Jennifer Van Dusen is an advocate for self-care and inspiring all those around her to be their best, healthiest selves! She told us about her fight with breast cancer and how she hopes to raise awareness for the disease. Read on to see what #AerieREAL and #GirlPower mean to her!
Why is it important for girls and women to become educated on their breast and ovarian health?
You are your best health advocate. No one knows your body better than you do. I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to what it tell you. Your breast can feel different throughout the month due to hormonal changes so the best thing to do is pick a day each month to examine yourself. A catch phrase in the community is “Feels on the 1st” which means on the 1st day of a new month is a good time to compare your breasts to how they felt on the 1st of the month before. Do they hurt, is there discharge, do you feel a lump that wasn’t there a month ago? And get a Pap done at least every year. There is hardly anyway to tell if you are having problems with an ovary until it’s too late. Seeing your doctor for an annual checkup can save your life so don’t put it off because it’s awkward or uncomfortable. What I would always do is book a girls lunch or get a treat for myself on the way home after my annual exam.
Understanding your personal risk including hereditary factors is another huge part of your physical health as a women. I’m lucky in that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years before I was. I learned a lot about the disease but my eyes were opened even more once I was diagnosed. And after I was I learned it goes much further than possibly your genes. In my case, my cancer was very receptive to estrogen, so limiting or not drinking alcohol helps as it converts to estrogen when consumed. I also had my 1st period when I was very young, another risk factor. I”m not saying make yourself crazy, but ask about your maternal family history and let your doctor know what it is.
Most importantly women need to become educated on their health because it give us power. So much of life is influenced by outside forces and anytime in which we can take control and help others like us we should. To me this is the very definition of #GirlPower.
What advice do you have for girls and women who want to lead healthy lifestyles?
The best advice I can give anyone on how to live a healthy lifestyle is start with self-care. This sounds so simple, but it takes work. When I first heard about it, at the start of my cancer treatment I thought why do I need to care for me, I have my husband taking care of me, a team of doctors and supportive friends. But when I learned what it meant and embraced it as part of my treatment I can’t say what a help it was. Before, I thought it meant; I’m tired from treatment so I’ll take a nap. But what it really needs to be is a conscious decision to put yourself above all else for little bit every day. While I was in daily cancer treatment this became a lifesaver, some day it was as simple as putting on a song that lifted my spirits, sitting by the window and enjoying a cup of tea, taking 30 minutes to meditate, getting an ice-cream cone on the way home from the hospital or buying myself a new pair of legging from my favorite store – AERIE. Self care for me now that my energy is improving is walking my dogs, working up a sweat at the gym, trying out a new recipe for dinner.
Whatever your self-care (or treat as I prefer to call it) is, the most important thing is to do it mindfully; meaning you are doing it for you, you don’t have to justify it you just have to be 100% present in that moment.
Once you are strong enough to care for yourself what you can give back to others is only multiplied. This is the airplane mask rule, put your mask on 1st and then help the person next to you.
This is a big question. I could probably write a book on this answer alone! I am also going to point out that my eyes are very wet while writing this, because my feelings for these people are so deep.
I have to say 1st off my husband, Jamie Van Dusen. He truly is love, because love is a verb and not a noun. His strength and unwavering commitment to me got me through the worst, the loss of my mother to breast cancer, my diagnosis, my double mastectomy and so much more. He was my strength when I didn’t have any therefore he deserves the best from me in return.
The next person is a beautiful angel, Jasmin Fiore. I didn’t have the pleasure of spending lots of time with her but she is an inspiration to me and many women in my cancer community. She was so young when diagnosed with MBC (metastatic breast cancer aka Stage4) and had 2 little girls, but she went on to start an amazing retreat for other young women diagnosed with breast cancer. Only about 3% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 40. Without the retreat she started, Stretch Heal Grow, I never would have met other women like me. I felt so alone and Jasmin created a community, friendships and a space of healing for us. While she had a horrible battle of her own she gave back in the most beautiful way possible. I am forever in her debt and aspire to give back as much as I can because of her (learn more here: https://stretchhealgrow.org/about/)
And I guess at the end of the day I also have to say I inspire me, because when it comes right down to it my thoughts are last thing I hear at night and first thing I hear in the morning. I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I am living my best life or trying my hardest to be a good person. Every day I am alive is a blessing and it’s not something that is guaranteed so God willing I will make the most of it.
What makes you #AerieREAL?
I hope that every women out there has a little #AerieREAL in them! To me it means I am strong but also insecure, that I am perfect and also flawed. Most importantly it means that I own who I am and I am grateful.
Want to see how Aerie supports breast cancer awareness? Read more here!