Categories
Mindset power to persevere

10 Weeks to Perseverance

Within us, all of us, is the ability to shift the lens through which we interpret and experience our world. Regardless of individual circumstances, it is possible to strive for peace and serenity. We must come to terms with our circumstances and accept that the unexplainable and unfathomable battles we face are a constant test of our faith. In order to truly confront what we cannot control, we must also trust. Trust that the quality of the life we experience and our ongoing legacy is far more powerful than our pain. — Alexa Cucchiara, Power to Persevere

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In honor of my first book publication, Power to Persevere, I am creating a 10-week blog series filled with short excerpts from my work. Each week I will be revealing one of my top ten favorite ways I have and continue to persevere. The reason why I wrote Power to Persevere was to create a book I wish I had to read when I was going through my most challenging moment: beating cancer. This helped me discover tools we can use during dire circumstances to help us get out of a rut. We are all faced with a challenge, but it is the way that we face these confrontations that dictate the way we proceed to live.

These next ten weeks are going to be my little guide to help you conquer your battle and overcome any challenging moment that is presented to you. They helped me and I know they will help you too.

Stay tuned.

With love,

AC

Connect with me!

Instagram: @alexacuc

Email: alexacucc@gmail.com

Categories
Life

Changing Paths Half Way Through College

Ciao amici, I wanted to repost some of the questions I had with my interview with the platform called The Power Thread. It walks through my journey in life in college. I was born and raised in Manhattan, moved to Poughkeepsie for two years for school, and found my way back home where I had to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This led me to transfer schools, find my way writing a book, and overall change the direction of my life.

Life changed for the best, and I hope this helps you going through your battle as well. Read more below!

Alexa, where are you from?

I’m from Manhattan: Manhattan-born and raised.

Where did your interest in art start?

I was born an artist and creative. I used to create collages out of pasta and pompoms or cut paper into shapes that would form into shirts and dresses I could wear around my home. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I took classes at SVA, The Art Students League of New York, and at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In high school, my art was published in a book, and I was the winner of an art show. I even started the fashion club at my high school and began my own jewelry business, known as One Twist Co. The jewelry company was accidental. I made a ring for myself and a friend and posted it on Instagram. People started to place informal orders, which then influenced me to scale it and launch my own ecommerce store. I was able to take my creativity and tie it with my entrepreneurial spirit. It was a cool way to build something that I had total ownership over.

Where did you first go to college, and why?

I went to Marist College to primarily study business and fashion. After getting a feel of how to run a business in high school, my interest for business developed along with my interest in the fashion industry.

When were you diagnosed with cancer, and how did you come about your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed the first week of what was supposed to be my junior year at Marist College back in 2017. From the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel right. I was experiencing unexplainable anxiety, fatigue, and night sweats. I didn’t think much about it, but I knew something was wrong as soon as a lymph node the size of a golf ball popped up above my collar bone. This is when I started to dig deeper. Although all of the tests I went through came back negative, I proceeded to search for an answer. I scheduled a biopsy, and a week later when the pathology report came back, it was confirmed that I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I had to start chemotherapy right away.

What was your reaction to being diagnosed with cancer?

I saw cancer take my grandfather’s life, so I thought I also was going to die.  I was 19 years old and was not ready to fight for my life at such a young age. I was angry, shocked, and upset.  I ate healthy and exercised daily, so this diagnosis did not make sense. It took a long time to process everything, but with time, I realized that cancer was my greatest blessing. It happened for, not to, me. Although it was going to be the most challenging time of my life, I used it as an opportunity to discover who I was meant to be on this earth. Through faith I persevered.

What were some of the largest challenges of going through chemotherapy?

When I found out I was diagnosed, I didn’t understand the complexity of my situation. After having five procedures within the first month of my diagnosis, I came to terms with reality and took a leave of absence from school for the year. The first thing that I battled with was leaving behind my friends and academic career. I was always a diligent worker and putting a pause on everything I worked so hard to achieve was discouraging.

Before treatment started, I also cut all of my hair off and donated it in the event that I was going to lose it all. I am so happy I did this because, after my second treatment, my hair on my scalp started to fall out in clumps, and I had to shave it all off. It was really difficult to watch myself go through this dramatic physical change.

What were some activities you did to manage the stress of this experience?

I mainly resorted to painting to destress and free my mind. It was a good way to express my emotions onto canvas. I also made sure I went on walks and got fresh air every day, even if it was just for ten minutes. I read many self-help books, watched pastors and spiritual coaches speak about their perspective of life on YouTube, and listened to motivational podcasts on Spotify, my favorite being Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday.

When did you learn you were cancer free, and what did you learn from going through chemotherapy?

Half way through chemotherapy I had scans to make sure that the treatment was working. The scans were clear, but I still had to undergo the remaining four treatments to steer clear of everything.

I learned a lot about myself throughout this season of my life. I now know my values, what is worth fighting for, and who I want to be going forward in life. I do not take anything for granted, health included, and count my blessings and pray every day.

After going through treatment, I have also become much more compassionate and built so much resilience and confidence. Nothing scares me anymore. There were times I was crawling on the floor because I was so weak, and moments I wanted to die. I knew that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so I placed my faith in God to keep my spirits high. It worked.

I always think to myself, “if I can beat death, I can do anything.”  And the truth of the matter is, anyone can do anything. Remember, challenging moments are meant to mold and shape you. In order to grow, you have to go through pain. It is when you start to believe and trust in the pain that you will persevere. The best is yet to come, just have faith!

Are you still facing challenges? 

Healing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and a lot of patience, maybe even a lifetime. It has only been two years since I have been out of treatment. Even though it is over, I’m reminded of everything I went through every time I see the scars on my body. Instead of being ashamed of them, I now look at them with pride. In general, changing my perspective is what has helped me reclaim my life back. And, two years out, I finally feel like my old self again. My hair is almost as long as it was before treatment, and I can finally engage in physical activities that I enjoyed prior to this all. I was definitely born again, and I am excited to see what life will bring me next.

When did you transfer to Fordham?

I transferred to Fordham the year I ended treatment. Although it was a very spontaneous decision, I knew that continuing my academic career closer to home was going to serve me best. It was very scary for me to start this new chapter of life in an unfamiliar environment, but I looked at it as another chance to experience growth.

How did you decide to write a book?

The thought of writing a book started while I was going through treatment. At first, my friends and I would joke around about it, but there was always this little voice in the back of my head that kept encouraging me to share my perspective, wisdom, and story with a wider audience. I had a casual phone interview with someone for a book, and I was then connected to their publisher. It wasn’t until this past February that I really focused on writing it. I recently had it published on December 2, 2019.

What does it mean for you to be powerful?

Taking control of your life and listening to your intuition is what makes you powerful. I think life is a gift and should be lived through the purpose that it was given. You may not exactly know your purpose right away, but if you keep trying new things, you will find it. Any challenge and experience will help you discover who you are and what you’re meant to do. When listening to my intuition, I started to understand my life’s purpose. I knew I needed to help others, and the way I was going to do that was through my word. This is why I decided to write a book. During moments of doubt, I would ask myself how I would live if I were to die tomorrow. I knew that I would have at least wanted to leave something that others could learn from. When I started living from my heart and out of fear, I reclaimed my power.

Do you have a favorite product or item you love that makes you feel powerful?

I made myself a gold shark tooth necklace when I was going through chemotherapy to remind myself that I was a warrior. Everytime I wear it, I remember my moments of strength and feel powerful.

Do you have any other favorite books you recommend we read?

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, And Making Miracles by Marianne Williamson are my two favorites!

Categories
Food

GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN, CLEAN CAKE RECIPE

CAKE: 1.5 cups of oat flour

2 flax eggs: 2 tbsp ground flax+4 tbsp water

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1/2 cup coconut oil

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup boiled cold season @yogitea

350^•F for 25-30 mins

FROSTING: 1/2 cup apple sauce + 3 tbsp cocoa powder

Inspired by @wellnesswithsoph ❤

Categories
Healing Life

What I Learned from my Health Crisis

If you have read before in my other blog posts or in Power to Persevere: Inspiring Stories to Help You Get Through Challenging Moments, when I was 19 years of age, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A few days after I turned 20, I had to undergo chemotherapy for a few months. It was rough, and I questioned the meaning of my life. Deep down I knew that this was here to teach me a lesson and make me grow. Sure to say, this is very much true. I am three years out of treatment and feel like a completely different person. Here is what I have learned:

  1. You are stronger than you thought.
    1. No matter how many times I wanted to call quits on treatment and give up, I found the strength in me to keep going. “If I got through chemotherapy and faced and beat death, I can do anything.” I think this to myself anytime I am in a rut. If you are a survivor, you can do anything.
  2. Your diagnosis does not define you.
    1. Your health battle is not all of you. It is part of who makes you who you are, from the lessons learned to your character development.
  3. Vulnerability helps you understand your truth, feel comfortable with who you are, and inspire others.
    1. Opening up about my journey has only helped in the healing process, but has allowed for me to find a community. More and more people have connected with me on a deeper and more meaningful level. My new connections have fueled and sparked others to find purpose and strength in their painful seasons in life.
  4. Tomorrow is not promised. Every single day is a blessing.
    1. Stay present and count your blessings each day, even the subtle nuances.
  5. Remember that everything happens for a reason.
    1. It happens FOR you. Life is not perfect, but the lessons learnt from your battle will develop your character and make you a stronger person. Trust the process.
  6. Your physical appearance does not define you.
    1. Losing my hair and becoming disassociated with my body from treatment and scars was tough to overcome. With time, I was able to heal from these physical limitations. My hair grew back and my scars started to fade. I use them as a sign of strength now.
  7. The things you were once worried about before will no longer bother you.
    1. On the topic of scars, I do not care about them anymore. It took me a very long time to get over them, but I feel like as time passes, the trivial things we were once worries about do not matter anymore.
  8. Money does not buy happiness.
    1. During treatment, I would receive so many gifts and cards. It made me feel so special and blessed, but I realized that even during my toughest days there was nothing that would make me feel good. What got me through my troubling time was not these tangible monetary items, rather my mindset, relationships and genuine conversations, and my connection to God.
  9. Celebrate the small wins.
    1. Recovering from chemotherapy was ROUGH. I believe that healing is a forever journey as you adjust to your new normal. Instead of complaining about how I was unable to do certain activities or feel a certain way, I wish that I tried to stay more positive and celebrate my small wins like not feeling nauseous 24/7, being able to stand up and walk, reversing brain fog, and seeing my hair grow.
  10. Find the subtle beauty in life.
    1. What is beautiful to me is a representation of God’s blessings. Like never before, I am able to connect to and enjoy watching the trees sway in the wind, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, seeing ocean waves crash on the shore, and finding grace in watching birds fly across the sky. Yes, this sounds very cliché, but it is true. These small things bring me joy. They remind me of the notion of life. We are all connected and moving in symphony together.
  11. Don’t dwell on what you do not have, rather think about your blessings.
    1. Where your energy goes, attention flows. I cannot remember where I heard this saying, but I know it to be true. Whenever I place my energy on something that brings me stress, I fall down a rabbit hole of continuing to create more and more anxiety around it. When I catch myself doing this, I try to reframe my perspective and see what I do have in replacement to that of which brings me down.
  12. Surround yourself with people who lift your spirits high and make you want to soar.
    1. I cannot express this one enough. It is so important to find a community and support group that will uplift you. Let go of toxic relationships and create space to invite new souls into your life.
  13. Take it slow and easy.
    1. Be patient and take each day as it comes. Try not to put pressure on yourself to try to be the person who were before the crisis. Learn how to live in your new body. It is okay to have a new normal.
  14. Eat a balanced diet and avoid food that does not make you feel good.
    1. You are what you eat. Limit processed foods and eat fresh and clean. Be careful of what you nourish your body with, thoughts and actions included.
  15. Move every single day.
    1. Go on a walk, do yoga, and find what makes you energized. Do not over do it on your good days because you might not be used to the activity level and might not feel well the next day. Take it slow and do not put too much pressure on yourself.
  16. Connect with God.
    1. There is something out there that is larger than us. Something that we cannot explain. I have personally experienced it, and have also heard of many similar stories from friends, family members, and other sources. Once you realize and know that a higher power, you can invite that white healing light energy into your life and experience slow healing. You feel less alone and know that there is some special power guiding you every step of the way. You just have to tap in and ask for help; you will receive.
  17. Journal is key when you need help.
    1. Journaling allows me to get my thoughts and feelings out on paper. I release them from my brain and feel like I have more head space. If I do not get my thoughts onto paper, I feel as if they have no where to go and they continue to clutter my mind.
  18. There is no linear path.
    1. Every single experience is different. My experience will be different from yours. We cannot put a timeline on when we want to feel a certain way. The best thing is to make a goal list and take actionable steps. Do not put pressure on what you do not have. Release the thought and feeling associated with what you lack, and small blessings will start to perpetrate.

23. Getting Over a Racing Mind, Learning How to De-stress and Become Zen in Business with Tom Hine CIAO AMICI, Let's Talk

Tune in and listen to how Tom Hine develops mindfulness and daily awareness as an elective in wealth management within the corporate world. He talks about his childhood, yoga, meditation, martial arts, his belief in emotional health facilitating disease, getting over the victim mentality, and Jon Kabat-Zinn's work. Tom's book: https://www.amazon.com/Zen-Business-Acquisitions-Thomas-Hine/dp/1641373636 Tom's contact information: tomhine@capitalwm.com My name is Alexa Cucchiara (IG: @alexacuc).   I am the author of an Amazon #1 best-seller, Power to Persevere: Inspiring Stories to Help You Get Through Challenging Moments, and health guru. I have created this podcast to help motivate and inspire you to live your best life. In this space, I will be sharing real and raw stories, bringing on special guests, and sharing tips and tools to help you. Subscribe for weekly episodes and connect with me on Instagram and subscribe to my newsletter on https://alexacuc.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/alexacuc/message
  1. 23. Getting Over a Racing Mind, Learning How to De-stress and Become Zen in Business with Tom Hine
  2. 22. Learning to Honor Your Body Through Love, Identifying Your Triggers, and Living from Your Truth
  3. Meditation to Walk into the Divine
  4. 21. How to Navigate Change and Persevere with Hailey Rodgers
  5. 20. Becoming Authentic and Overcoming Judgement, Mental Health, and Sexual Abuse with Hailey Rodgers

Categories
Food Healing Lifestyle

Supplements I Used While Healing My Gut

If you had read before in my other gut blog entries, I suffered from a lot of gut-related issues as a result of a health trauma my body faced. I wanted to share with you the supplements I used to help heal my gut. This is for educational purposes only and to give you all hope. Please speak to your health care professional. Information below on the products were taken from the websites of the products.

SBI Protect Powder from Ortho Molecular Products

  • Increases mucosal immunity through immunoglobulins G (IgG) and microbial balance
  • IgG = antibodies that are produced by plasma cells and act as part of the immune response to aid in the destruction of bacteria, infections, and viruses.
  • Supports inflammation and the gut barrier
  • Helps flush out toxins in the GI tract

GlutaClear from Metagenics

  • Helps boost the body’s production of glutathione, an antioxidant to help with oxidative stress
  • Supports liver detoxification

Ortho Biotic Powder from Ortho Molecular Products

  • Supports microflora balance which leads to micronutrient absorption and immune function
  • Gut dysbiosis and bad microbalance can occur whith medications, poor diet, and alcholol.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus (La-14)/ Lactobacillus paracasei (Lpc-37)/ Bifidobacterium bifidum (Bb-02)/ Bifidobacterium lactis (BI-04)/ Lactobacillus plantarum (Lp-115)/ Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG)/ Saccharomyces boulardii

Glycogenics from Metagenics

  • B-complex to support metabolism

Digestzyme V from Ortho Molecular Products

  • Digestive enzymes to help absorb food
  • Maximizes nutrition absorption
  • Target enzyme support
  • Supports gastric acid

Magnesium Buffered Chelate from Designs for Health (2)

  • Highly absorbable
  • Reduces inflammation and calms nerves and muscles
  • Also in chocolate, spinach, almonds, broccoli, avocado and banana

L-glutamine from Klaire Labs (2)

  • This is an amino acid that helps create and synthesize protein.
  • Glutamine is produced in the muscles and distributed by the blood to the organs. It helps bring nitrogen and carbon to cells, and in order to heal and recover from wounds, you need this from the glutamine.
  • It is known to help with gut permeability and other gut-related issues like IBS and leaky gut.
  • People may experience a deficiency due to trauma, stress, or shock on the body.
  • Specifically, people who undergo chemotherapy become deficient in this.
  • Two types: Trans-Alanyl-Glutamine (absorbed better) or free form.
  • Take right before or after workouts, as it helps with muscle growth and recovery.
  • Also in bone broth, beef, broccoli rabe, fish, and turkey.

Categories
Healing Life Lifestyle Mindset

The Top 3 Things that Helped Me Heal

My Past Experiences

I always get asked the question on how, as a cancer survivor, I healed from my health experience: the surgeries, procedures, chemotherapy, and all of the other fun stuff that came along with the trauma of cancer. I talk about it a lot in Power to Persevere, but wanted to create this blog post as a three-year update. While healing is non-linear and a lifelong practice, taking baby steps each day can help you get to where you want to be.

Just a little background on Power to Persevere, I wrote this book in effort to inspire others going through challenging moments. I do still practice and believe in everything I wrote in the book, but I felt called to disclose more. I started officially writing the book one year out of treatment (age: 21). It was published when I was about two years out of treatment (age: 22). Now, I am three years out (age:23), and have tried even more healing modalities and tools. With a little more life experience, I am glad to say that I have more to bring to the table.

Now, before discovering these three new modalities I practice every week, I want to talk about past research. Between all of the advice I would ever read in magazines and websites, I kept reading the same things: keep a gratitude journal, exercise, and meditate. I was doing all of these things. Some worked more than others, but I did not feel complete. What if I did not want to keep a gratitude journal, or already was doing it and still did not feeling optimistic? What does exercise constitute as, and what if I cannot physically go on a run or lift weights like the suggestions say? What am I supposed to do when meditating and why can’t I calm my mind down? These were the questions that circulated my mind.

So, I was on my quest to find more ways to continue to heal.

Side Notes

My Source of Conformation

I have recently learned a lot more about the scientific and researched-based part of trauma in the book The Body Keeps the Score, and everything that I have practiced this specific year makes complete sense. Trigger warnings when reading this book. However, I would 100% read it whether you have been through a life crisis or notice that you have certain thought patterns, limiting beliefs (hinting at childhood trauma), uncontrolled outbursts, or chronic emotional dysregulations. This book was my source of confirmation that everything I had learned along the way was scientifically proven to work.

My Main Realization

Before I reveal my top three healing modalities, the main take away I have learned is to SLOW DOWN and DO NOT put a time stamp on the healing process! I cannot stress this enough. I learned this the hard way.

In order to heal from anything, you need to give your body the space and time to do so. You need to find ways to reduce your stress and bring yourself into a state of “rest and digest” and homeostasis. When you go through a traumatic experience, your autonomic nervous system goes on overdrive and your body goes into a state of fight or flight. The energy and emotions around the experience are stored in your nervous system, and until they are reprocessed, then they will be released.

After chemotherapy, I wanted my old life back so badly. I had just been through a time period where I had lost control over my life and slowly started to see myself die. I remember right after treatment, about a month later, I would FORCE myself to go on runs (which I would barely even complete). The first vivid memory I had was when I was in Arizona in February. The weather was beautiful, and warm enough to run in. I put on my timer and started to jog. I could barely even run five minutes. My joints were aching and I was having trouble breathing. I started to become very down on myself and upset with my will. Mind you, I had just completed eight rounds of chemotherapy which equated to four toxic months of what my oncologist referenced as “baby atomic bombs.”

Why me? Why can others workout like this, but my body is failing me? I used to run track in high school and was extremely active in my early years of college. Running 5 miles at a time in less than an hour was no big deal for me. I would do this a couple of times a week. Also, I had some doctors who were not helping wither. They had told me that after treatment, I should just go back to my normal life. At 20 years old, this is all I wanted. I tried to, but kept falling a part and getting worse. I believe it was because I was not slowing down or allowing my body to heal.

The reprocessing occurred months down the line for me, personally as soon as I started to “look” the way I left my old self. That was in July 2020.. so about two and a half years out. I suffered from panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and overall terrible symptoms of PTSD. They only started to slowly go away through these three healing tools:

No.1 – Practicing Bilateral Simulation and Tapping

Bilateral stimulation is a resource tapping mechanism to help reduce stress and regulate the nervous system. This somatic work helps tap, no pun intended, into the parasympathetic nervous system. I was able to practice how to rewire my nervous system through EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing). During this, I have practiced this tapping to help find safe places and resources to turn to that my body was already accompanied by in the past. What’s happening is that there is a bilateral alteration occurring in your body, between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Dr. van der Kolk talks further about this in The Body Keeps the Score. This is also known as EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique.

Essentially, with the tapping, we can access and break emotional circuits in the body. These are stored in the limbic system, a collection of structures in the brain that deals with memory and emotion. They help regulate the body’s nervous system’s reaction to stimuli. by tapping acupuncture points to register calmness.

I would practice butterfly tapping either on my shoulders or right below my collar bones. To do this, take your right hand and bring it to your left side, and your left hand and bring it to your right side. Then start tapping your body.

When I am doing this, I try to think about places or things that have made me feel safe and calm. I pinpoint any smells, sounds, colors, or emotions I feel. I focus on my breath and begin to release the tension in my body. I used the first thing that came to my mind. A cup of warm water and lemon is my physical item, and a specific beach in Bermuda is my safe place.

No.2 – Energy Healing Meditation + Visualization

I have practiced about every type of meditation, and was not moved and transformed until I started to learn about energy work. This is a holistic practice that energetically moves and shifts energy blocks in your body. I first became acquainted with this through reiki, universal life force energy.

In reiki, we focus on cleansing the seven energy systems in the bodies, known as the chakras. Essentially what happens is the practitioner practicing the reiki taps into universal energy from source and transfers it to the body to help it heal. I have gone through attunements and training myself, but before I became a student, I was a patient.

When I got treated with reiki for the first time, the practitioner read my energy through a body scan and picked up different points that needed assistance. Energy can stay stagnant in the body if it is not moved. Supposedly, if not moved, illness can occur. Every point in the body takes two to five minutes to cleanse. The person receiving the reiki also has to be winning to accept the healing in order for it to work.

When I received reiki for the first time, I was told that my heart had some major blocks. When the practitioner worked on my heart, I literally felt one sudden intense pulse, and a jolt of energy transfer throughout my body. A matter of fact, this was done virtually. That day I had to drink lots of water. That week I had intense dreams and flashbacks. This was all part of the healing process. Some people experience heat or tingling sensations as well.

When I practice energy healing meditations on myself, I visualize energy flowing through all of my body, from my head down to my feet. I pretend to see a white light transfer through my crown chakra (my scalp), and slowly paint it’s way down to my third eye, throat, heart, abdomen area, pelvis, my root chakra (my groin) and then down to my feet. I spend more time on places that I feel like need more love.

No.3 – Yin Yoga

In general, yoga offers nourishment to the body’s nervous system due to the breath (pranayama), poses (asanas), and spiritual connection. There is a musculoskeletal connection what helps release pain and discomfort, while building healthy facia, lengthening and strengthening your muscles, and supporting your tendons and ligaments.

Yin yoga in specific is a practice that specifically targets deep connective tissue in longer periods. It can be uncomfortable, but you start to focus your energy on your breath and visualize your body working for you. It helps lengthen connective tissue, bring circulation and flexibility to certain points in the body, and tap into the parasympathetic system. Yin yoga works like reiki in a way because it opens up blockages to make energy flow better.

When I practice yin yoga, I hold my poses for 2-3 minutes, or around 20 breaths. My exhalation is always twice as long as my inhales. I love asanas that focus on the spine, vagus nerve (which is responsible for igniting the parasympathetic nervous system), and third eye in specific. I start to feel my heart rate and breath slow down, as my muscles start to relax and lengthen.

Categories
Mindset productivity

Ikigai

Defined

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” It is the practice of meshing what your soul and heart want, with that of profession and practicality.

I practiced the ikigai exercise when I was undergoing chemotherapy in college. At this time, as you might know by now if you have been following my journey, I felt depleted and like I had no life purpose. I was young and confused. All of my independence was taken from me as I had to drop out of school. It was a rough period of time as I often thought to myself, “who am I, and what is my purpose?”

Despite the ambiguity of my future, I was able to find a sense of hope and purpose from ikigai. This practice made things more clear for me. Although I was unsure of how everything would come together, I trusted in it all. I was able to visually see all of my soul-sparking traits and activities on paper. I have manifested a lot of what I put down on my chart (and boy do I wish I was able to find it so I can upload a photo of mine).

Evidently, the point of ikigai is to ask yourself what makes you happy and how can that transfer to benefiting the world?

How to Practice

There are a set of four main questions that you need to answer. You can create a chart or diagram as seen in the photo above, but the most important thing is to make sure there are four separate sections where you can jot down your ideas. I also added in some supplementary questions that might help you below:

  1. What do I love?
    1. What makes you excited and does not bore you?
    2. What was your childhood hobby or activity you always go back to to this day?
    3. What brings your soul joy and you light up?
    4. What do you do that you lose track of time?
  2. What am I good at?
    1. What are my skills and talents?
    2. What do people come to me for help with?
    3. What are the things I practice and put energy into?
  3. What can I get paid for?
    1. What have I been paid for in the past?
    2. What do I love at work?
    3. What would I do if it was not for my current job?
    4. What is my dream job?
  4. What does the world need?
    1. How can I benefit my community?

After

It might take you a day, week, or even a year to complete your list. I did mine in about an hour. After, you will start to see little puzzle pieces starting to form together. You will slowly feel everything you enjoy mesh and blend beautifully.

There is a reason for your being. Just trust in it.

You can listen to my podcast episode on this here.

Categories
Lifestyle

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Introduction

Does eating bread or pasta make you feel tired, bloated, or brain fogged? You might have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I as experiencing all of these symptoms as a result to gluten.

What is gluten?

I talk about gluten and my experience on my podcast, but will share with you all some valuable information as well. Gluten is a protein that helps “glue” the grain together and is the elastic for bread to help it mold together without crumbling. It has gliadin in it which is the main component that helps bread rise when baking.

Some grains that have gluten are wheat, barley, rye, farro, semolina, and spelt. Oats may have them too if they are cross contaminated. Soy sauce even has wheat it inside from the starch. You can be exposed to gluten even by cross contamination like using the same spoon to stir your gluten-free pasta and wheat flour pasta.

Gluten is not unhealthy, but the media makes it seem as if it is. It can act as a prebiotic to feed good bacteria in our bodies. The reason why it is probably deemed to be unhealthy is because it is inflammatory, and if you have a sensitivity to it, then you are more likely to become inflamed and develop other issues.

Types of Sensitivities

When it comes down to a sensitivity, there are two types. You may either have celiac disease which occurs when gluten triggers the body to attack itself and damage the small intestine (the area where the most of your nutrients are absorbed). When this becomes inflamed, then your body will not be able to absorb other nutrients correctly. If left untreated it can actually lead to different types of cancers, artery diseases, diabetes, MS, and other serious conditions. Some other conditions associated with it are anemia, fatigue and thyroid issues.

And the second type is non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I discovered I have one with a Wheat Zoomer Test that was done by my functional nutritionist. It basically tested if I had any gut permeabilities, sensitivities, or antibodies to gluten. Some signs and symptoms are fatigue, joint pain, IBS, anxiety or depression, brain fog, weight fluctuations, acne and skin rashes, malabsorption.

In both cases, the villi, which is the area of food absorption, becomes inflamed.

Some ways you can recover from this are by eliminating gluten, drinking bone broth, digestive enzymes, and glutathione support. Even activated charcoal helps binds to the toxins and takes them out of the body. Magnesium can sooth the digestive track.

You also have to be careful if you’re actually not gluten-sensitive, then there are some risks. You lack fiber and some key nutrients like vitamin B, zinc, iron, calcium, and folic acid. Also a lot of the gluten-free alternatives are unhealthier because there are more fillers and emulsifiers in them that can be irritating to the gut. There might be excess sugar, which can cause weight gain, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, different gums, highly processed vegetable oils or hydrogenated oils and trans-fats.

Some “fillers” and binders for gluten-free alternatives are psyllium husk which is a soluble fiber what absorbs water easily. I also like using ground flax seeds and chia seeds. These three form a mucilaginous gel when mixed and settled with water. Xanthan gum which is also a binder that undergoes a fermentation process (this helps thicken the breads) and guar gum which is from beans (this also helps provide elasticity and binding properties). Eggs are also good, but I do not use them because I have a sensitivity to them as well. 

Conclusion

Make sure you get tested to see if you have markers for a NCGS. You can also do the elimination diet and eliminate all gluten-containing foods from your diet for a month then report back and journal how you feel.

I post more yummy recipes and meals on my Instagram, so be sure to follow along!

Disclaimer: I am not a dietician or doctor. This research was all based off of primary from my experience and secondary information from research.

Categories
Life Lifestyle

Three Year Hair Growth Journey and Hacks

Struggling with hair growth? I used to as well, especially after my cancer experience. When I was 19 years old I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a type of blood cancer that attacks the lymphatic system (aka immune system) in the body. I was just a few weeks shy of turning 20, and this is the last thing that I wanted to hear as a young lady. After learning that I was going to lose my hair from treatment, I panicked because my hair identified me (as it typically does with a lot of women). I was always known as the girl with the most beautiful curls, and now there was no guarantee that my hair would ever be the same. It was an important part of me, and my stomach turned at the thought of watching it all fall out. I wanted to list a timeline of everything up until this day (it has been almost three years since I have been cancer free). FYI, I NEVER anticipated to write a blog post about this when I was undergoing treatment, let alone talk about it. I tried my best to find photos to show.

About a week before my surgery:

September 25, 2017 – I cut off a majority of my hair to donate.

September 26, 2017 – I had my first chemotherapy treatment. I was anticipating to wake up the next day without all of my hair.

October 10, 2017 – I was scheduled for my second treatment. This is when my hair started to slowly fall out. It started when I would touch it, then it progressed and got so bad that there was constantly a trail left on my pillowcase and clothes. I did not wash my hair for a week and tried to always wear a cap because I had a fear that it would all melt or blow off. Yes, a little irrational, but if you actually saw what I was going through or heard of stories you would probably also think the same.

October 17, 2017 – I shaved off all of my hair. I could not take it any longer. I was going to meet my friend for lunch, but insisted that we stopped at a local barber to get all of my hair shaved off. “How much is a buzz cut? I need to get one.” Do not let these smiles fool you, I cried a lot that night.

A week later I had my next treatment, and then my hair continued to fall out even with my stubbles. At this point, it was actually hurting my head. My roots were inflamed and sensitive and anytime anything touched my scalp, I would get an instant headache. I was starting to bald more on the top of my scalp. And yes, I owned it when I was outside. I did not really care what others thought at this point. I just did whatever made me comfortable. Note: I never purchased a wig.

I got two other buzzcuts after my initial one during treatment. My final one was in December right around Christmas. After my sixth treatment, I was almost completely bald, and my brows and lashes started to also fall our rapidly. I tried to use castor oil to stop the process, but the chemotherapy was too toxic to banter off.

January 3, 2018 – Treatment ended.

One week later, and nothing happened.

February 2, 2018 – my hair slowly started to fill in. Old hair that did not fall out from chemotherapy grew slightly longer. Throughout the while process, the tips of my hair had very different texture and grooves. My scalp started to hurt again once the hair started to grow back in.

March 1, 2018 – I was still experiencing baldness, but my scalp was starting to fill in more.

March 31/ April 18, 2018 – My hair was thin, but still filling in.

May 6, 2018 – Starting to fill in more! Got my first hair cut post treatment. It was just to shape my hair.

June 9, 2018 – Getting a little longer.

June 24, 2018 – getting curly!

August 25, 2018 – More curls.

November 11, 2018 – CRAZY poof!

December 26, 2018 – Longer!

January 5, 2019 – Happy New Year + 1 Year out!

I got my second real haircut in March 2019, about a year after my shaping trim.

Here are some photos for the remaining of the year of 2019/ two years post chemotherapy:

Now for three years at 2020, from most recent to the past.

What I learned:

This will not last forever! I thought that my hair would never grow back. After treatment, like the week after, I would try everything to help my hair grow back. Even biotin. Nothing was working because it was not my hair’s time yet. Actually, I take that back. I would massage castor oil on my scalp, but this would only help the fray thin hair just get longer. It was not fixing the issue of the chemotherapy-induced alopecia.

What I saw actually help my hair grow faster:

The main thing was a balanced diet. I have to say, as soon as I started to incorporate meat into my diet on a regular basis, my hair started to rapidly grow. This is a staple because there are certain nutrients, like ferritin, in the protein of the meat that aid growth and repair of the new hair follicles. Ferritin is stored iron that helps the hair growth.

Additionally, the iron found in meat has more heme to it (as opposed to 100% non-heme in plants). Heme iron is more easily absorbable by the body than non-heme, and our human bodies absorb heme better. It is important to take note that dark meats have more heme in them. According to my research, clams have the highest. I in fact ate a lot of chicken liver and beef to help. A pro tip: eat vitamin c rich foods to help with the absorption of iron. I had to actually start taking an iron supplement to help with my deficiencies. This is the one my nutritionist put me on.

Okay! Back to hair business.

Something else that I noticed that helped was collagen peptides.

Conclusion:

GIVE IT TIME AND BE PATIENT!

If you are eating a balanced diet and doing everything right, then all you have to do is wait. Your hair will grow back. It might not grow back the way that you want it to, but just remember how far you have come.

Connect with me on Instagram!

Categories
Lifestyle

Modeling in NYC Without an Agent

Always believe in the unbelievable, because what you dream of and what is meant for you will happen. You just have to trust and believe.

I wanted to write this blog post for those who have been asking me how I have gotten involved in several photoshoots these past couple of years. Anytime I make a post about it on my Instagram, I always have somebody ask me how it happened. The truth is, it just happens. I truly believe that these all manifested in my personal life as an effect of me tuning into my dreams, facing my fears, and becoming vulnerable.

The beginning of my modeling experiences actually started as a baby and child. I was signed with Wilhelmina Models, was a fit model for Tommy Hilfiger, and was in some prints and on a toy box. Cute, right? This was WAY before any of these new modeling experiences have occurred, and there was definitely a 15 yer gap of me not doing anything in this world.

I started up again out of coincidence in the beginning 2018. At this time, I had just finished chemotherapy, but was still relevant in my community at my school, Marist College. (I eventually ended up transferring to Fordham University to be closer to home, but that is beside this story.) I was still selling jewelry at a boutique on my campus, and was still in touch with some friends. There was a new initiative on campus that I was nominated for called For the Record.

I was selected as one of the top 50 inspiring students on campus. The team at Marist Circle wanted to interview and photograph me. The thought of a photoshoot made me cringe. I was FRESH out of chemotherapy and did not look myself AT ALL. My hair was about an inch long on my head, not even. I gave the team at Marist an old photo of me that I took a week before my surgery to use, but hesitated on actually getting headshots like all of the other students. I was not sure I wanted anyone to remember me like this. I knew that this photo was going to be on the internet forever and I was scared to have to explain to people why my hair was short. I prayed on it and committed to visiting campus for a short weekend to see friends and get my photos taken despite my insecurities.

This then led to an independent NYC photographer reaching out to me on Instagram to shoot with her. At this time, I was still super insecure about my appearance because my hair was now a poof ball and my scars were very bold. Despite the hesitation, I decided to do it for fun because why not?

I was then asked to be part of Luna Peak Foundation’s book Beyond Remission. I talk about the whole entire experience in Power to Persevere, but in brief it is a collection of photos and insight from cancer thrivers and survivors. Now, I know I always talk about this experience. I do not like to always revolve my conversations around and talk about my health, but it is relevant. This season of my life was truly a reset; it changed everything.

These three experiences combined must have created more traction. I had made a sneak peek post about this initiative on my instagram, which led to more. In the spring of 2019, I was then asked by someone on Sachin and Babi‘s team if I was interested in doing a photoshoot for their Mother’s Day campaign. (Peep my hair slowly starting to grow!)

After this, another independent photographer asked me to shoot with them that summer. I was even invited to shoot with Fadil Berisha after meeting him for a shoot I attended with my friend Lexie Duval. Then in the fall of 2019, another independent up-and-coming NYC photographer, Brian Edsall, asked me to shoot with him for his portfolio.

In the fall of 2019, Sophie Beren, someone I had met at a conference, had reached out and asked if I could be featured in their opening video launch for her new platform she was creating called The Conversationalist. It was going to be difficult for me to make it because I had travel plans to visit old friends at Marist for Alumni Weekend, but I knew that I could make some magic happen. I signed up for one of the lat shooting times. I was so camera shy. I was never filmed before. It was actually such a nerve racking experience. I think it reflected in the recording, but I was told that it went great. Another experience down in the books!

Fast forward to 2020, Larissa May from #HalfTheStory reached out to me, asking if I wanted to be part of their #DitigalResolution campaign. Why not? I met Larissa at Fordham University’s Accepted Student’s Day Orientation as she was a guest speaker, and after I reached out to her to feature her in my book. She became a friend, and of course I would help her out!

Then the pandemic hit and I had to move out of the city for a while. At this time, I was struggling to finish all of my class projects and final exams to graduate. I had the opportunity to sign with a top nationally and internationally recognized modeling agencies, but because of the circumstances with the world, I decided to not proceed. I felt in my heart that it was not the right move at that time, but that this was not the end. There was still something out there for me.

That summer I received an email from a producer named Josh Sondock. He heard my story and wanted to chat. He was casting for a commercial with Next Gen HQ for their new initiative, the Momentum Magazine. I went on an interview with him, talked about my past experiences, and a few weeks later I was asked to be one of the three entrepreneurs to be filmed. This was an ultimate life-changing experience. I had never been on a film set before, nor did I know how much went into filming for that one perfect shot. This process for my part took about seven hours for not even 50 seconds of clips.

Fast forward to October 20th, I received a DM on Instagram from an account called @careandwear about another opportunity. I looked into them more and immediately fell in love.

Hey Alexa! We are a healthwear brand that makes accessible clothing for people with cancer and chronic illness. We’re launching a new product in collaboration with luxury designer Oscar de la Renta and we want to feature people who have or are currently going through treatment with a Chest Port. The photoshoot will be held at the ODLR office in Midtown on October 26th. Would you be interested in participating? If so, let us know as soon as possible so we can send you more details! 🙂

Everything was confirmed just the day before the shoot. The spontaneity around this was one that I never experienced before. I was able to move around some of my plans for that day to attend the shoot. I felt like the cards and cosmos were aligning because just three years prior, right before I had my cancer diagnosis, I helped backstage at Oscar de la Renta for fashion week at their HQ.

Around the same time, I was then invited to do another shoot with Brian at Egg Studios in Brooklyn, and a few other companies have reached out to me to shoot for their products for Instagram posts. Ultimately, one project led to another, and because I kept saying “YES” and putting myself out there, I was able to learn for my experience and build a little portfolio. Now for my advice…

If I could give advice to anyone out there these are my top 5 tips:

  1. Listen to your heart’s desire, find an outlet to express yourself on, and put yourself out there.
  2. Become a leader in your space by building a community.
  3. Say YES even though it might be scary.
  4. Post about it to show credibility.
  5. Trust the process.

A sudden dream occurred out of the blue on God’s timing. As I continued to pray on my path and question if everything that I had worked hard to achieve with Power to Persevere and all of my cancer-related work for the community and the wellness space. I am not sure what God/ the universe has in store for me next, but I am excited to see!

Remember, the right people will come into your life according to divine timing’s planning; you will meet one person who will change the course of your life. Be friendly and act from the heart.

Ciao,

Alexa

Connect with me on Instagram!

Categories
Lifestyle

Purified Water Trial!

Ciao amici! I wanted to share with you this new brand who reached out to me to try their purification system. They are called ZeroWater, and launched their own 5-stage filtration system.

Honestly, ever since my cancer journey, I have been very particular about what I fuel my body with. I immediately purchased a Berkey water system (which is out of this world), and always opt to water that has a been filtered because there is so much gunk in our water today.

Purified water systems:

  • Remover chlorine which can cause more acid and dry you out.
  • Removes lead which is toxic to the organs.
  • Filter out harmful chemicals from old pipes and microorganisms (#5 )
  • Save money from bottle water – which is also not healthy because of the chemicals in the cheaper plastic (does anyone else actually taste the plastic?) Also, on this note, this is why I do usually use my Berkey becasue the water is stored in Stainless Steel. The best option is honestly getting a reverse osmosis system.

In specific, the ZeroWater® has 5 instead of the standard 2-stage filtration. I gave it a try and it did work different from a Brita (one that I used to use in college). The water in the Brita immediately poured through the filter as if there was not even one there. This one took some time to filter through, but was not as slow as my Berkey.

Also, on their website, ZeroWater claims that they are “System Tested and Certified by NSF International against NSF/ANSI Standard 42 for reduction of chlorine taste and odor and against NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for reduction of lead, chromium (Hexavalent) and mercury.” Big thumbs up!

In my opinion, ZeroWater was easy to assemble. You literally just screw on the filter to a plastic piece, and then secure the lid. I like this one for students dorming versus the Brita.

ZeroWater and Brita are also roughly around the same price.

*ZeroWater: $32 for the dispenser + 1 filter and $30 for 2 filters

*Brita: $45 for the dispenser + 1 filter and $17 for 1 filter.

*Berkey: $278 for the dispenser + 2 filters and $120 for the filter.

* These are all different ounce measurements.

I would love to hear what you use as a water purification/ filteration system!

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