Healing your Mental and Emotional Health

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, This is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

If you’ve heard the words, you have breast cancer, you aren’t alone. There are more than four million breast cancer survivors and those living with breast cancer in the U. S., more than any other group of cancer survivors. You also likely face unique issues and concerns, such as the stress of living in a new normal and the fear of recurrence. You may still be trying to process everything that you just went through or grieving life plans that had to change. The mental and emotional effects of breast cancer are real and after being diagnosed at the age of 38, today’s guest learned for herself just how important it is to feel all your emotions through it and to allow yourself to heal.

Ryn Sloane is here to share her story with us and how she has committed to helping survivors go from surviving to thriving. Ryn, welcome to the show. 

[00:01:09] Ryn Sloane: Thank you so much. 

[00:01:10] Adam Walker: I’m so glad to talk to you about this. I love your focus on helping this community. We’re going to talk more about that in a minute but we always like to start the show if we can with the guest’s breast cancer story. So can you tell our listeners a little bit about your diagnosis and what your immediate treatment plan looked like? 

[00:01:28] Ryn Sloane: Yeah. So I was actually September 2018, 38 years old, like you said, was the strongest, healthiest I’d ever been. I was big on working out. It just was a passion. I went to visit family back in Toronto, Canada, and one morning while I was there for some reason, I happened to notice a lump and I never did self checks before that. So it was weird that day I happened to, just do it. And the second I found that lump, it was like that instant sinking feeling when you know, something’s wrong. But I couldn’t tell anybody because I was not at home. I couldn’t go to the doctor and I didn’t want to scare everybody until I knew something concrete.

So the trip was really long for me and I was in my head a lot for it. So that was sometime at the end of September, came back right away, got an appointment in October from six weeks from getting that appointment to just finding out what was going on, going through all the tests, biopsy scans, the works from diagnosis to double mastectomy was six weeks.

[00:02:36] Adam Walker: Whoa. That is very fast. 

[00:02:38] Ryn Sloane: Yes, so I’ve coined tornadoes and cancer to go together because that’s exactly how it felt for me. So, when I met my medical team, that was like very stressful. My husband and I took my son to preschool. He was a little guy, went to preschool, dropped him off, went to the clinic, and we were there for four and a half hours straight meeting all these doctors one after the time, one after the next telling us all this information. I don’t remember anything they told me because it’s like they’re speaking a whole other language. They told me the diagnosis, I didn’t understand this. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, which is actually one of the most common types of breast cancer. And so I met the breast surgeon. I met an oncologist, radiologist later that day, met the reconstructive surgeon. And then later I got a call from the breast surgeon saying they actually found a second lump. So, originally it was going to be a lumpectomy and I was thinking that over and trying to understand what that meant, talking to the other surgeon about it. And then my breast surgeon called and said, we found a second lump in the same breast and I’m sorry you need to have a mastectomy, you’re an automatic mastectomy. And I remember very clearly saying to her “Listen if one goes, they’re both going.” And she’s like, “Are you sure?” And I was like, “Yeah.”

And so I think it’s important because I’m really big on trying to help people learn how to advocate for themselves and make decisions based off what they feel deep down is best for them, what they can live with, and not Worry about what other people think, right? That especially as women, I think that’s a big thing. So I really want to drop that there. Just advocating for yourself. I learned throughout my experience. It’s critical. Nobody does it for you. 

[00:04:36] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s right. So important. And so many people on the show have said that, right? That is so important that you know what you need and you pursue that relentlessly because you know what you need better than anyone else does. And so you’ve got to be the one that pursues that. 

[00:04:50] Ryn Sloane: It was a crazy experience though. One of the worst parts that happened for me personally was, like I said, I was very big on really working out, being strong. That was a big part of my identity. And I’m a little person, so I have a lot of need to just feel a little bit physically bigger. And I went from my absolute strongest in September, that was the last time I went into the gym. And I had the double mastectomy the very end of November, and I was under 100 pounds. I lost everything that I had worked for, for years. And I was devastated. Devastated. 

[00:05:27] Adam Walker: Wow. Yeah. That’s, that timeframe is wild. And then also like you’re 38, right? Which I mean, that’s gotta be a bit of a shock too, right? Like, absolute. What was that experience like, being, younger than average? 

[00:05:38] Ryn Sloane: I was shocked because you go into the clinics and they tend to have imagery on flyers and posters and things like that, and they’re all much older women than I was. So I felt like something was wrong with me and I was very like, out of place. Like, how is this happening? I’m way too young for this. There was no history in my family, by the way, which is super important to mention. So I felt very unrepresented until later I realized it’s actually happening a lot more often people, women under 40, it’s becoming much more common that we are diagnosed at a really young age, but there’s nothing really right now happening in the clinics and hospitals to mention that and include women. So there is this sense of like, there’s something wrong with me because these images don’t match me. There’s a big disconnect there. That’s what I experienced personally. 

[00:06:31] Adam Walker: Hopefully you can help other people not feel as disconnected through, doing interviews like this. Right. So, so, so talk a little bit about how you were able to cope with kind of the emotions of all of this. Not just like, so I imagine like the emotions of finding the lump and having to wait to go get it checked out like, like that. But all the way from that to the tornado of treatment, like just walk us through what that was like and how you dealt with it.

[00:06:56] Ryn Sloane: So I should mention for years, like I’m coming up to year 14, it’ll be next, like next year. I kept journals. And I’ve always been a creative person and drew, drawn and painted and stuff like that my whole life on and off. I’ve always just expressed myself in various ways. And it was just my thing. Like, I didn’t know that was something that most people didn’t do. It was just something I’ve done. And prior to my cancer diagnosis if we rewind a little bit further than that, when I was pregnant with my son, who was five, when I was diagnosed, which was like, that in itself, I was like, “Oh no, like this cannot happen.”

I have a five year old little boy, like, but my pregnancy with him was extremely hard. So I weighed less in my first trimester pregnant than I weighed when I wasn’t. And the pregnancy was crazy. And I had early labor bedrest. We just made it to 37 weeks. He was compromised, had emergency surgery. And then after that surgery, I had another four surgeries to fix all the insides, everything got messed up. And through all of that, plus cancer, I kept journals and recorded what was happening and not all the bad stuff. I think that’s really important to mention. I recorded really good stuff and I call those milestones because it can’t be all thunderstorms and darkness.

I’m not a person that’s just going to dig myself into a black hole and stay there. So I just always did that and I had different ways of processing what I was, experiencing and feeling. And I didn’t know until later after my cancer experience that this was not a common practice. People need help learning how to express themselves beyond verbal talking. We can’t always speak about traumas that have happened to us, but there’s a million other ways that we can express what we feel and what we’re dealing with that have nothing to do with words. So I took what I call my toolbox and I put all that together and ended up designing a program later on.

[00:09:10] Adam Walker: Okay. All right. Yeah. And I know we’re going to talk about that program shift. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. But before that, like, I’m curious, so it never occurred to me that going through something as difficult as breast cancer, you could express yourself in other ways outside of words and to help you cope with it.

So I I really love that idea. So, let’s just, let’s dive into that a little bit more. So you shifted careers. You now devote your time to helping women get through the mental and emotional challenges of breast cancer So tell me like why did you do that? And what is it that you do exactly?

[00:09:44] Ryn Sloane: Yeah, so I have a healing program It’s called heal bravely that has been a labor of love for the past couple years while I’ve gone through this shift and what I realized is when I got to the end of my treatment It’s terrifying, shockingly, you think, oh my God, it’s amazing, but it’s not.

So, let’s go back to that tornado analogy I like to use, right? I say cancer is like, when you get diagnosed, now you’re inside of a tornado, everything happens really fast, you’re spinning around and inside of a tornado, you’ve got all the debris going around up in the air. That’s your life and you’re literally trying to hang on for your life throughout it. So you’re going through active treatment and this tornado is going and you’re in survival mode and you’re just doing your best to get through each day and each, session you have and what have, and then you get to the end of treatment and you have this survivorship kind of meeting with one of your medical team people. And I remember having this with my reconstructive surgeon and he said to me, “So we’ll see you in six months. You’re graduating and it’s awesome. And we’re so excited.” And I’m like, “What does that mean?” It was like, for me, instant fear. I don’t understand what is happening because, I knew all the time I was being monitored by various medical people, and so I felt safety there, and now it’s gone.

So like that safety net is gone. Now you’re telling me I will see you in six months. That’s a long time when I’ve been going to see you every single week, every other week, once a month kind of deal. And he looked at me and I love this guy to death. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. And he was like confused and he’s like written, like go back to life. And in my head, I was like, what does that mean? My entire life has changed. Like everything’s different. And that was it. There was nothing after that. So let’s go back to the tornado one more time. Survivorship is when the tornado’s done.

It leaves. And when a tornado is finished, the debris is everywhere and everywhere. And so now it’s like your life is in pieces all over the place and you need to go find all those pieces and figure out how it goes back together. And it doesn’t go back together the way it did before cancer and neither do you. And there’s like no support out there for that specific part . And so it’s like the what’s next? 

[00:12:28] Adam Walker: And it’s, I would imagine it would almost feel like a blank screen, like what, like it’s terrifying. 

[00:12:34] Ryn Sloane: Everything comes up. Right. Because like I said, in, in active treatment, you are just hanging on and trying to survive what you’re going through. You can’t be in a healing mode and a survival mode at the same time.. So when you do get to the end, it’s like everything hits the fan and now you’ve got to deal with it. And you don’t have to, but if you don’t you don’t move forward. So that’s where my program comes in. 

[00:13:05] Adam Walker: Wow. And so, I’d imagine that it’s different for every survivor, but like, what are there some commonalities that you believe survivors need to understand to truly heal and thrive?

[00:13:17] Ryn Sloane: Yeah. So, it definitely changes you. And I like to say that hopefully it softens you rather than it hardens you. . But it’s always a choice. You get a choice, and if you do choose to do the healing, that’s your responsibility. It’s work. People don’t wanna hear that part, but it is work. And if you choose to do the work, you get to come out of that in a whole different way. And you have the option to go through life completely differently and you change, right? But this is deep inner work that you have to do, or you can choose not to do it, but you don’t, the reflection of that decision is if you choose to do it, you have so much opportunity ahead of you, but you have to be willing to do the work. If you choose not to do it, you’re basically going to be stuck. 

[00:14:11] Adam Walker: Yeah. That’s great advice. So, so I guess you’ve done the work. How has it changed you? What, how has it changed you and what does your life look like now? 

[00:14:20] Ryn Sloane: I like to say that I try to let my inner five year old out as much as absolutely possible. I found, I rediscovered play and magic. I know that sounds cheesy, but that sounds awesome. It’s so fun. It’s really fun. 

[00:14:37] Adam Walker: Like, tell me more. Like, what do you mean by that? Like when you say playing magic, what does that mean? 

[00:14:42] Ryn Sloane: I live in a place of absolute joy and gratitude. And my life is not rainbows and sunshine every single day, but I know how to find the rainbow and sunshine every single day. I, definitely have changed. I don’t recognize who I used to be and I decided to take everything that I went through as, cancer being one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had. And I allowed it to teach me how to grow and evolve through it rather than be a victim through it. And I was able to see and experience life differently. Because I had gone through all the dark stuff. Does that make sense? 

[00:15:29] Adam Walker: Yeah, no, it totally does. I, yeah, I appreciate you sharing 


[00:15:33] Ryn Sloane: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I think no matter what we go through, even if you don’t go through cancer, I think so many adults, we lose that sense of play and magic. And it’s like, whoever signed this contract that when you turn 18 or 21 or whatever, it’s like, okay, you can’t have fun anymore, like, it’s super serious and stressful and it’s like, no thanks.

[00:16:00] Adam Walker: It doesn’t have to be, it doesn’t have to be. Okay, Ryn so what advice do you have for women that are going through their own breast cancer experience? And what do you want to empower them with? 

[00:16:11] Ryn Sloane: I love that word, empower. That’s everything I’m about. The first and most important thing that I want women to hear, and men, Is that there’s literally nothing wrong with you and you didn’t deserve anything with cancer, like none of us deserve cancer. I think it’s very common for us to feel like, what did I do to get this? I went through that too. What gave this to me? How did I do? What happened? Like, I think that’s a natural human reaction, but there’s literally nothing wrong with you. I, like I said, my biggest piece of advice to give to anybody would be to say, ask yourself, what can I learn from this?

Because, like you said, that’s where your power is. That’s where your power is. And when it comes to breast cancer specifically because there is that female component involved, and I’m not trying to exclude men, but on the biggest scale, when it comes to women specifically in breast cancer, there’s a part of our sexuality that gets removed.

If we go through the surgery and there’s not enough discussion about what that really is, like I only heard I think it was a year ago, somebody said,”M astectomies and amputation,” and that took me time to process because we don’t talk about it. . So I never thought of it that way. But once I started processing it, things made so much more sense to me, and so we lose a part of our body. We look different in the mirror, we feel different. And then there’s that intimacy factor with ourselves and with a partner. And these are huge issues that come up. So it is incredibly important to learn how to develop a compassionate relationship with yourself as a person and also your body.

And that’s, you got to start there before you can do that with another person, intimacy comes up a lot with me and trying to help people the relationship with ourselves and body. I can’t even stress how incredibly important it is and it’s difficult as women. Because even without cancer in the picture, we already have most of us, I’m being general, but most of us have a lot of issues around that because of the way that we grow up and the pressures that we’re under, so yeah, I’d say that’s the biggest thing. 

[00:18:44] Adam Walker: Ryn I love your advice. I really appreciate just what you’re doing for the world. If somebody wants to find out more about what you’re doing or connect with you or reach out or whatever else, like how would they find and connect with you?

[00:18:57] Ryn Sloane: I’m all over the internet. So I spend a lot of time on Instagram. I’m on TikTok. I’m on Facebook. I’m all under Ryn Sloane with an E. My website’s rynsloane.com. I love speaking with new people, helping you however I can. Just drop me a message on whatever platform is convenient to you. I absolutely love building relationships with people that I can help.

Yeah, that’s fantastic. And that’s Ryn, R Y N. I think everybody’s looking you up. So, 

[00:19:31] Adam Walker: Ryn, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us, to be vulnerable, to be real. And again, thank you for the work that you’re doing for this community. It’s so important. And I really admire the work that you’re doing.

[00:19:43] Ryn Sloane: Thank you so much.

[00:19:49] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org and for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, adamjwalker.com.