Rachael Yahne’s career and life have been beautifully abundant. She has fallen in love in London, studied yoga in India and written poetry in Manhattan. Her inspiring blog, HerAfter.com, has been featured by major media outlets like Yahoo. She generously offered to share her story and daily inspirations with FFLB.
FFLB: When were you diagnosed with cancer, and what have treatment and recovery been like/taught you?
Rachael Yahne: I was diagnosed at age 17, while attending college (I started college early). The cancer was stage 4B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and had spread throughout my body and even into the bones. Unfortunately, my hometown simply didn’t have the resources to cure it, so a few days after Christmas my mother and I flew to LA to visit a doctor at Cedar Sinai Medical Center. He prescribed an experimental chemo, one that had been used only a few times before on less severe cases. It was a bold move, but we trusted him completely, and the chemo was not only successful, it was presented to a national board of doctors and has since been used to help other people survive. I am a very, very lucky lady to not only have gotten this chemo, but the guidance of that doctor, who saved my life.
Both treatment and recovery have taught me so much, but in vastly different ways. In treatment, I learned the power of the human spirit, what can happen if you really believe in yourself against all odds, and what human connection is really like. Powerful things can happen when two people converse with each other without the pretenses of having to pretend you’re ‘ok’ or that everything will turn out fine. Real love and real understanding can happen in those moments, even between strangers. Other patients taught me that you don’t have to have a long, healthy life ahead of you to be happy right now, being alive, and accepting the gift of this moment. But maybe most importantly, I realized that our hearts really do speak to us. You just have to listen…
Recovery, on the other hand, was for me really the hardest part of cancer. During treatment there is a deadline when all the medicine will stop, when you’ll be out of the hospital, and there’s structure and, strangely, a bit of clarity there. You’re focused. You know what you’re doing and what matters and everything else fades away. But going back to the real world, especially bald at 18, was a challenge. I had a hard time relating to peers, because what mattered to most 18-year-old’s didn’t much matter to me anymore. Recovery is a journey that never ends, but even the heartbreaking moments have taught me so much. I’ve learned to value the good and the bad of life, because I know how lucky I am to have all of it. I’m lucky to fall in love, I’m lucky to have physical pain that isn’t needles and surgery, I’m lucky to have accomplishments and failures. It all teaches me the richness of life, the beauty in every facet of existing, and the entire gamut of emotions -from despair to bliss- to feel when you’re ALIVE. Sure, there’s fear and sometimes there’s anger, but mostly there’s just gratitude. And gratitude is the absolute key to a happy life.
FFLB: How has your support system influenced you?
RY: My support system is a strong one; I come from a family heavily plagued by cancer. We’ve had many members fight it, and some didn’t win their battle. Through it all we’ve really fallen together rather than apart. Through my years in adulthood since cancer, I’ve explored many paths, including non-profits and even the fashion industry. My family support system has always encouraged me to live up to my greatest potential, especially now as I’ve returned back to facing cancer again, this time through writing about it. I’m also lucky to have an incredible partner in life, who believes in my ability to change the lives of women and cancer survivors with my website, HerAfter.com. A support system is of vital importance throughout life. Especially for women, there’s a certain stigma in our culture that if you break down emotionally, or admit the hardships of your journey, it means you’re ‘weak’. But that’s simply not true, there’s great bravery in allowing yourself to release, break down, and build up again stronger. A support system is what helps remind you that you have all the pieces and armor to succeed, and there’s only love and courage in reaching out to others, not weakness.
FFLB: How does the positive attention your blog has received motivate you as both a woman and survivor?
RY: Well, as a survivor it’s incredibly motivating because I realize that there are a lot of patients out there, just like me, who feel that the battle never really ends. It’s a hard thing to explain, but things like having hair again or going about life pretending you don’t realize how brief and precious it is are big and soul-shaking concepts for survivors. I think, in a lot of ways, we don’t really prepare survivors for everyday life because we’re not sure how to yet! But survivor rates are growing, and so should our resources to help them thrive. So when I receive letters back from readers saying that the message of the website resonates with them, I know we’re on the right path, together.
As for women, it’s been a huge boost in not only my personal concept of femininity, but also my outlook on the future of women in this age. Look, there are enough magazines and websites telling women what to wear and how to look and what to say or do. But when I started HerAfter, I truly believed that women didn’t need all that, they needed the reassurance to trust themselves. They don’t need to be told what lipstick to wear, they need to realize why the deserve to cherish their individual beauty. They don’t need to be told what to wear, they need to learn to trust their instincts, and enjoy style as an act of self-expression. Women today have the ability know themselves, to trust themselves, they just need to access the power they already have inside! The basis behind HerAfter is that if we can help women find personal peace, that will create world peace. And you know what? It’s working. The feedback I get from women finding their power to fall back in love with their own lives is incredible. And that motivates me in both knowing I’m fulfilling my purpose, and also that women are waking up. The future looks bright!
FFLB: What’s your favorite: Activity, Recipe, Mantra for getting through rough days?
RY: I have a few, because to be honest rough days are always out there for you. It’s not as though you survive cancer and every day is sunshine and rainbows; especially because part of you is constantly questioning ‘why did I survive?’ and ‘what should I do with this short life of mine’? Those are questions we’re all asking in some form or another, survivors or not. My strategy for dealing with the rough days where those questions are bringing me down is two-fold:
First, addressing it head on. Even if that means being uncomfortable, afraid, or even to cry. I believe it’s important that we don’t just try to avoid a bad day or a scary realization, but instead that we experience it and go into it. Allow the feelings to occur, allow the questions to arise, and really take a moment to analyze: why am I feeling this way? Have I done something I don’t feel good about, or am I feeling this way because I’ve let myself down, or someone else has let me down? Going into it is the only way to get through it, and get real clarity.
Second, I like to do some kind of activity that boosts my sense of strength and esteem, so I can be brave enough to solve whatever is going on. For me that usually means a long run outside, or a few moments of meditation, or even just an evening, in bed alone, with some tea and a documentary (I love biographies about women who’ve overcome the odds, for obvious reasons!). What will boost me up is different on different days; sometimes it’s hard work and sweat, and sometimes it’s resting and giving myself a break. Either way, I implement the mantra: “I trust you, universe” behind it all. This crazy life has lead me through some incredible moments! Ultimately, even as I try to sort out my emotions, I trust the universe for putting me wherever I find myself.
FFLB: What advice would you give to a fellow woman diagnosed with cancer?
RY: Oh, I’d tell her so many things! I receive a lot of letters and contacts from women diagnosed, or who are currently battling or have battled. First and foremost, I tell her to honor her journey. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it is of the utmost importance that they make that battle their own. That they learn to listen to their intuition, to honor their own instincts, and to allow themselves to make their personal battle just that – personal to them. It doesn’t have to look like a Hallmark card or a Komen breast cancer walk-a-thon. It won’t always be smiles, in fact it will be incredibly, incredibly hard. But if she can really allow herself to feel it, to honor whatever emotions come along for her – sadness, bliss, anger, gratitude – I think only then can she realize all there really is in this life is love. Love is greater than anything, and it can exist for you even while you’re feeling angry or scared or nervous or whatever. Love is that big and powerful. If she honors her journey and herself, she can access a love deep within her that will carry her through.
FFLB: Can you explain your Weekly Loveletter? What can women who sign up expect to enjoy?
RY: The weekly loveletter is such a fun new part of HerAfter.com! It all started, truthfully, as a way to reach more women out there. I know there are women out there who need to read some of the articles on the site, and I will do absolutely anything to reach those women because I truly believe they deserve to live their best life! So the loveletter started as my take on a newsletter. What we first read and hear in the morning makes a huge difference in our entire day, including our productivity and our happiness. So the loveletter is designed to give readers and women a chance to read something positive first thing in the morning, for a change! It’s full of great stuff from the site, links to other inspiring articles and sites, plus other fun tid-bits. So even if they never make it to read the weekly post on HerAfter.com, they still get a little dose of inspiration and encouragement delivered right to them. I’m loving this personal touch to the project! And who knows, maybe after she reads something that lifts her up first thing in the morning, it will encourage her to do something else positive for herself that day!
And the loveletter is just the beginning! We’re also releasing a new mini-book edition for kindle and e-readers, to give women a quick guide to living beautifully and consciously! It will have all the essentials they need to transform their lives in everything from beauty to health and wellness to home decorating and even dating. It’s really going to change lives and it’s coming out soon! They can find more info about it on HerAfter.com in the coming weeks.