In May 2015, one of my closest friends asked me to come over, she had something to show me. The skin on her left breast was red and cracking, kind of like the inside of an orange peel. Then she showed me what her google search had found...breast cancer. Ok, I said, let’s not freak out, you can’t diagnose cancer via the internet. But sadly, she was right. A couple of weeks later she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. “How bad is stage IV? How many stages are there?” We were in our mid-late thirties & at this point, gratefully, clueless about the nuances & language of a cancer diagnosis. Well, that would be changing as of immediately. Christa was overwhelmed by daily seemingly life or death decisions. Which treatment plan did she believe was right for her? Which doctor’s did she trust? Does she take a Holistic or Western approach? Oncologists or Naturopaths? What does she eat? What DOESN’T she eat? Her head was spinning.
Something happened to me at her diagnosis. A calling? Divine intervention? I don’t know what to call it, but I knew in my gut that I had to step up & become her advocate. She didn’t have any family in Hawaii. That meant friends had to fill the incredibly delicate & demanding role as care takers. So myself, along with a few others, stepped up BIG time. My life went from bartending, surfing & a very full social life- to doctors appointments, chemotherapy treatments & caring for someone who was given a death sentence. Talk about a perspective shift!
I was Christa’s “healthiest friend”. I had been shopping at natural food stores for 15 years, dabbling with vegetarian & vegan-ism along the way. At this point in the game I was what some people would call a “free-gan”. At home I would eat very clean, but when I was out & about I would eat (basically) whatever was put in front of me. That with the bartending lifestyle left much room for improvement, but still, I was her “healthiest friend”. So I gladly jumped into gear, cleaning out her kitchen of the canned & processed foods, filling it with whole, real food from the earth. I guided her through the transition to a whole foods plant based diet. I taught her to think about food as fuel, only putting food in her body what would kill the cancer, not feed it.
Along with the diet changes Christa started cleansing herself on a deeper, emotional & spiritual level as well. She adopted a daily yoga & meditation practice. She weeded out the toxic relationships in her life. She cleaned the clutter in her house & made it her live-in sanctuary. And each week we watched in awe as the 8 millimeter tumor in her breast slowly shrank. And shrank. Until 4 months went by, and it was gone. We were shocked! The doctors were shocked. We knew the dietary & lifestyle changes would help, but resolving her tumor completely? No way!
While I was on this journey with Christa I had quit my job at the bar & cleaned up my diet a bit more, but I still found myself doing the “free-gan” thing. You know, not wanting to be the weird, pain in the butt girl calling attention to herself for her dietary restrictions. So to quiet those thoughts I would find myself saying “It’s not life or death for me”….“It’s not life or death for me”… until one day I finished with “It's not life or death for me…until it is”. That simple understanding changed my life. I knew I didn’t want any of my family or friends to EVER have to sit with me in a sterile hospital room while I had chemotherapy dripping into my veins. I didn’t want them to have to put their lives on hold to drive me to endless doctors appointments and help clean my hair off the furniture as it slowly fell out. The experience I had with Christa was terrifying and beautiful. I’m so grateful to have been be a part of her journey, but I didn’t want to go through it myself. And I couldn’t let her suffering be in vain. So that simple realization, “It’s not life or death for me…until it is” was an absolute turning point. We had turned Christa’s body into a cancer fighting machine, and I wanted to be a cancer fighting machine too! Cancer feels like an almost inevitable reality for all of us at the rate this disease is going, but the reality is that we have a lot more control than we think! I’m not here proclaiming we all can cure cancer our own cancer, but I did witness first hand what kind of a difference a clean & healthy diet paired with self love and self care can do.
From this experience I realized how hard it was for Christa to find clean, healthy prepared food. I was inspired to change that. In January 2016 I started Nina Cucina. The concept was to provide the highest quality grab & go plant based food, sourced as much as possible from our local farmers. My business began at The Waimanalo Market Co-Op & grew to being apart of two Farm Lovers Farmers Markets every weekend. The work was intense, but so worth it! I met wonderful hard working farmers, connected with vibrant customers & became more apart of a community than I had ever experienced before. I felt like I was finally living my purpose. But there was still a little something missing. I wanted to have a more one-on-one experience with people. Rather than provide them with the convenience of picking up a healthy meal or two a week, I wanted to teach them the skills & give them the confidence they needed to nourish themselves & their families on their own. I wanted to empower & guide them into the journey of being the best versions of themselves, to do for others what I had helped Christa do. Then one day, after a very long & exhausting farmers market weekend, an idea popped into my head...maybe I could go back to school & get some sort of professional training? To be a health counselor or something. Is that even a thing? Turns out, it is...