Breast cancer is a life-changing experience that can affect you in tremendous ways you never thought possible. Samantha Harris, an Emmy-award winning television host known for her time spent in front of the camera on Entertainment Tonight and Dancing with the Stars, knows this especially well. In 2014, at the age of 40, Harris shared the news of her shocking breast cancer diagnosis with the world. A diagnosis that quite literally blindsided her when she found a lump 11 days after a “clear” mammogram. So when asked what motivated her to become so open about her diagnosis, she promptly replied: “The thought occurred to me that there might be another woman out there who’s walking around with a lump that she found that a doctor told her was nothing.” That’s why she chose to openly share her story — and that was the very moment she decided to not let her diagnosis devour her. Instead, it ignited something so powerful within her; “it compelled me to become the healthiest version of myself, ever,” says Harris, which she considers to be the best thing to come from her diagnosis.
Using her journalism background, she wanted to get to the bottom of what caused her cancer, and find out why 1-in-8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. What she found when she dug into that research? “It all came down to what I was putting in, on, and around my body that not only led to cancer but so many other prevalent diseases today — and, that there’s actually changes I could be in control of,” she says. Changes like controlling how she ate and exercised, and how to rid herself of toxic relationships, as well as the toxins that were lurking in her beauty products and household cleaners. Inspired to help others, these findings led her to write a book (released in September), Your Healthiest Healthy – an 8-step program that allows women to take away that hopeless and out-of-control feeling and actually learn how to take back their health.
And taking back her health was exactly what she did.
After recovering from a double mastectomy and understanding the day-to-day changes she needed to make in order to improve her overall health, Harris did have a few regrets. “I really wish I hadn’t consumed so many packaged and low-fat foods,” she says. “And that I wasn’t afraid of fat — because literally, I was afraid of fat and would avoid eating avocados and nuts and seeds which are incredibly important for our overall health.” Embracing these healthy fats has been just one of the first steps she’s taken. “I found that once I started adding healthy fats into my diet, I became more energized,” she says. (Learn why this woman chose not to have breast reconstruction after a double mastectomy.)
It was also eye-opening for Harris to learn how to properly read a nutrition label beyond just calories and fat. Especially when it came to sugar, she couldn’t believe how fooled we are as consumers. “Because the ingredients are listed by weight, if a manufacturer needs to put a lot of sugar in a product but doesn’t want the consumer to be aware of it, they’ll use different types of chemical compounds of sugar like sucrose, glucose, galactose, and cane syrup,” she says. “What they do then is add them all in using a bunch of different types of sugars, then sugar itself doesn’t end up being one of the top three ingredients listed on that very nutrition label.” The U.S. FDA recently made changes to the requirements of nutrition labels and, Health Canada has also implemented a food labelling change to help Canadians better understand the sugar content of their food.
Along with making sure that [as women] we take control of our knowledge, Harris believes it is important to understand the inner-workings of our bodies.
“If I hadn’t been exercising regularly and really aware of minor changes, I may have really easily missed finding that lump — and, who knows how long I would have gone without finding it,” she says. But in order to learn how to better understand your body and your health, Harris advises taking these small steps first if you want the changes from her 8-step program to last.
Nutrition: “Fill your plate at least half full of veggies at every meal,” says Harris. “That might look like a morning smoothie with spinach and kale, a large chopped salad with beans at lunch, and a black bean burger for dinner.”
Exercise: “If you’re someone who is completely sedentary, try walking for five to 10 minutes a day around the block,” she says. “And if you’re someone who’s active but are too busy to fit in a solid 30-minute workout four to six days a week, take 30 minutes and break it up into 10-minute increments throughout the day. (Those three increments will have the overall same benefits as a solid 30 minutes.)”
Well-being: “We have to remember that it’s not just about what we are eating and how we’re working out, but it’s also about who we surround ourselves with,” she says. “People who cause anxiety and add stress to our lives is a trap — so the key is to be able to identify and kick to the curb the toxic relationships in your life.”
And in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Harris has one final piece of advice for that woman who was just diagnosed or is currently going through treatment or recovery: Ride the wave. “Know that the waves of emotion are unavoidable but temporary, and it’s totally normal to have feelings of rage, frustration and confusion — but remember that those moments will pass.”
Today, cancer-free, Harris explains what those two words truly mean to her. “Jubilations and still fear,” she says. “There’s always that fear once you’ve gone through breast cancer that it can come back.” But that fear won’t stop her from living her healthiest healthy life.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about Samantha Harris’ breast cancer journey or have any questions about her new book, Your Healthiest Healthy, she wants to hear from you.