Chronically Living and how to make the most of it

How Can I Improve My Well-Being with Cancer? with Em Veach

November 08, 2021 Kelsey Harris, Em Veach Season 2 Episode 20
Chronically Living and how to make the most of it
How Can I Improve My Well-Being with Cancer? with Em Veach
Show Notes Transcript

This week we're exploring a chronic illness that we haven't before, and yet is extremely common - cancer. The lessons from this episode, can easily be applied to any chronic illness though. And we all know or have known someone with cancer. My guest this week is Em Veach who shares her story and what has helped her.
In this episode we talk about:

  • metastatic breast cancer
  • ways to improve your well-being after a cancer diagnosis
  • a new product for cancer patients from Em's startup, Casual Recovery

Guest Bio:
Em Veach is COO of Casual Recovery, a medical device startup. We invented a wearable surgical recovery garment out of necessity. The company founder, Aisha McCain, invented and patented the garment with the support of her plastic surgeon. Now, we are building an all-star team and raising funds to deliver our products to people who need them. Ms. Veach, who is also a cancer survivor, is passionate about helping people and funding research for more effective, less toxic treatments for cancer and other diseases. She is a graduate of Indiana University and trained at the Knight New Media Center as well as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD advocacy program.
To purchase from Casual Recovery go to: casualrecovery.com
For Em's podcast and website go to: tenthwind.com
Follow Em on Instagram @gertrudeemily

Purchase from The Balm Box at: thebalmbox.com.

Follow the show on Instagram @chronically.living_
Support the show on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/chronically_living

Kelsey Harris:

Many cancer patients get a lot of well intention, but not so awesome gifts. This includes the founder of the bomb box who has survived for different cancers over eight years herself. After doing some market research, it turns out that people with cancer don't want tote bags and can't coffee mugs with a kicking cancer message on them. Nor do they want things like worry stones. So what do cancer patients want? functional gifts, gifts that help them manage their side effects that haven't been resolved by prescription drugs. Think ice packs, lip balm and lotion. That's where the bomb box comes in. The box offers elegant premium and functional care packages for cancer patients. All items are carefully curated to be both useful and appreciated. Whether your loved one has cancer and you want to send them something that they want need, or your cancer patient yourself wanting to have some of these items on hand, visit the bomb box calm. That's th e ba l mbox.com for more details. Okay, I'll admit that the ad that just played almost counted as the episodes intro, why? because today we're talking about cancer. What are some ways we can improve our lives when faced with a cancer diagnosis? How can we face pain and death, especially if we're still young. And Veatch joins me today to share her story and what she's learned. This is chronically living. I'm Kelsey Harris, chronic illness warrior and psychotherapist on chronically living and how to make the most of it, we're providing tangible ways to improve the well being of spoonies. So get ready to make the most out of your life, even with that pesky chronic illness.

Em Veach:

I'm Em. I live i Southern Illinois, and I move here about 18 months ago fro California. And currently, I a working on reentering th workforce. I have been o disability for a while thanks t my cancer diagnosis an adjustment to that. And now I' the chief Operations Officer fo a startup called casua recovery

Kelsey Harris:

I think we can all agree that getting a cancer diagnosis would be extremely difficult and scary. Cancer is the most talked about almost in the media, I mean, at least before COVID. And I've yet to meet someone who hasn't had a loved one who has had cancer at some point. Today M is going to share her journey with us.

Em Veach:

So just to kind of start with the present, I've been living with metastatic breast cancer, also known as advanced breast cancer stage four since November 2017. So almost four years now, originally, I was diagnosed back in 2014, with stage two breast cancer and went through some treatment for that. And then I progressed or came back in my bones in 2017. So that's the very short version, basically. But leading up to that diagnosis, I just had all these pains that wouldn't go away. I was a runner at the time a long distance runner, so I was pretty used to pain and just pushing through it. But it was just getting to the point where I couldn't push through it and ended up in the emergency room. The scan showed that there were lots of tumors and lots of my bones. And I actually had a broken spine to compress vertebrae in my spine. So I kicked off treatment with spinal fusion surgery, followed by radiation and then chemotherapy. So it was pretty brutal. Several months, I would say Initially, the pain was the most challenging part, it was unbearable when you know nurses and doctors talk about pain with patients, they ask you to rate it on a scale of one to 10 where or zero to 10, where zero is no pain and 10 is way too much pain. And I was off the charts there for a while. So that's definitely the hardest part. At first, I would say the current most challenging thing would have to be losing friends to cancer. There are a lot of great resources, support groups, things like that for you to build community. But unfortunately, not everybody has the fortunate that I've had of stable disease and you know, people end up passing away from the disease. So that's definitely the hardest part.

Kelsey Harris:

support groups are very important. It can be very helpful. As we've touched on in previous episodes, losing people to any disease is beyond hard. So how does MST resilient through a four year battle with metastatic breast cancer and really a longer battle if we go back to her original diagnosis in 2014.

Em Veach:

I think it's super complicated. Complex. You know, it's been a process over the past four years to get to where I am today. I think that my background was in journalism. That was my first career. And what I loved about journalism was that I just went to work and learned every day, I had a story assignment, or I was editing something that I didn't know about. And I would just dive into it, and I got paid to do it. So it was pretty amazing. And that really helped me a lot when, you know, I started to have these, this new reality of facing mortality and having questions about death, then, I just kept finding that the more I asked and sought out answers, the better that I felt. So that helped me a lot. And being able to share with friends helped me a lot. But as I go along, every time I come up with something scary, or something sad or challenging in various ways, my go to coping strategy is to dive into it.

Kelsey Harris:

exploration, self exploration, learning. And it sounds like personal growth ha en all been parts of Em's copin . But sometimes she has toughe days than others, especiall when anxiety cree

Em Veach:

You know, I have anxiety, I have medication for anxiety attacks. But I think learning about things just even though it doesn't necessarily fix a problem, it just gives me some peace. Just to know, you know why I'm sad about something or why something is scary, because I find that also helps to build connections with other people. Because most of the time, whatever you're going through or thinking somebody else has been there, too. So it takes some of that unknown out of the picture.

Kelsey Harris:

I appreciate the Em uses the knowledge she gain to help build connections wit other people, it seems to hel her with compassion and empathy which are important aspects o relationship building especially when you have chronic illness. So let's tal about the one thing that ha been helpful for Em's well bein . And it's something she actual y mentioned earlier in t e episod

Em Veach:

I think the thing that comes to mind, first, in terms of just for my own well being is, like I mentioned, I moved here to Illinois, from California, right at the beginning of the pandemic. So April 2020, I was living out there with my best friend. And it was really a move that confirmed or helped me to put in place a lot of the things that I've been thinking about and exploring since my diagnosis. So I knew that, you know, I needed to be closer to family. You know, cancer can be really hard. Sometimes, even though I'm doing really well. Family Support was super important. So I grew up in this area. So moving here was was super beneficial because I had proximity to these people who would always come to my aid if I ever needed it. So that was for sure. And it's also really quiet. I live in a very rural setting, I knew I wanted that my blue and a bunch of big cities. And so this was kind of a change from that as well. But just yeah, creating, actually, to back up a little bit just to be able to realize those things that I needed, and then to start to put them in place has been, you know, extremely beneficial to my well being. And also just to giving me sort of a sense of control. Even though I think control is a bit of an illusion. I think it helps me to be able to take steps take actions that made me feel better.

Kelsey Harris:

It sounds like there are three important things that Em has done or has bee doing. First, making sure tha she is close to her suppor network. Second, make spendin more time in nature. And I thin I've touched on this in th past, but nature has a lot o healing qualities and peopl often find inner peace when the are immersed in nature. An third, that awareness which i perhaps the noticing self w often utilize on the show

Em Veach:

I think the cancer diagnosis really shook everything up like you have a pack of cards and you just throw them all in the air. That's kind of what it felt like, you know, everything was just spilled out open made me want me to question everything about myself and about where I was living and how I spent my time and the people that I surround myself with. So it was really just an opportunity in the end for me to look at all those things and say, Okay, if I can craft this life the way that I want it to be like what are the Yeah, what are the things that that make me happy. So it's really just been an exploration of that and discovery and trying to put the pieces back together.

Kelsey Harris:

A couple of other important themes I heard in here in addition to awareness, so reconnecting with her values has been important and then I think she said something to the effect of making changes to improve my well being Emma has made specific changes like moving across the country that were important to her and have helped with her well being. This is what's almost call committed action. Em's, also the CEO of a really c ol startup called casual r covery.

Em Veach:

So casual recovery is a medical device startup founded by a trio of cancer survivors. So I'm a little later into the game as a founder than the other two, but they're two of my best friends. And our first product is a shirt for people who are recovering from surgery. So there are millions of surgeries every year, three general common surgeries where the person has these drains in they're hanging out of their body for a period of time while they recover. And so our shirt has internal pockets that hold your drains, so that you can get back to living you can heal faster, have fewer complications, like having the strains pulled out. And our CEO actually invented and patented this shirt as she was recovering from surgery herself. So now we're working on building relationships with hospitals and surgical centers, and really trying to get this out in the world so people can recover and live their lives. That's been a lot of fun. And people can learn a lot more on our website, a casual recovery calm, and we're just super excited, the current standard of care is to safety pin your drains to your shirt, and that's just not cool. I have had drains a couple of times a couple different surgeries. And it's, it's pretty surreal to wake up and kind of feel like a bit of a Frankenstein with with these Frankenstein's monster with these drains hanging out and not quite knowing what to do and feeling very self conscious. And so we're just excited to be to be working on something that helps people and we're all really fun group. So it's a good time when we're together.

Kelsey Harris:

I think this sounds like an amazing product, one that is clearly needed by many people. And those of us who haven't had this experience, wouldn't have thought of make sure you all check out their website, if you are a loved one has cancer. It also has some more advice to share with us about getting a late stage cancer diagnosis.

Em Veach:

I think it's been important valuable for me to get to know other people who are going through something similar. I also volunteer for a phone support line. That is for people with late stage breast cancer. And all the volunteers are also peers. So we have just as mentors and to help find resources and things like that. But yeah, I mean talking about it, getting those inner thoughts and fears out of your head, like you said, kind of normalizes them and makes it like less scary to be going through.

Kelsey Harris:

So really just talking, not holding in all of our thoughts and feelings that you might want to hold in because you don't want to be a burden or no, you think you need to be strong 100% of the time. Emotions are important. And sometimes talking to someone is what we need. Em has also recently started a podcast.

Em Veach:

So I started a podcast, there's one episode out. And I like to joke that it's the least frequent podcast you'll ever come across. Because it's my passion. And I love for it to just be that Exactly. It's like It's like art to me. So I'm not sticking to a schedule as much as I would like to be more productive with it. It's called Happy Death. And it's all abou kind of like I was describin when I would ask questions abou death about living well into th end, I learn a whole lot, rea some really great books, talk to some really wonderful people and some of my friends are m guests. So it's just a way fo me to share what I learned an help people have thes conversations that can be prett difficult to get started

Kelsey Harris:

I think it's a great concept for a podcast because death is a very difficult subject for most people to talk about. And yet we all have to face it. Being in the position Em's in d finitely makes her the right p rson to host that podcast. So l t's do some lightning round q estions. So what are the top f ve songs that describe your l fe?

Em Veach:

All right, this was a hard this is a hard question. I know. So I'll just go into it. There's a song called I Am by young big booty. Next one number two hustle and motivate by nipsey hussle. Dangerous by Michael Jackson. Dead body moving by the devil makes three and break on through by the doors.

Kelsey Harris:

Nice. Cool. But what's one thing you can't go a day without doing?

Em Veach:

Definitely being in nature.

Kelsey Harris:

Yeah. Is there anything particular that you find comforting about that or

Em Veach:

I think it just helps me to Still my mind and to feel connected to the universe. And yeah, I think just the quiet of it is what I love. Sometimes your mind just gets going, and it's hard to stop it. And nature just helps me to sort of reset and breathe and feel connected to something bigger.

Kelsey Harris:

Amazing. What's one thing you plan on doing in your life that you haven't yet?

Em Veach:

So I'm going to finish writing and publish my book.

Kelsey Harris:

Oh, awesome. Can you tell us anything about it?

Em Veach:

Yeah, it's called don't clench. And the title really comes from again, one of those lessons I've learned where I have to get these injections every three months, goes in my butt is super painful. But I found that it's more manageable if you don't clench. So it's just kind of a metaphor for life. Like, when things are painful, try not to constrict and, and guard yourself, but kind of be open, relaxed, and helps you get through.

Kelsey Harris:

Yeah, I love that. That is, there's actually so much science about that approach to life in difficult situations. So that's amazing.

Em Veach:

Yeah, so it's like a lot about my journey through cancer and living with cancer and adjustments and things I've learned along the way.

Kelsey Harris:

Amazing. Well, definitely have to keep an eye out for that. Describe your perfect day.

Em Veach:

Okay, so we're waking up before sunrise. We're gonna watch the sun come up in the mountains. And then hit the trails, with lots of good snacks, good friends, and just see how the day see how the day unfolds?

Kelsey Harris:

sounds beautiful. And how do you inspire others to make the most of their lives?

Em Veach:

That's a hard question. I think I would say, probably my fearlessness. Even though I do have fear, I feel fear. I feel like I also can face things and be inquisitive. And that's sort of my way of taking a look at something. And making it a bit less scary as I go along. So yeah, I've been able to do really amazing things like moving myself across the country, at the start of the pandemic, and not really knowing how it was gonna go, dealing with side effects from treatment, and, you know, finding beauty and finding myself pretty much on the way.

Kelsey Harris:

Amazing. Where can we find you and follow you?

Em Veach:

So I'm not a huge social media person. My podcast is up on my website, which is 10th when.com. I use Instagram a little bit. My username is Gertrude, Emily. And that's pretty much it.

Kelsey Harris:

All right, perfect. Cool. And we'll definitely be looking forward to hear more about your book is that comes out. Hopefully, we can be in touch in the future as well.

Em Veach:

Awesome. Thank you, Kelsey.

Kelsey Harris:

Oh, thank you so much for coming on.

Em Veach:

Yeah, this is really fun.

Kelsey Harris:

Okay, so what I found extremely interesting about this episode is that E mentioned all six processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and how she faces life and her diagnosis. I did not plan this or know that it was going to happen. And to be honest, I don't think m knows that she's doing this because we really didn't get a chance to chat about that specifically, what I what am I talking about? Okay, so m mentioned that she contacts the present moment when she is very present and still in nature. She mentioned that her awareness, which could be referred to as the noticing self, and how it helped her make some important decisions. She did self exploration to connect with her values, which led her to actually making changes in her life or committed action. She mentioned diffusion or distancing herself from her thoughts and acceptance when she described the book she's writing, you know, don't clench or maybe just drop the struggle. These are great lessons that can be applied to cancer patients but also to any of us struggling with any chronic illness. So it's time for our own self reflections. What did you notice about your internal processes? You know those thoughts and feelings while you were listening to him today? And what are you noticing now about that noticing? Thanks, everyone for tuning in. Make sure that you subscribe to The show's Patreon and or leave us a review if you like what we're doing here. And really, most importantly, keep on making the most of it. Special thanks to marred.e for he original music and Char ty Williams for the origi al artwo