I am honored to have breast cancer advocate Samantha Harris joining me today!
Samantha is a best-selling author and prominent figure in the television world, having graced our screens as an Emmy Award-winning TV host. At age forty, her life took a shocking and unexpected turn when she received a breast cancer diagnosis, moving her far beyond the glamor of the entertainment industry.
In our conversation today, Samantha shares her remarkable story, explaining how her persistence and intuition guided her toward identifying and understanding ductal carcinoma. We discuss the value of seeking second and third opinions and why you should trust your intuition when navigating medical decisions. Samantha also sheds light on the critical role of raising awareness and empowering individuals in their healthcare journeys, and we examine the risk factors associated with breast cancer, looking at lifestyle choices and how they affect our health and well-being.
Samantha is a wellspring of hope and inspiration! I trust you will find my conversation with her as captivating and enlightening as I did while recording it!
“I always recommend to anyone who is diagnosed with anything to get second and third opinions. Don’t be afraid. You are not going to offend a doctor – and if you are, who cares? It’s your life. So get that second opinion, get that third opinion!”
– Samantha Harris
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- How Samantha made the leap into entertainment journalism
- Samantha dives into her journey to health after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis
- How her persistence allowed her to receive an earlier diagnosis
- How she learned to listen to her inner voice
- Why is it important to get second and third opinions on treatment options?
- What prompted Samantha to change her personal care products and makeup?
- Nutritional changes Samantha made that impacted her health the most
- The importance of taking things one step at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed when making changes
- How her exercise routine has changed over the last eight years
- Why is it essential to keep your body flexible?
- The three pillars that helped Samantha get through her illness
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
Check out Cynthia’s website
Submit your questions to
Connect with Samantha Harris
Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent, is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives. Today, I had the honor of connecting with Samantha Harris. She’s an Emmy Award winning TV host and bestselling author. She also received a shocking diagnosis at the young age of 40 of breast cancer. Today, we dove deep into her history. We spoke at great length about her persistence in intuition, guiding her diagnosis of ductal carcinoma, the value of second and third opinions, trusting your intuition, advocacy work, the role of risk factors for developing breast cancer, the impact of our lifestyle choices, and finding motivation when you are faced with a cancer diagnosis.
I hope you will enjoy our conversation as much as I did recording it.
Hi, Samantha, such a pleasure to reconnect with you. I’m really excited to interview you today for the podcast.
Samantha Harris: Well, you are someone I am always fangirling over because I have loved having you as a live guest expert for my wellness community. But in that process, being able to get to know you, read your book, always see all the amazing posts that you put on your Instagram through social media and really have helped me to tailor what intermittent fasting means for my life and how it can enhance my longevity. I know we’re going to dive into my health diagnosis and background, but all the reasons why it’s so important for me to be able to do that and then share with others.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. Thank you so much. I would love for you to share with listeners a bit about your background. So, it sounds like you grew up in a very close-knit family, went off to college. Did you know that you always wanted to lean into the visual arts, leaning into journalism, and ultimately being on stage?
Samantha Harris: It was in my blood, the moment I came out of the womb, my parents were performers in their blood, and my dad and mom together produced one of the country’s first Renaissance Festivals. It’s called King Richard’s Faire. It’s named after my dad, whose name was Richard, and my mom and sister still run it together 50 years later to this day. My dad produced all the rock concerts when I was growing up in Minneapolis. So, I literally grew up backstage, meeting the acts before the big shows, being around celebrity, also, I mean, yes, I was a young, impressionable girl, and it was amazing and exciting, but I think that helped when I became an entertainment journalist and my years on Dancing with the Stars, dealing with those celebrities. It became something that these were just people doing their jobs, and the job is to entertain. So, I think that helped a lot in my journalism career as well and being a celebrity in entertainment news journalist.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, and it’s interesting because the one thing that I’ve come to realize is that these individuals, they themselves are normal people and they really want to be treated as such. So, if you look at it that way, it takes some of the anxiety that I know I’ve experienced when I’ve met people that are pretty famous and I’m trying not to. I always say, “Don’t fangirl, don’t fan geek.” Just like keep it, try your very very best to stay really grounded and just treat them like anyone else. Oftentimes I’ve come to find people really appreciate that. I know for you, being a Midwesterner, having such a nice, down to earth, easy personality, I’m sure that probably contributed to a lot of the success that you had as you made that transition into journalism.
Samantha Harris: Thank you. Well, I hope it did. It’s a foundation that has been very important for me to hold onto, even though I’ve been in Los Angeles now for over a couple of decades and something to teach our girls too, as they’re growing up in this world of celebrity, you can’t throw a rock in Los Angeles and not hit a celebrity. So, of course, at their schools, they have celebrity’s kids and to try to treat each person as just that individual, that definitely I’ve held close to my heart for sure. Now, the interesting thing is I fangirl and geek out over wellness experts. So, in a transition that I know we’ll talk about with my career, I get so excited to talk to people like you, people like the seven times, New York Times bestselling author of XYZ Medical books and because they’re truly changing lives.
You are changing lives because you’re helping give us the tools necessary to have longevity. But not just longevity. We want to have able bodied sound of mind longevity, free of disease and illness and disability. That’s what I’ve turned my life into helping, even though people do, even though I still have my TV hat that is on over here some days and switching back and forth. But it’s my passion and my love.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, I can imagine. It definitely is conveyed. As I was doing research for our interview, watching you in different environments, how comfortable you are, and it’s genuinely comfortable. You don’t look like most of us awkward or uncomfortable. You genuinely are in this environment where you’re really thriving. You can really see all of your energy, which I was trying to explain to my husband that there are people that have infectious energy and yours comes through so easily and effortlessly on camera. I would imagine that that is something that’s innate, that’s not something per se that you are taught, whether it was a byproduct of nature, nurture, and growing up in your family and then leaning into journalism. So, let’s talk about you, you went to college, I believe, in Illinois and then made that leap into entertainment journalism and what was that like for you initially?
Samantha Harris: Well, first of all, when I was at Northwestern University, their journalism school was really intensive. So, I worked hard. The first two years you get trained as a journalist in all the basics so that everyone could write newspaper copy and then you go into your specific folk eye later on. So junior year, I started looking into journalism and I had worked at my high school TV station. I interned at Entertainment Tonight while I was in college. So, when I made that Beeline out to Los Angeles after graduation, I thought, “Okay, here I am. I’m in LA.” I always knew I wanted entertainment news, but there was also a part of me that thought I wanted to be an actor. The entertainment news jobs that exist now and the TV host personality jobs that exist now didn’t exist when I graduated in 1996.
So, because of that, I started to pound the pavement as an actor and auditioning and basically getting the doors slammed in my face again and again and again and again. So, when I started to then have more opportunities for TV hosting jobs, that started to percolate because more cable networks started to come to the forefront. They needed programming all day long. So, there you go they had all these shows. So, all of a sudden, I found that success with callbacks and booking jobs. So, my big network break was there was a show called The Next Joe Millionaire. It aired on Fox, and it was the second season they needed a new host, and so they brought me in and gave me the job, and I was the happiest person ever. Then I got my job at Extra and moved to E! News and started a little job at Access Hollywood and then eventually at Entertainment Tonight where I had interned.
So, it was very full circle. While I was at E! News is when I also got Dancing with the Stars. So, I was always juggling a fulltime entertainment news job the entire eight seasons I hosted Dancing with the Stars and then eventually was also at Entertainment Tonight and left Dancing to be at ET full time.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s really amazing. And for you, what are some of the significant changes you’ve seen over the last 15 plus years in terms of you mentioned that when you started that pounding the pavement in LA. That there weren’t those roles created. So, as this celebrity process has evolved, it’s really changed. I mean, social media has changed the way we look at news, the way that we communicate. What are some of the big shifts that you’ve seen? Probably good and bad? You’ve probably seen some great things and probably some things where you’re like, “Ooh, now we have access 24/7.”
Samantha Harris: Well, I remember two things. One, I remember when I was on The Insider, which was the sister show TET. I was hosting Dancing with the Stars at the same time. Twitter came out. Instagram really wasn’t there. Facebook was still that thing that you did to connect with people at home. I still didn’t have a Facebook account, but my job said, you need to have a Twitter account. I was like, “Well, who cares what I think about the weather today? Who cares what? I’m stuck in traffic and aggravated.” I thought it was so strange when people would have Twitter conversations with each other. If I want to talk to someone, I’m going to text them or call them. “Why does the entire world need to be privy to it?” That may have been the Minnesota girl in me. I just thought it was weird and silly and very self-serving.
I didn’t like that about social media. So, I stayed away except for what I had to do for my job, and I stayed away for a very long time. Then I started to realize as things shifted, the connections you could make with people organically and that’s what appealed to me. That’s what got me on Instagram, which is where I’m the most active. That’s what made me finally launch a public Facebook page. I’ve realized that as I especially transitioned into wellness, which we’re going to talk about, this was the way for me to be able to share my personal health journey. How I could then, what I learned from it, and how I could help other people. So then all of a sudden, it’s like the clouds parted, the sun came out, and I realized the miraculous amazement that social media could offer.
At the same time, it can be detrimental. Especially when you’re on TV and there are trolls and there are people who it doesn’t matter how nice you are, how happy you are, how good you are. There’s someone who’s going to say, “You are fat, you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re bad, you have no neck, you have weird muscles, you have a man’s voice.” I mean, the things I could tell you that I have heard. I think I’d already developed that thick skin from all the doors slammed to my face auditioning over the years. But when it comes from a person, even if that’s that person sitting on their couch at home in the dark, it hurt a little more. So, I had to learn a different type of thick skin to develop and not to say it doesn’t hurt some days still, but I try not to let it, especially with my kids I try to explain how we just have to let it roll out, over off our back and the people who really care about us are the ones whose opinions matter.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, absolutely. I would imagine your children are probably very protective of you. I know that I have boys and sometimes they’ll groan. If my team has put a post up, they’re like, “Why did they post that picture?” Now, they don’t want to be seen in photos. That’s like a new thing. [Samantha laughs] So, I have to talk about them tangentially, but they can be very protective. I know there have been times where trolls come through and much to your point, you do have to develop a thick skin because if everyone’s opinions every day bothered you, you would just never be able to function. So, I always say I take constructive feedback with a grain of salt, but the things that make me unique are the things that make me unique and same with you. So, it’s like I can’t change the way my voice is, I can’t change the way, I mean I am, who I am, unless I’m going to go to some extreme measure.
So, let’s talk about your health journey. We actually haven’t talked about breast cancer on the podcast before and it was one of the reasons why I felt really compelled to make sure that we shared your story. Because not everyone has a textbook case when they have that diagnosis. I know for you, you were persistent and you trusted your intuition and that really guided you forward and that persistence really was a gift, I think, based on what I know about your story.
Samantha Harris: It was the biggest gift and it was a gift I didn’t realize I was giving myself at the time. I was about to turn 40. My dad died of colon cancer when he was 50, which I’m now just a year away from. His mom was a breast cancer survivor postmenopausal, so about 62 when she got it, lived to 95. So, my daughters were three and six. I was turning 40. I thought, you know, I’ve heard about this mammogram thing, I should probably get a jump on it. Let’s set a baseline because I am more fit and healthier than I’ve ever been. So, that’s what you want to do, set that baseline so that way we know what to look for if there are changes. So, got the mammogram, came back, clean results, all clear, perfect, yay, go on my day.
Exactly eleven days later, I was changing after a workout. And you know those sports bras, they’re so constricting. So, you shift it to the left, you shift one to the right, you do a little circular motion and as I’m doing that thing with my boobage, there was this lump that was not there before that I hadn’t noticed. I thought, “Well that’s so strange, I just had a clear mammogram.” But I thankfully didn’t sit on that. I called my OB-GYN. Why did I call her? Well, first of all of all the doctors I’d ever been to over the years, she was the one who was always my go to. I’d been with her since I was 24. She was a non-alarmist and she was also the only one who really ever did a clinical breast exam on me on a regular basis. I guess my internist did every so often, but not as–
So, I called her. She said, “No worries. Come on in. Let’s look at it. That’s fine. You know what? Lumpy breasts that’s what 40 looks like. Welcome to 40.” So, I sat on that Cynthia I thought, “Okay, no big deal.” But a month later, the lump was still there. I said to my husband, “Not only can you feel this, but you can see it. I’m not crazy.” “No, no I definitely see it. It was protruding.” So, I saw my internist again, because how could it be cancer? I just had a clear mammogram. He did the same thing, quick clinical feel, and sent me on my way and said, “If you’re worried about it, we’ll keep an eye on it.” Then before I knew it Cynthia, it was the holidays and February is when I came back up for air. Yet that’s when I really started to listen to that inner voice.
It was nagging. It was actually not even just a quiet whisper, which sometimes we have to get so quiet. That’s where meditation and all the things that I thought people were so strange for doing now I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I need more of this in my life.” It’s so essential to the best health possible, is finding those mindfulness and the meditation. But I wasn’t getting quiet with myself because I was on a go, go, go speed demon train at all times at a breakneck pace. I finally listened to that inner voice because it was shouting at me. It said, “You have to go to someone who looked at breasts every day, who knows if something is wrong or not because how do these people know, these other great doctors in their own rights? How do they know from just feeling?” So, four months after I found that lump, I finally found myself in an oncologist office, because that’s the only expert who actually looks at breasts.
I had two ultrasounds in that one appointment, a needle biopsy, and it came back, and she said, you know, “Well, I don’t know what it is. You’re not crazy. It doesn’t look like cancer.” The needle biopsy said, “I have good news and bad news. Good news is it’s not cancer. Bad news is I don’t know what it is”. So, she suggested we do a lumpectomy and take it out. Again, woke up from surgery, and she even said, I would have never come back to me if I had been you, because all these doctors said, all these tests said no cancer. And yet you kept coming back. Thank goodness you did. Because Samantha, it turned out after that lumpectomy, a week after we found out it wasn’t nothing, the final pathology came back. And not only was it ductal carcinoma in situ, which is breast cancer contained within the duct not smart enough to get out, but there was also some invasive breast cancer on the margin and that’s what led to my– in that moment that cancer journey began.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s an incredible story and it’s the persistence. This is one of those things I know when I was still working in clinical cardiology in ER Med, I would have patients that would say, “I just knew something wasn’t right.” So, I found your story so inspiring because how many people quiet that inner voice or they just say, “Okay, well, I’m not ready to deal with this. I’m going to worry about it later.” But that persistence is probably what allowed you to get diagnosed in an earlier time period and has allowed you to live such a high quality of life and go on to inspire so many others to get their mammograms or to get their testing done. Do you feel like your dad’s experience, your experience with your father getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer, do you think that was in the back of your mind that that was driving some of that impetus to get evaluated and be persistent about it?
Samantha Harris: I think it definitely had something to do with it, even if it was just in my subconscious, because I felt like he had Crohn’s disease for many many years and struggled with that. I think that in some ways he may have stuck his head in the sand. I am him and my younger daughter is me and then him, like we are three peas in a pod. It is that constant wall to wall, go full speed ahead, walk into the room, take it by storm, Energizer Bunny, until you hit the wall and crash and then you do it all over again. He didn’t stop. He didn’t take the time. I don’t know if it’s because my girls were so little. I was lucky that even though he was 50, I just graduated from college two months beforehand.
So, I got to have a childhood with my dad present. So that, I think, was what was even more in my mind was I have to make sure I am here for my girls. He didn’t get to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I’ve got to be there for them and well beyond. Then my mom, who has always had, they always say, “Dr. Mom,” but she truly is. And even though she’s married now, my stepdad’s a retired surgeon, she is truly the doctor in the family. So, she kept in my ear saying, “Is that lump still there? Is it there?” But even when people around you say something, it is you who has to act. It was when I finally let that voice of her penetrate a little deeper so that I finally listened to myself and that’s what got me there. Thank goodness it did.
Cynthia Thurlow: So, you had your diagnosis and then how did you choose to proceed moving forward?
Samantha Harris: Great question. It became Cancer University. There’s so much information. A couple of things I did that I really always recommend to anyone who’s diagnosed with anything is to get second and third opinions. Don’t be afraid, make sure everybody’s happy. Don’t upset anybody. But you’re not going to offend a doctor. If you are, who cares? It’s your life. So, get that second opinion. Get that third opinion. The idea of three opinions that I like, it’s when you get three estimates right, there’s maybe that person in the middle, because if you have two diametrically opposed, then how do you decide? So, I, literally the next day, had a second oncology appointment and then a few days later a third. Because I realized, wait, we’re all three basing the diagnosis and the treatment plan on one set of pathology interpretation. I actually went to the hospital, picked up my slides and drove them to another hospital and had a second lab look at them as well.
They came up with the same results. So, at least we knew we’re proceeding with the correct information. I don’t think that’s necessary all the time, but I really wanted to be careful. Then when it came to radiation oncology opinions, I had two of those. I wanted to make sure when the treatment plan was the right plan. So, I ultimately chose a double mastectomy with two stage reconstruction. So, in 2014, I had three surgeries between my lumpectomy and those two surgeries. They were long recoveries, three weeks in bed, getting up only 20 minutes every hour and that was just because that’s how my particular plastic surgeon wanted me to heal. Other surgeons say, “Up out of bed right away. I want that.” So, it’s interesting to see how that is. But it is really important to find the team and assemble a team and the interviewing of doctors to make sure you have the people who you feel confident rolling into that surgery on that gurney that you are safe and taken care of.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think that’s really important for people. I know that working in clinical medicine, sometimes people are so scared that they make a knee jerk reaction and maybe the first person they speak to, maybe that is the right plan for them. But you don’t want to make a decision from a place of fear. You want to make a decision based on good information, feeling comfortable and confident when you have the opportunity to have a little bit of time. I mean, obviously if it’s an emergency and you have to make a quick decision that’s very different. Let’s talk a little bit about breast cancer in general, because when I looked at the statistics, I was actually surprised. I think a lot of people assume that most cases are genetically mediated, and that’s actually not the case.
Samantha Harris: I’m glad that you bring that up, because that is something that, as a national ambassador for Susan G. Komen, I have learned so much. First of all, one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, which is truly astounding. But what shocked me was that of the one in eight women, only five to 10% are actually genetic. So, here I was with– there was a colon cancer, breast cancer connection. So, I thought, “Well, my dad with colon cancer, his mom with breast cancer surely, it’s genetic” and it wasn’t. I’ll tell you I actually just did 150 genetic tests as a follow up to the 80 that I’d done when I was initially diagnosed. Still no connection, no hereditary link. So, as the journalist in me found that information out, I thought, “Well, gosh, I don’t understand this.
Then why are so many of us getting breast cancer? I began to research and speak to as many experts as I can, and I learned what you well know and profess so beautifully to all of your listeners, which is it is what we put in, on, and around our body that affects our overall wellbeing, that turns on or leaves off certain genetic makeup. So, the epigenetics of it, how we live our life makes a difference. Is it going to account for every possible disease out there? No. Are there potential breast cancer diagnoses that have nothing to do with epigenetics and nothing to do with hereditary? Absolutely. But if you can fall in that 80% or so, that could have changed because of how you’re living your life without making yourself crazy, because that drives up your cortisol, and you don’t want that stress happening that leads to disease. That’s where it matters.
Those were the changes that I began to make in, on, and around my body. After I did so much research, I thought, “Well, gosh, I need to share this. I need to share this with people because I’m a journalist, so I research. That’s part of my job.” But who has the time to go do all this research and speak to experts or have access to those experts? So that’s why I wrote my book, Your Healthiest Healthy, because I had to find my healthiest healthy. I thought I was healthy and I wasn’t truly.
Cynthia Thurlow: What were some of the initial changes that you made that you feel like were probably the most impactful?
Samantha Harris: Well, so the gateway drug for me was the gateway product or type of product that got me into making changes about what was on my body. I spent my career in a makeup chair being shellac with chemical bombs of ingredients that I didn’t realize were potential carcinogens or sometimes known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins. So, I made some of the changes in my makeup. First, it started actually with deodorant and even though the school of thought on medical experts agreeing that aluminum does lead to breast cancer or toxicity, our bodies need to sweat. So, when we are keeping ourselves from sweating, we’re keeping those toxins in. So, that was a good place to start. Then I started with foundation, because skin being the biggest organ, that was an easy swap. I could start using something that– and they fully– look, in all the years since I’ve been diagnosed, the number of companies, wonderful smaller brands that have clean ingredients that are free of the– There are, as you know, more than 2400 chemical ingredients banned in the EU, and many pretty much the same number in Japan. And the US only bans 30. We only banned about 11 until a few years ago. So, our FDA isn’t watching out for us, so we have to watch out for ourselves. So, making those changes and eventually now all my skincare is clean. All my makeup, my hair care, my cleaning supplies in my house. But it’s so overwhelming and we spend so much money on all of those products that the idea of throwing them out right away is also scary. So, I just say small manageable steps, start with your foundation and go from there. But nutrition had to probably be the biggest change. I didn’t realize and I know we may have a little bit of disagreement on this because I know you eat animal products more often than I do. But I ate animal products, animal protein, breakfast, lunch and dinner, 21 out of 21 meals a week.
What that also did was it probably minimized the amount of produce I was eating and plant-based foods. So, when I flipped my plate and I started to fill my plate, or have the goal of filling my plate at least half full of veggies at every meal, that made a profound change in my life. When I started to add in healthy fats, I was afraid of fat because I grew up in like, as we both did that, the fat free low-fat generation that was detrimental to so many Americans health overall and led to the obesity epidemic. So, when I started adding in nuts and seeds and avocado and healthier oils, extra virgin olive and coconut, then I started to actually gain more energy, which I know seems crazy because I know [crosstalk] [Cynthia laughs] but I didn’t have that 03:00 PM crash. I didn’t have that putting the kids to bed at eight and wanting to fall asleep with them.
I could go wall to wall all day and have the energy I needed, the vibrance, the energy, the zest for life. Then I also found that, and I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I was at a very happy weight. But I found that I willed my waistline a little bit more, I toned up even more. Then during COVID, I started intermittent fasting because I had my kids homeschooling by the time I got my workout in on an empty stomach because I didn’t like working out on a full stomach and go to start making my smoothie, which was a huge change from what I used to have for breakfast with my cereal and milk and whey protein mixed in or my yogurt, which was laden with lots of chemicals because I didn’t at least know to find organic grass fed plain yogurt and add in my fruits and whatever else.
So, I would then go to make my smoothie, but then it was recess for my little one and then I finished with that and I realized, “Okay, I’m going to finish making my smoothie, but now I have to make lunch.” So, it was all of a sudden, probably noon before I was actually sipping my smoothie and I started to feel even more energized and amazing. I came across you and learned all about what you talk about and then I realized the benefits of intermittent fasting. I didn’t know we had to at least make our bodies rest for a minimum of 12 hours a day and so those are a lot of the changes that I started to make.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, and I think for anyone that’s listening, I always say that one step at a time. I always think about things like when we’re talking about personal care products, deodorant, body lotion, toothpaste, things that get a lot of our oral microbiome or our mouth is very vascular so I always think that’s a good way to think about it. But not changing everything all at once I think is a really important message because it’s so overwhelming. It took me a long time. The nutrition piece was easy for me, changing the personal care products was hard. I had spent years using, I think it was like Dove prescription strength antiperspirant deodorant. I remember the first time I was perspiring underneath my arms. I was like, “Wait a minute, I’m not supposed to do this.” Then I now feel like I spent all those years blocking my sweat glands. What was I thinking?
I think for so many of us, it’s whatever dogmatic principles we’re exposed to when we’re younger, we embrace. I think it’s so important to consider that we may not have all the answers and certainly navigating, making different changes, or making changes. You mentioned the cleaning products piece? Yes. That can all get very expensive. Although I’ve come to realize that things like vinegar and water can be super effective. My mom used to clean our windows with vinegar and water. I say all the time like we just go back to basics that sometimes we overcomplicate or the processed food industry and/or the cleaning industry really overcomplicates things. So, we’re not fully aware that we don’t necessarily need to be using bleach and we don’t necessarily need to be using a lot of these products that are not exactly hospitable to our environment and can make us sick if we’re exposed to them.
Samantha Harris: Well, and you mentioned that about cleaning supplies and so I’ve now had an opportunity to– not only do I also use the distilled white vinegar pretty much for the majority of my cleaning, but I’ve also found some really great brands and people can DM me anytime. I have a list of a lot of my favorite, whether it’s skincare or cleaning supplies, nutritional supplements. But what I found is actually there are some really great brands out there that are cost effective and that also lasts a long time because they’re so concentrated. So, it is now thankfully possible to do it on a budget. I think the bigger pushback I get is more with food. Well, how do I eat healthfully and how do I eat organic produce if it costs more? And so, lots of tips and tricks about that and how to get around that too.
When you maximize your plant-based proteins and you minimize your animal proteins, even if you’re choosing to have animal making sure the quality is of course the cleanest possible, the organic, the grass fed, the pasture raised, and then also you don’t need the quantity that we are raised to believe. We need that 12-ounce steak front and center. No, it may be two-ounce portion. It’s really, the smaller bit of that is going to also help the cost over time really be able to make up for the differential.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and it’s interesting because I encourage when people have that cost concern, which I’m certainly sensitive to, encouraging people to eat seasonally. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I like blueberries. So yes, I have some blueberries in my fridge, but leaning into apples, pears, squash, things that are seasonal based on what time of the year it is. You live in California where it’s warm and sunny most of the year, but really going to your farmers markets, really getting a sense for what’s in season generally tends to be less expensive if it doesn’t have to be flown in from, let’s say the blueberries I’m eating were flown in from Chile. That cost gets passed along to consumers buying frozen vegetables or frozen fruit. I mean, those are definitely things with teenagers I have to do because they eat so much, voluminous. I’m not sure if your daughters are at that stage yet, but the voluminous amount of food that my kids consume is just to stay on top of it necessitates we have some frozen. Frozen things are probably flash frozen and thrown into a bag, but at least accessible so that you’re getting varieties of different types of food throughout the year.
Samantha Harris: Yes, we’re huge fans of the Costco. They say there’s so much organic. All the big box stores now offer a lot more organic because the demand from consumers is getting higher. Again, I feel really lucky to have a farmers market every Sunday all year round living in California, it’s a godsend.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, we get probably about six or seven months and then it goes into hibernation and then it comes back out again. But it’s definitely something that we really enjoy and being in a new city, getting used to new vendors and new kombucha people and stuff like that. But touching back on breast cancer, because I found this interesting, some of the more common risk factors, now obviously these didn’t apply to you, but when we’re looking at the almost 300,000 new cases that come out every year, in your research, what were some of the more common risk factors for developing breast cancer? And again, at that higher level, like broad generalizations.
Samantha Harris: Sure. Again, there is the family history part of it, but as we talked about is a smaller portion. Obesity is– with every chronic disease, we know this is a huge underlying cause because the obesity of epidemic is so broad, and it is something they feel that is under our control. But obesity is an underlying factor of breast cancer risk. Consumption of alcohol, so there is no safe known limit of alcohol when it comes to breast cancer. Aceto-alcohol, which is in alcohol, is a known carcinogen. It’s hard because people say, “Well, wait a second, what about the whole thing about heart disease, which is still the number one killer of women. And the red wine. So, the resveratrol in that, the polyphenols in red wine, first of all, we can get them in other ways or you can try to limit it– and it has to be a high-quality red wine.
I like red wine. My red wine is actually a grape juice that they use for Jewish holidays called Manischewitz and it is not red wine, it is just pure sugar. Talk about a glucose spike. So, really being careful of what you’re choosing and maybe minimizing it to three glasses a week. So that’s something, so alcohol. Another thing when it comes to it is stress, because we know that stress is– when we have chronic stress and it leads to those high levels of cortisol circulating at all times. Stress is a precursor to so many diseases and that inflammation that it leads to. So, being able to mitigate your stress and find different tools to be able to have mindfulness stress relief, yoga, meditation, tai chi, and qi gong, even just a walk-in nature, anytime you can connect to nature and then also human interaction.
So, connecting to people having that socialization also is really helpful when it comes to stress reduction and lowering your chronic inflammation. So, obesity, inflammation, alcohol, and then we have a lot of endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system, of course, is what brings out our higher or lower levels of estrogen and all the other hormones in our body. So, when we have estrogen mimicking foods or estrogen mimicking products that are basically those endocrine disruptors, layer after layer in our makeup, our skincare in those products, and ingredients in our foods that are endocrine disruptors. So, that then elevates our risk as well. So, when we can mitigate that by really figuring out where they’re coming from in your life and that’s a big part of it is just uncovering. I’m not saying change anything right now. Just go on an exploratory mission and start reading your ingredients labels both in your products and in your foods and then start to go from there.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think that’s so helpful because some of these things obviously are in our control. Obviously, I had Dr. Tracy Gapin on last year talking about the role of why so many men have low testosterone. The number one reason is because of this exposure to these estrogen mimicking chemicals. So, it’s not just an issue for women to worry about. It’s an issue for men as well. We both have teenagers and so it’s a huge concern of mine as well. So, just being cognizant of what we’re using on our bodies, what we’re using at home, what kinds of makeup, as you mentioned, that can be a sticking point for a lot of people. What’s interesting is that as I was kind of navigating towards making healthier makeup choices, I started realizing if I got in a pinch and I had to buy something at the grocery store because I was traveling, I forgot my mascara.
My skin has gotten so sensitive to those chemicals that I can’t use the cheap mascara anymore. It bothers my eyes. It must be the off gassing of chemicals. So, I think as you’re transitioning towards cleaner things, we don’t have dryer sheets. We don’t use scented laundry detergent. It’s interesting, my oldest is a football player, and so the team moms will wash their jerseys in between games. So, they take their jerseys off and they get washed. I was telling my son, I was like, “You smell like fabric softener.” He was trying to explain to his friends, it took five or six washings of this T shirt to get the fabric softener out, and I actually had to wash it separately. But we don’t realize that these chemicals get embedded in the fabric and the fibers, and so it can take time to actually wash it back out.
So just understanding that this cumulative exposure is what we’re talking about and understanding that you don’t have to make all those changes right up front, it can be gradually over time.
Samantha Harris: Well, I think one thing too that I hear a lot not just from my personal, private clients, but also my wellness community, is that there’s that fear of the switch. The fear of the switch, of, “Well, gosh, I’m going to give up what works or I’m going to give up what I love and whether it’s from switching from your breakfast cereal or your grits and bacon and pancakes to a smoothie every day, that seems fearful.” If it’s a matter of switching, “Wait, all of a sudden, I don’t have dryer sheets.” What are you talking, I don’t have– They’re thankfully really great alternatives first of all. There’s also the ability to adapt in a way that now I can’t imagine not having– Actually, when I go out of town and I don’t have a blender and I don’t have access to my smoothie, I literally jones for it because I know how much better I feel when I have it and it’s filled with all the goodness in it that I add.
So, it’s the greens and this chia, and the flax, and the matcha, and my ginger, and my protein powder, all these different things or with the dryer sheets, there are actually– so I use, maybe you do too, wool dryer balls, and I can put some essential oils, so if you feel like you want that scent. Also, there are some really great clean brands out there for laundry that actually can give you a wonderful scent, but fragrance itself. If you go to the Environmental Working Group’s site, anyone who’s listening, it’s a nonprofit, it has wonderful resources, but ewg.org offers a rating, a 1 to 10 rating, and things that are clean are a 1 or 2. Things that are highly toxic are a 9 or 10. Well, fragrance is a 9. So red flag alert. If a company like any of the big brands, when it comes to laundry detergents and laundry softeners and all of that laundry stuff, they don’t have to actually disclose it at all. They don’t have to put one ingredient on the label, which is astounding to me. So, you know that if you’re buying something from a company that’s being transparent and letting you know, hopefully already they’re far ahead of the game and they’re pretty clean, but you can then go even further and check their ingredients on EWG’s website.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, it’s a great resource. They have the app skin deep, so I oftentimes will encourage people to download it to their phone so they can get a sense. I always say picking your poison, so get informed and trying to find healthier alternatives. So, your lifestyle right now, obviously, you’re really leaning into these plant-based foods. I know you’re an avid exercise, but has your exercise regimen changed over the last eight years or since the pandemic? I know that you do a lot of workouts at home?
Samantha Harris: I do. I do. So, I used to always go to the gym pre-pandemic and maybe get in a hike on the weekends or maybe yoga on the weekends at home. But yes, so, now I have not been back into a gym, and the majority of my workouts are either in my house or out and about. So, I’m either biking, hiking, or walking or running or I’m doing a kickboxing workout. I’m actually trying to integrate even more yoga now into my daily routine or at least my weekly routine because I’m realizing as I’m now just shy of 50, that the tightness that I’m feeling needs to stop. I was gumby back in the day when I was dancing and able to be flexible and now, I just feel so tight. As we get older, we need that flexibility in those joints even more. So, adding that back in and making sure the strength training is always there.
I tend to like to combine my strength training with cardio, so I get a little bit of maybe a HIIT exercise just to, again, rather that I just get bored with just straight strength training. But it’s really important to at least get those two days of strength training a week. How has it changed since cancer? Mostly in the intrinsic motivation versus the extrinsic motivation. I wanted to look good in a dress. I wanted to have my arms look sculpted and muscular while I was standing next to a pro-dancer on Dancing with the Stars. It was always about outward appearance. When I was blindsided by this breast cancer diagnosis and my whole perspective shifted, exercise became about what can my body do for me? How can it carry me through life longer? Keeping that energy. I want to be able to run after my grandkids and get up and down off the floor.
So, functional movement exercise has come into play a little bit more, balance exercises. So, I think it’s more about that and then always changing it up. Changing it up to keep my body guessing, keep my mind engaged, and then also to ideally eliminate or reduce the chance of overuse injury.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, I think that’s really important and it’s interesting. Years ago, when I worked in this clinical cardiology practice, we used to talk to our patients about just being physically active and lifting weights. The one thing that I really took away from cardiology is even in our blood vessels, we need flexibility. So, the flexibility work that you mentioned, your fascia gets tight, which is the connective tissue that overlies our muscle. So, very common to see that if we’re not as physically active or we’re not stretching our bodies, how important flexibility work is. This is why I feel like yoga, as an example, does a little bit of both. I mean, it’s good for mindset, but it’s also good for stretching and flexibility and it’s an area that I constantly have to work on because my natural inclination is I’d rather go for a hike or I’d rather go to the gym and lift, or I’d rather do a workout from home.
But the thing, I really need to be doing is the thing I oftentimes avoid doing and to tie things up for everyone. How do you work on your mindset because you are such a positive person, you are such a joyful person, and because I’ve interacted with you so many different times, you’re always consistently that individual. For people who are maybe struggling with a diagnosis or struggling with an illness or are just feeling like they’re struggling with motivation, how do you help coach people through that process? Or what would you say to them to encourage them to think beyond right now, to be thinking long term, to be thinking about what they can be doing tomorrow to help themselves over time?
Samantha Harris: Well, I think that’s one of the most important lessons I learned through my cancer journey. I, as you said, is always a very happy go lucky, half glass, full person. Cancer struck that down for a little bit and it scared me. It scared me to feel that way. It scared me to be riddled with anxiety that I had never felt before. I mean, literally, I could feel the vibration coursing through my body, the elephant on my chest. It was overwhelming. I knew that I couldn’t continue to feel that way. This was soon after my diagnosis. Something within me said, I have to flip my perspective. I have to get out of this. So, I’ve developed a set of tools that have really gotten me through not just breast cancer, but earthquakes that scare the bejesus out of me to the pandemic and figuring out, okay, how am I going to deal with this? How are we going to be stuck in our homes for all these months? What’s going to happen next? Fearful of going out, developing a new level of anxiety, interacting back in society.
So, the tools are a couple. Control what you can control and I’ll elaborate on each. Control what you can control, worry when you have to worry, and positive self-talk. These are the three most important tools that I have been able to develop and share with others to get me through and get others through hard times, challenges, diagnoses, and so on. So, control what you can control, literally, is we can only control our effort and our actions and our reactions. So, I couldn’t control that I had a breast cancer diagnosis at that point. It was there, here it was in front of me. What could I control? Well, I could control my perspective as each thing came at me next.
Could I focus on the positive, not looking through rose-colored glasses and pretending nothing was going on, but how could I find the positive in each thing, and that will jump to positive self-talk in a moment. Also, what could I control? Well, I could control how I tackled my next stage of life, and that is how I became my healthiest healthy. I could control without becoming too obsessive, because that has its negative side. I could control how I was eating, how I was living my life through exercise, adding stress management techniques in, changing up my makeup routine, what products I was using in my home that’s what I could control. Worry when you have to worry. This one’s a big one. So, with this cancer diagnosis now, of course, anything that percolates, anything that pops up on my body, that’s exactly where my mind goes.
There’s a growth on my head. It’s cancer. My lymph nodes in my groin are enlarged. It’s cancer. Thank goodness all those things turned out not to be. But those were things that have happened since my diagnosis. I had to take that breath and say, “Okay, there’s going to be plenty of time to worry if that diagnosis comes through and then we’ll deal with it at that point.” But right now, we worry about so many things that never, thank goodness, come to fruition, whether it’s worrying about your kids’ safety, wherever they’re going, because of course, as moms, we can never turn that off or worrying about the next job, or worrying about the payment of the bill. Then you take the action steps that you can control to get into that. So, worry when you have to worry when it comes to diagnosis and not sticking your head in the sand.
Then positive self-talk has been one of also the biggest steps. So, here I was with a diagnosis. What was good in the situation? Okay, well, I had to dig deep and then I realized, “Well, I’m in otherwise really great shape and good health that’s going to get me through all of these surgeries and recoveries better.” The fact that I exercise regularly will allow me to have less risk of complications in surgery and recover faster. I have a positive support network. I have great family, great insurance. So, then when you start to have that positive self-talk, it begins to flow even more and that’s where gratitude journals can really come into play and help us as well when we start that gratitude practice or even just gratitude in mindfulness while you’re out on the street and you’re on a walk, that little puppy was adorable and gave a look at you. Okay? I’m grateful that I got to see that pretty puppy or the fact that the sun is shining. I’m grateful for the sun shining and finding that gratitude as well adds into that positive self-talk. So those are my three main pillars to getting me through.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s amazing. This has been such an incredibly inspiring conversation. Samantha, please let my listeners know how to connect with you, how to get your book, connect with you on social media, learn more about your retreats.
Samantha Harris: I love being able to reach out one on one and talk to people. So, I’m very active on Instagram @samanthaharristv like television. It’s the same on Facebook at SamanthaHarristv. Then also samantha-harris.com is how you can find my retreats, my subscription-based wellness community, where each week I do a live coaching session, a live workout that I lead, and I bring in a live guest expert like Cynthia and many others as well, who have been phenomenal and you get that live interaction and Q&A as well.
Cynthia Thurlow: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure reconnecting with you.
Samantha Harris: You always, thank you.
Cynthia Thurlow: If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe, and tell a friend.