our voice is being heard.  I have to believe it all matters + here’s why…

We are all unique, individual human beings. Yes, we may have some similarities but we all bring something different to the table. I remember when my first thought of teaching fitness came to mind + immediately rebuffed my thought with – “why me?”

After oodles of marinating on the idea of teaching, the light bulb finally went off – “well, why NOT me?”. I care. I want to help others. I am a giver.  I pour my soul into everything I do. At my very core, I simply want to make others lives better. Through my career as a fundraiser + event planner, I’ve given the gift of memorable experiences to people who gather together for a cause. Ultimately the benefit is for charity – ranging from cancer research to social service programs to global health issues.  With my role as a teacher, I am able to share my passion for life to inspire others to create change in their lives.

Even though there are days when I am exhausted + I beat myself up for taking on too much work, I honestly cannot imagine it any other way.  Afterall, I have Marie in my head saying “stay on your game”…”the world needs that special gift that only you have”.  When my students tell me how much they love my energy, it literally melts my heart.  I’ve passed on the passion + zest for health + wellness + living life for it’s fullest. And I can lay my head on the pillow at night with a full heart.

TRY SOMETHING NEW.

My heart is always so happy when a new student walks into my Core Fusion Barre class at exhale.  “You found us!” I squeal, perhaps too eagerly?! New experiences + uncharted terrain can be terrifying – especially in a group fitness setting.  One of my top goals as a teacher is to make everyone feel comfortable – and have fun while working hard. I remind my students that every expert was once a novice…

It is key to release any expectations we may have when trying something new.  My students share their insecurities with me – and I feel honored that they have the courage to open up.  I never take this for granted.  The work we do at exhale is not easy – to gain strength you must have an open mind + heart.  I let students know it’s totally fine to come in/out of positions.  Consistency is so critical + if students are able to come 3+ times a week, they will absolutely see a tangible difference in not only their stamina – but also their bodies + minds.  One of the main reasons why people get hooked on barre is because the method is extremely effective.  A lot of the exercises we do are similar to physical therapy movements.  I’ve taught to a 14 year old, a 25-year old with a spinal fusion + a 80 year old with 2 hip replacements – this work is adaptable to ANYONE. 

Give yourself the gift of trying something new.  Maybe it’s within the exercise space, maybe it’s a new recipe or a new experience.  The possibilities are endless if we open our hearts + let the light shine in.  Who’s with me?

two weeks post. whirlwind & be present.

Originally Published on November 19, 2013

Hello my superstar supporters!

I know I’m very delayed in writing post-marathon, but…I DID IT!  I ran 26.2 miles of magic through NYC. The energy, culture and cheers of this unique city made me fall in love with it even more.  There were so many friends and family and strangers out to support the 50,000+ runners from all over the world.  Meg and I fed off their energy to carry us through each leg of the race.  We barely spoke, read signs, were full of smiles and soaked it all in – being present in the whirlwind around us.

I remember the start -- we were closed out of Wave 3 at 10:30am and rolled with the punches to the Wave 4 start at 10:55am.  I remember the Verrazano Bridge and simply hearing our bibs flap in the strong winds.  I saw my cousin, Kelley, and dear friend, Nate, in Brooklyn and I remember mile 8-8.5 -- the crowd was the loudest and there was an incredible gospel choir filling the air with their beautiful voices.  At Mile 16, I remember Meg shouting encouraging words to our fellow runners, filling the silence of the 59th Street Bridge from Queens to Manhattan. The bulk of my family and friends were across the street from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center at 67th and First Avenue.  How powerful to run past the place that saved my life. Photo above. Later on in the 90s, I saw my MSKCC nurse practitioner, Cathy, with her two daughters – Cathy took care of me all through my five-week hospital stay and oversaw my protocol, especially my stem cell transplant.  I ran over to give her a big hug and we exchanged “I love you’s” -- spurred by the emotion of this amazing endurance event.  I was able to experience the marathon because of the care and treatment I received at that wonderful hospital.  The day was truly surreal.

These past two weeks have been a complete whirlwind – marathon (check!), beautiful baby girl niece born the next morning (check!), high-end gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Tuesday (check!) and transitioning into a new full-time role at a rockstar full-service marketing agency today (check!).  I knew these weeks would be packed full of goodness, but I did not foresee the sudden passing of my first oncologist, Dr. Subhash Gulati at the age of 62.  Not only did he save my life, his generosity shined through so many channels.  His warmth and flexibility to administer my ABVD chemotherapy for 6 months allowed me to receive treatment early in the morning before heading off to work.  At a hospital, I would’ve waited for hours upon hours but I kept my normalcy (as much as possible) during that time.  And it was all because of Dr. Gulati’s selfless nature and perspective on life.  Who has their oncologist’s cell phone number?  I did.  He was a game-changer who provided hope and solutions with compassion and grace. I had just emailed with him a few days before the race; he told me how proud he was of me.  Over the years, he always generously supported my fundraising efforts for my races through his foundation – the Advanced Research Foundation, which provides grants to various oncologists and researchers to advance and improve protocols.  My heart is incredibly heavy knowing that the earth will not continue to receive this bright light and his positive energy -- but I strongly believe we all have the best guardian angel watching over us.  I have to tell myself that to make sense of this.  I promise to carry on his legacy through my way of life, especially by connecting with patients going through treatments.  I am honored to have known Dr. Gulati.  Listening to his family, friends, former/current patients speak at his wake on Friday evening, I was – once again – reminded how precious life is.  Can I please invite you all to keep him and his family in your thoughts?  I will be endlessly grateful.

So, with all of this going on, I find myself in a whirlwind, struggling to be present and seeing the big picture.  I joke that "the hamster is always busy" (i.e. my mind is full of thoughts, to-dos, action items, connections, plans, work, vacation, activities -- truly, ways to enjoy life to its fullest)…but as 2013 winds down, I am making a commitment to myself to be present and enjoy each and every moment.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my journey over the past 6 weeks!  You are truly making a tangible difference and changing lives with the funds raised -- totaling nearly $8,400 for the Survivorship Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/laurchichi

Deepest gratitude and til the next one,

Lauren (Chi)

one week. resiliency.

Originally Published on October 28, 2013

Hello my lil pumpkins,

It’s less than one week away – one weeeeeeek!  A bit nervous, but much more excited to get out there and soak up the energy of this vibrant city.

With settling back into some routines the past week, I’ve been catching up on a bit of DVR.  This spring, a show called World of Jenks aired on MTV.  It’s essentially a documentary series produced by this young guy who lives with and follows the lives of three young individuals dealing with major life challenges.  Andrew Jenks is his name.  One of the individuals he follows is a girl in her 20s, Kaylin.  Kaylin is in remission from her second type of cancer and is living out her dream to be a fashion designer in NYC.  Kaylin and Andrew were having an open chat about the post-effects of her treatment and Andrew innocently insisted he would simply feel bad for himself if he were in her shoes.  Kaylin asserted back that he would build resiliency. And that got me thinking…

Over the years, I have connected with so many incredible individuals because of my experience with cancer - I would never trade them for the world.  When I think about resiliency, many different contexts come up for me.  Perhaps what is obvious to most is: keeping that will to fight -- to live – through and beyond treatment.   

But what people may not understand is that with being a cancer survivor, the resiliency trait is one that is still vital to embody every day.  Those internal battles, the fear of the cancer returning, developing a second cancer, scanxiety (anxiety before a PET/CT scan!), fertility, dealing with the post-effects of treatment.  Resiliency is a necessity. My close friends who also went through a stem cell transplant deal with intense post-effects: high blood pressure, cognitive delays, hypothyroidism, heart issues, menopause at age 27, 40% lung capacity and with that - collapsing of her remaining lung (twice).  But my friends thrive.  They run marathons, they start their own businesses, they do pilates, they take barre, they spin, they walk, they hike Mount Kilimanjaro, they get engaged, they go to school….they keep living, they are resilient.  Every darn day.

On Sunday, I am running for them and will wear their initials as I frolic through the five boroughs of New York:  AA, SH, SR, SV, EG, JO, CM, BK, IK, GO, LM, JW, JC, AB and in memory of NR, TC, MBO.

No matter what your obstacles are, I invite you to approach life with the same resiliency as my rock star cancer survivors.  We are all fighting our own battles, and how you show up to deal with them is your choice.   Choose resiliency.  Choose love.

BIG/HUGE/GIANT thank you to all of your emotional and financial support this year, and always!

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/laurchichi

See you on the other side of 26.2,

Lauren (Chi)

two weeks. three c's.

Originally Published on October 21, 2013

Hello my little goblins!

I am settling back into NYC after 5 weeks of traveling for work and it is fabulous to be back in this vibrant city.  While it was absolutely amazing to see so many states in such a short time, I am feeling grounded here at home – especially with the NYC marathon less than two weeks away!

Each day as I learn, grow and experience, I keep in mind the “three c’s”:

Curiosity

Courage

Compassion

As we move through life, we encounter new moments.  Even though I was taught to ask questions and explore (thanks to my family and Montessori school!), I can sometimes find myself judging.  This is where curiosity comes into play.  When I come across something out of my “norm”, I attempt to yield to curiosity and to investigate these feelings.

Training for the marathon is a mix of curiosity as well as courage.  Run 26.2 miles?  Should I join the few percent that have actually done this?  Sounded intense and a bit scary!  When I started training last year, I waited several months to start fundraising and even register for the race. “Trying to train” was my party line and though I knew I had the tenacity and dedication, I truly had no idea if my body would hold up after all it had been through.  As each of the 18 weeks went by, my body – and mind – grew stronger.  I integrated my running with barre, yoga, spin and various bootcamps – I was providing my body with the tools it needed to succeed.  But, did I know if it indeed would succeed?  Not at all.  I gathered the courage to simply try – just as I gathered the courage to fiercely face my cancer.  Of course, there are the ups and downs of training and survivorship -- enter: compassion.  I have always been hard of myself – I can often feel like I’m not “doing enough” or could’ve done something “better”.  Training for the marathon as well as my experience with cancer has taught me that it’s OK to veer from the set schedule and to listen to my body – and, most importantly, to have compassion for myself, regardless of the situation.  

I invite you all to use the “three c’s” to guide you through your incredible lives.  Here are my favorite quotes that reference each of the “c”s from some pretty brilliant individuals:

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Christopher Columbus

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/laurchichi

Compassionately Yours,

Lauren (Chi)

three weeks. one person.

Originally Published on October 14, 2013

Hello my little butternut squashes!

I am fresh off my weekend in Chicago cheering on my dear friend, Lindsay and her boyfriend, Will, at the marathon.  They looked and felt strong -- and finished hand in hand with the biggest smiles!  What a stunning day with absolutely perfect weather!

It had been awhile since I had been to Chicago.  I had visited just once outside of the freezing winter and a work environment, so I was ready to frolic around.  The city has such beauty and elegance – layered with some magic.  Meg and I experienced that magic as we ran our 18 miler along Lake Michigan this morning.  <photo attached of the “runrise”!>

Last year I wrote a few times about Lindsay -- and how she and another dear friend, Michelle, inspired me to begin my running journey.  When I was first diagnosed, Lindsay and Michelle were searching for ways to support me and cope with the news.  They found the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, fundraised and trained for 6 months and ultimately ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco.  Neither of them had run a long-distance race before but it was an endeavor they were excited to undertake.  Since then, Lindsay has run with our very own Fred’s Team for MSKCC in the Boston Marathon and with Achilles in the NYC Marathon.  Yesterday marked Lindsay’s 4th marathon!

As we celebrated post-race with Chicago deep-dish pizza in hand, I looked around the room and realized Lindsay had single handedly inspired 5 of us to run marathons: her father, me, Meg, Will and Will’s close buddy, Sean.  And that was just who was in the room.  It’s so interesting to me when people say, “Me?  I’m just one person - I can’t make a difference in the world.”  Because I actually believe it’s quite the opposite.  The ones who believe they can make those positive changes actually turn them into a reality.  Those are the people who actually can and do make a difference.  Since Lindsay decided to run 5 years ago, she has served as a role model to many, including myself.  Running has changed my life and provided me with so much more than I could possibly ever explain.  So, here’s to you, Lindsay – for changing people’s lives for the better and making this world a better place.  Thank you.  

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/laurchichi

High fives,

Lauren (Chi)

four weeks. transitions.

Originally Published on October 7, 2013

Hello pumpkins!

Yes, I am back at it!  Four weeks from now is the NYC Marathon.  On Sunday, November 3, I will be hitting the streets of NYC with my fellow Fred’s Team runners raising crucial funds for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer.  As many of you know, these past few months have been ones full of courage, learning, inspiration and transitions.  I was not accepted into the part-time program at NYU Stern for my MBA, but will revisit applying again next Fall.  I left my full-time job to begin freelance event production and I’m currently working on an exciting project that is taking me around the country visiting 10 college campuses over 5 weeks.  As an avid traveler and open soul, this has been an incredible experience for me.

My marathon training has been challenging with my new schedule – my weekday runs have been scarce and I even missed a long run.  This is such a stark contrast to my rigorous and dedicated marathon training from 2012.  That said, I am learning flexibility and compassion toward myself.  Even through the disappointment of missing some runs, each time I get out there -- it is a form of meditation.  My mind transitions from listening to song lyrics to chatting with my running soul mate, Meg, to thinking about my to-do’s to pushing to clear my mind so it can recharge – and it does just that every time: recharge.  Long distance running has been such a wonderful outlet for me since my diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma nearly 6 years ago.

Next year, I turn 30…another transition.  The big 3-0…and will mark 5 years in remission – which means you are considered cured in the cancer world! YAY!  I feel so honored to be here and celebrate each moment, smile, day, milestone with each and every one of you.  I am full of gratitude because of what I learn from each of you.  Thank you for being open and sharing your sunshine with the world.  I have to leave you with my most favorite quote that I deeply believe in: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” -- Mahatma Gandhi

I hope you will consider supporting me as I raise critical funds for MSKCC’s Survivorship Program – you will provide survivors like myself with a better quality of life post-treatment through comprehensive services, clinics and research.

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/laurchichi

More soon.

Hugs and cider donuts,

Laur (Chi)