Wellness advocate and Pilates instructor Jean Chen discusses her mother’s battle with cancer and her own journey to a balanced healthy life. She offers some insight into how you can change your life for the better, by reclaiming your health one step at a time:
The topic of health and fitness is such a personal topic to me. It is a way of living that is deeply rooted in my daily routines and eating habits, however it wasn’t always this way. I had always been a skinny kid growing up, but when puberty hit, I was getting new curves on my body that made me insecure and uncomfortable. I disliked my body and poured over fashion magazines for tips on the newest diet trends and tips to lose weight. Yet, I ate McDonald’s, Chinese food slathered in sodium, and all types of sweets. In fact, in fourth grade, I could easily eat an entire bag of Herr’s sour cream and onion potato chips in one sitting!
My parents owned Chinese restaurants while I was growing up and they worked 12-13 hour days, if not more. Mostly, they were standing on their feet all day and working with their bodies. They didn’t sit at desk jobs all day, so they never embraced the idea of exercising. If they were standing and moving all day, why in the world would they head out for a run or go to a gym. The concept was foreign to them, so of course being a kid, it was also not high on my list of priorities. I was always picked last for team sports, which I cared about, but only because of the social aspect of it – not the physical. Who cared if I couldn’t kick the ball in kickball? Not me, I just wanted to fit in.
Since my parents were so busy working, they never really had time to monitor exactly the foods we were eating. My sister and I bought school lunches, ate whenever and whatever we wanted – and however much we wanted! Back in those days, I really didn’t understand the idea of moderation. In my senior year of college, that all changed and has forever altered my path towards healthy living.
During my last term at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, I learned during Christmas break (of all times) that my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer called large cell carcinoma, which had also claimed the life of Andy Kaufman of the television sitcom Taxi. My mom never smoked in her entire life, but my father did. However, he was never allowed to smoke in the house or around any of us kids.
At the time of her diagnosis, I was eating badly and not mindfully. I worked fulltime to put myself through college, so I found myself scarfing down cheeseburgers while driving from class to work or vice versa. I was not fat or obese at this point, but I didn’t care about what I was putting into my body at all. I had, however, started to do some running, which I enjoyed. I loved the idea of a solitary run, feeling my heart rate increase, and inhaling, exhaling. I didn’t run very fast, but I was able to easily run for an hour or so.
It was a difficult time for our family – I really struggled with the idea of quitting my last semester at Rutgers to spend time with my mom. I lived on campus, but after the diagnosis, I was driving home daily. Watching her body first deteriorate from chemotherapy was the worst since the chemicals are attacking the body. She got smaller and smaller, more fragile than ever. She never wanted to go outside because, of all things, she felt shame about her disease. As if it was her fault!
My mom held on for about a year before she passed away in the early hours one February morning, just weeks before my birthday. She was only 53 years old. I turned 40 this year and it occurred to me that she was only 13 years older than I am now before she withered away from lung cancer.
Even despite the pain of her passing, her life taught me a huge lesson about health and fitness. That is when my passion for eating right, exercising, and maintaining balance developed. This is the reason that health and wellness is so important to me and I want to share it with readers and clients, or anyone who is willing to listen.
Without our health, we are nothing. When I first started on my path to healthy living 20 years ago as that heart-broken college student, I really didn’t know where I should begin or where the path would take me. The important part was to get started. I started small – eliminating the junk food that I was eating just for the sake of convenience. There are easy, healthy recipes which taste delicious that can replace the fast food addiction. If you can’t run, take a walk, do yoga, do Pilates. Start where you are today – that’s exactly what I did 20 years ago. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started:
- Moderation is Key: Through a running injury I developed an awareness that the human body is so special and strong. I learned that instead of pushing so hard physically, I can listen to my body and attend to rest days some times.
- Take your time to find balance: I also learned that being healthy – eating healthy foods and exercise will spill over into other areas of life, creating a sense of balance. So much of our lives are spent in a rush, it takes discipline to sit down to eat a meal, chew our food and put the phone and technology away.
- Encourage Others: Helping others whether it be through Pilates training or just being kind to another human being helps not only your own health, but it helps those around us. The last two years, I have developed a sense of really wanting to help and serve others. We are only on this planet for a short time in eternity. I no longer want to be worried when or which my next Louis Vuitton bag is going to be.
To learn more about Jean Chen and her pilates practice http://www.projectcloud9.com
Makeup artistry is by Leann Helene @beautyfx_byleann
The makeup was provided by http://www.hyntbeauty.com
Hynt Beauty is a cruelty free, organics-based cosmetics line founded by cancer survivor Meryl Marshall and her husband Craig Marshall. They wanted to create a line of skincare products that we free of harmful toxins.
The photography is by Editor Chief, Ernesto Cullari.