Christine Egan is a health and wellness expert. Catherine Egan is a breast cancer survivor. Despite her background in health and wellness, breast cancer woke her up to figuring out what being healthy actually means for her. Now she brings this idea to other women. In this episode, she talks about when working in the marketing division at McDonald's was her dream job, how cancer changed her mindset and running a marathon a year after her cancer diagnosis.
Do you feel like you’re a resilient person?
Christine has never really thought of herself that way. She wants to be thought of as someone who beats to her own drum. She wants her actions are aligned to who she is.
Does that come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?
She works at it. 2 of her 3 children were born at home. Learning how to have a baby at home rather than in a hospital set her on a different path. She learned everything she could so that she could make an informed decision. When she had her first child she decided she wanted a home birth with a midwife. She started exploring what it meant to have a home birth and what she was and wasn’t willing to do.
Were you into health back then?
She used to work for the McDonald’s corporation in their marketing division. She loved that job and at the time it wasn’t out of alignment with who she was. It was a dream job and she loved it. She did it for 5 years. Then there came a point in her life where she needed a change. She moved from the Midwest back to Long Island and that was when she started to move into the health and wellness space. She became a licensed massage therapist, a certified homebirth instructor and a certified health coach. She now has over 25 years of being in the health and wellness field.
Did you eat McDonald’s when you worked there?
Of course, she did. Part of her job was to go through the drive-through and rate the quality of the service and the food. She wasn’t a big fast food eater but it wasn’t a disconnect for her.
How do you see it now, as a health professional?
It makes her sad now, knowing how inexpensive that food can be. For some people, that’s the only food they can afford and it is so easily available. It takes more of an effort to eat a healthy meal when fast food is so easily accessible. For her and her kids, it is just not part of her lives. It makes her sad to think of people drinking soda on a daily basis or having fast food as a regular part of their diet.
What does your personal diet look like now?
As a family, they eat mostly plants and fruits and use meat as a condiment. They don’t eat meat as a meal or as a major part of their meal. If they do eat meat she knows what farm it comes from. They don’t eat anything from a box.
I’m so blown away by this information I’m learning about you about McDonald's. And how big of a contrast it is. I think we can all have those experiences where early on we are doing something and then we completely outgrow it.
She did what she was supposed to be doing. She graduated and got a great job that took her to New York and then the Midwest and she was happy doing it. Until she wasn’t. This gave her an opportunity to change the direction she was in.
Was there a specific point that was a turning point for you?
No. It was just that opportunities allowed her to leave the midwest and move to Long Island and things came out of that. But there wasn’t a lightbulb moment for her.
How old were you when you got breast cancer?
How long were you on health journey prior to that?
And what was that moment like, when you found out you had cancer?
She had a private health coaching business at that point, helping women in her community get healthier for themselves so they could get healthier for their families. She had information about cancer with her in case the women she was working with needed it, but she didn’t ever expect to be the one who needed it. He dog Zoe was what alerted her to the lump in her breast. She was lying down and her dog clawed at her breast. Alarms went off in her head that said pay attention to what she is doing. She found a lump. She didn’t immediately think it was cancer. She got a mammogram and it was clear. She had pushed to get both a mammogram and a sonogram. The sonogram showed the lump and it became clear she had cancer. She interviewed 9 surgeons to decide which she wanted to go with. She decided to go with surgery to take the lump out.
Stress levels. When she was undergoing treatment it she needed to rest to let her body do what it needed to do to get well. This meant saying yes to the things that were really important and no to the things that weren’t. It became really clear to her what was important. Spending time with her family was the most important thing. Which meant watching movies together or making meals together. And not rushing out to karate lessons or dance lessons. Being together as a family, resting and doing simple things together became the priority.
Do you feel you made any decisions about how you would live differently?
She doesn’t stress as much about her kids. Homeschooling her 3 kids was stressful. Were they doing the right thing? Were their kids socializing enough? Christine realized that there comes a moment where you just have to accept the decision that you made and be okay with what happens. And if things change you will figure out what should be done differently. She had this attitude to cancer too.
So you ran a half marathon after 33 radiation treatments. And a full marathon to celebrate your remission. Incredible.
She ran half marathons prior to being diagnosed and kept running during treatment after reading about the importance of exercise during treatment. She wasn’t trying to break PR’s but if she felt good enough, she went for a run.
She had a sign in her house that said: “What would you do if you could not fail?” Her answer to that was always run a marathon. After going through cancer treatment she decided to do a marathon and one year after she was diagnosed she ran the Disney Marathon.
Do you see certain patterns in mental and emotional strength to get through difficult times?
Cancer showed her the urgency to do the things you want to do and stop putting them off. Because there is never going to be a perfect time.
It’s easy to put things off. It’s easy to get caught up in life without pausing to say ‘What is it that I want’ and giving ourselves permission to do what we want right now.
That was the wakeup call of cancer for Christine. She now teaches workshops with people who have finished cancer treatments and she tells them that they can recreate a life for themselves and how do they want that to look. For many people that is so scary. It’s really hard for women to figure out what will bring them joy. Some women will figure out what will make them happy do it for a few weeks and then stop. They will come up with reasons and excuses – my family needed me, I needed to put in more time at work. The whole idea of figuring out the things that bring you joy is that you do those first so that you are a better wife, mother, friend or worker. Those things have to be done first so that you can then do those other things. Sometimes people don’t see the benefits right away and think it’s not working. But it’s like a bank account. We have to give it time to build up and then you get the benefits. When you stop doing those things, you can get a little bit crabbier, you are short with your kids or husband. You start feeling the differences when you let those things go.
I see that with my meditation and yoga practice. I’m much more patient as a mother and a wife. I’m more tuned into my work. People will start doing something that brings them joy, they start to feel good and then they stop. And we need to understand that it’s a cumulative effect
It starts with baby steps. What bite-sized pieces are you willing to do today. When she works with women she gets them to come up with a buffet line of things they know they want to do in the day that makes them feel healthy. If these are the things that make you healthy, what are you willing to do - to do those things? It’s a buffet line because you can pull different things on different days.
My spiritual practice doesn’t look the same every day. Sometimes I need different things. Today I did an at home yoga practice, I don’t always do that.
What made you sign up for this extraordinary event the Everest 29029?
It’s a crazy event that Jesse Itzler puts on where he rents out Stratton Mountain in Vermont. You climb Stratton Mountain 17 times to equal the height of Everest, but you only have 36 hours to do it. She wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult or the terrain so steep. It was gruelingly steep. It was snowing and raining. She was shin deep in mud. She had trained hard with her husband and was using the event to It was a way of celebrating her 50th Birthday and bring cancer free for 8 years.
What was the inner game like for you?
They had trained for it and had a gameplan for how the event would go. They knew how long they had for each ascent and still be able to sleep. The event started at 6 am. Once they had done the 3rd summit and came back down, Christine broke down and cried. She had expected to feel tired by the 10th summit and not the 3rd. She had to make a decision about what it was going to take to get up the mountain. She decided she was going to stop at every aid station and talk to the volunteers. She was going to tell everyone it was her 50th birthday. She was going to make it fun. She decided that for the really steep section she was going to put her headphones in and listen to podcasts. They hiked for 19 hours straight. They wanted 10 summits by midnight and they reached 9 which felt close enough to their goal. In the end, they managed 11 summits which are the height of Kilimanjaro.
What is the lesson that you learned?
That it’s not all or nothing. Even though she hadn’t reached her goal she still achieved. It was something really cool thing that she wanted to do. She now intends to do the event again.
Did you feel high afterward?
She was happy with what she did. She hiked for 18 hours straight and was really proud of that.
Why redefining healthy? Where did that come from?
Redefining healthy was all about helping women post-cancer. She is teaching people how to tap into what is it that makes you feel healthy. Christine was able to feel healthy even though she had cancer. She needed to redefine what healthy meant.
Do you feel like that’s your purpose?
She feels like working with women post-cancer is an important part of her life’s mission.
Do you find that people can go on the way or the other? That after cancer they can either be more confined or more willing?
People run the gamut. She doesn’t take it personally and just shares her knowledge and research. Some women are ready to do the hard work and some aren’t and that’s okay.
What’s an action step or piece of advice you might have for how to take charge of your health?
Drink more water. It’s as simple as that. And eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods. There’s no one specific diet that helps cancer. We don’t need to complicate it. We just need to eat more fruit and veg. Do more of the things which light you up and less of the things that don’t.
The stories we tell ourselves are important and we can choose what those stories are. Christine experienced this with both cancer and Everest 29019. She could have told herself negative stories about what was happening, but she chose not to.
Were you always like that or did cancer change your attitude?
It was cancer. Or more specifically it was the blood clot after she survived cancer which she thought was going to kill her.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Do your best and forget the rest
Tell us how we can get in touch with you
Her Website: www.redefining-healthy.com
The Healthy Girl's Guide to Breast Cancer by Christine Egan
Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me about Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus by Jesse Itzler
Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler