In 2013, when I was 40, Good Morning America producers asked me to have my first mammogram live on the show. My reaction was immediate: No way. Then, my colleague Robin Roberts told me that if I did, I was guaranteed to save at least one life. No one knew it would be my own.
As I relate in my book Better, the cancer experience affected me profoundly. After my illness and recovery, I'm now a better mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and colleague — and my views on my body, work, and life have changed greatly. Here’s how:
1. I'm much more aware of time.
Life is crazy short. I no longer assume I will be here in five, ten, or twenty years. I’ve learned how valuable time is, and I no longer waste it.
2. I say what I need to.
I take advantage of every moment to talk to my children. I consider the ideas I want to share with them and the concepts I hope will stay with them. Tucking them in at night, I have memorable conversations.
3. I know kindness matters.
Kindness from other people during my cancer treatments taught me to teach my children to be more kind. The smallest act of kindness — a smile or a gesture like giving up your seat — is healing and can have a profound impact. Every night, I ask my girls, “Who were you kind to today? Who will you be kind to tomorrow?”
4. I'm more careful.
I used to have a bit of a lead foot; now I drive carefully. Before cancer, I never thought about dying — I'd jump out of fighter jets for work and do whatever was risky and exhilarating. But now I am acutely aware that life is anything but guaranteed.
5. I enjoy the journey.
My family’s schedule is as rigorous as my own. Getting to a destination used to be all about efficiency and logistics. Now, instead of falling into the frantic rush, I make it a priority to leave early and literally enjoy the journey.
6. I schedule (and keep!) doctors' appointments.
Before my diagnosis, I put off health checkups and appointments. I felt healthy, so I never made them a priority. No longer.
7. I make sleep a priority.
I used to sleep only four or five hours a night. But now I insist on seven hours or more. Sleep is when our body restores itself, and it’s so important for me to slow down and not get completely caught up in a hectic life schedule.
8. I make farm-to-table eating feel good.
I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, raspberries, apples, and more in upstate New York. I can’t get enough. At home in Manhattan, I make garden omelets and veggie lasagna. In the past, I’d cook by myself and keep surfaces clean and neat. Now with my youngest daughter as my sous chef, it takes longer and it's messier — but it's so much better.
9. I eat less red meat.
I used to enjoy burgers and steaks about four times a week. Now, red meat is a rarity. I’m preparing many more veggies and lean protein, like chicken. I am trying to eat fish, but as a Midwestern girl from St. Louis, it’s like swimming upstream!
10. I prioritize fitness.
We control very little in our lives — but I can make sure I am in shape. I see a trainer once or twice a week to take out the residual job stress. When the push-ups and sit-ups end, I feel strong, calm, and ready to enjoy my family.
11. I hit the pavement.
I try to walk everywhere, and run 3 to 5 miles several times a week. Before cancer, I would work out whenever the mood struck. Now, I look forward to the mental clarity it brings, along with the physical benefits.
12. I learned to say no.
I feel so passionate about putting mental, spiritual, physical, and family health first. I’ve learned that we can politely pass on obligations we feel we ought to do but don’t enjoy, or social functions that don’t inspire. Use your free time for things that fulfill you.
13. I appreciate nature.
I love going to the dog park, or walking in the woods. Any time you can be out in nature, it’s immediately relaxing.
14. I'm nurturing.
Giving back and nurturing the life of something outside of yourself is so important, whether it’s watering the plants or volunteering. Right now, I am laughing at how much joy I get from creating the right environment for our koi fish upstate.
15. I take time to recharge.
It used to be a badge of honor to forgo my vacation days. Now, I know I have earned that time off and need to take it. To be the best at my job, I require the time to recharge.
16. I've removed “if only” from my vocabulary.
If you can appreciate what you have right now, that’s when you find happiness. “All I really need is what I have right now” is my new motto.
17. I’m so lucky.
Every day, I see inspiration all around me. The other survivors I know and work with are a powerful motivation for me.