Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gone Girls


Tomorrow, I’ll be going in for a double mastectomy and hopefully get closer to putting this breast cancer chapter behind me. It took a month after my doctors asked me to consider the procedure to get a date for the surgery and in that time, I let myself drift into this space of false security where I knew that ordeal was hovering around somewhere out there, but nothing I needed to worry about for now. But then "somewhere out there" became “a week from now,” which turned into “this week,” “in a couple days,” and now, “tomorrow.” Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

After weeks of holding it together pretty well, I finally broke down a few days ago when the terror hit me. I will never look this way again - ever. When I look at myself in the mirror, I will look completely different, for better or for worse, and I will never be the way I’ve come to know myself. To those who’ve joked and noted that “Dorkys, you hardly have anything there!” (myself included), the loss goes beyond that. I’m not only grieving over losing actual pieces of myself, but also how I’ve come to view myself. This image of what Dorkys looks like, what she’s always looked like, will be completely different starting tomorrow and that horrifies me because I don’t know what that new image is going to be. What will my relationship with her be like? It took me decades to become comfortable with this body, and now I have to start over?

Just typing this is difficult…because I don’t want to say goodbye to this me.

See, this me has been pretty good to me for the most part if you don’t count that whole getting cancer in the first place thing. Yeah, she always got me carded at the bar because I looked like a “Girl Scout” and made shopping for adult clothes a stressful experience, but that’s all been part of my identity for the past 34 years: petite, small-breasted, curly-haired, feisty, tiny, cute. How am I going to feel when I wake up from surgery and my chest is bandaged up, gauze and tape where my breasts used to be? How am I going to feel a week later when the bandages finally fall away? When I look down and see a blank slate where my dark nipples used to be? Birth marks and freckles all chased away by a deep scar racing across my chest.

I know I’ll still feel like this me inside and when I close my eyes, I’ll still see this me as she’s been my whole life. Maybe someday the me in my head will slowly morph into the actual me as time goes on. And while I hope that acceptance comes sooner than 34 years from now, I’m also expecting a profound sense of loss to wash over me when I wake up the following day and many days after that.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Best Winter Weekend Getaways from NYC for Families


Now that Thanksgiving is over (already??) wintertime will soon be here and if you're a parent, a student, or have the great fortune of working at a school like my sister does, then that also means that winter break is on the horizon. I've started working for Time Out New York Kids every week writing fun events listings for their website and for this month's winter issue, I've written a roundup of the best winter getaways the family can take once the snow sets in. I've only been skiing once when I was 11 years old, but it was such an awful, scary experience that I never tried it again. Think climbing up the mountain on a chair lift with no lesson as to how to get off or skiing down a bunny hill and continually smashing up against the side of a barn in order to finally come to halt.

Now after doing research for this piece, I think I'd love to give it another try. Snow tubing and sledding sounds amazing and I've never done either so those are also on my list. Ice skating might be the only snowy sporty activity that I really enjoy especially when its against a backdrop of New York City at Central Park. What are some of your favorite seasonal activities?

For a list of wintry sports spots and more laid-back destinations to visit with your family in the coming months, read Time Out New York Kids' feature on the best winter weekend getaways from NYC for families.

Image: timeout.com

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Stay Cozy


Happy Thanksgiving, all! Today, I am thankful for my amazing, supportive family and friends, the kind words I've received from you dear readers, the fact that I'm still alive to celebrate today, and the 10 hours of sleep I was finally able to get last night. I'm also grateful for this ginormous, cozy scarf that my friend taught me to knit last winter that has been keeping me warm these days. Big and little things!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Starting Breast Cancer Hormonal Therapy – Lupron: Month 1

A
fter being diagnosed with breast cancer this second time around, my doctors decided to up the ante to make sure that it wouldn’t come back again. I’d already had a lumpectomy in 2013, underwent radiation, and then started on a five-year-long plan of Tamoxifen pills. Because my cancer cells were estrogen receptor positive and fed off the estrogen hormone to grow, the pills were supposed to block that hormone from reaching the cancer cells and thus significantly lower my chances of recurrence. But turns out it wasn’t enough. I’m not even four years in and I’m battling this monster again.

Now not only did we remove cancer cells with a second lumpectomy, hopefully clearing out the area entirely with a bilateral mastectomy scheduled for December 2nd, possibly zapping the spot with a second round of radiation, and continuing a daily intake of Tamoxifen (for the time being), but I’ve also started monthly hormonal therapy injections of Lupron. The Tamoxifen might keep estrogen hormone from reaching the cancer cells’ receptors, but the Lupron will completely lower the amount of estrogen I have running through my body. In essence, I will be going into a fake menopause for the next year in the hopes that any traces of cancer still left in my body will be starved to death. Should be a fun ride.

As with most things prescribed to fix one medical issue, this one can mess you up in other ways. For example, a rare side effect of Tamoxifen is uterine or endometrial cancer. Meanwhile, Lupron can lead to a thinning of the bones and worsen depression, two side effects I’m highly wary about because of my petite frame and mental health history. Other common side effects include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, decreased libido, and forgetfulness. And because this drug is typically prescribed to manage endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside it, a woman’s period will be spotty or stop entirely for the duration of the treatment. Anyone’s who experienced menopause will probably tell you that it highly sucks and that’s basically what I’m expecting out of this journey. When I started on the Tamoxifen, the most common and hardest side effect to deal with was the hot flashes and it took at least two years before my body temperature was able to regain some stability.

The Lupron injection itself wasn’t totally painful, but I was incredibly anxious leading up to it because I hate needles. I went into it thinking it would be a shot on my arm, but they went with my tush instead. This was fine because I think the needle might have poked right out the other end of my tiny arms; I actually have some fat stored in my ass. Some soreness followed for the next couple of days, but Advil helped me handle that.

While my mood has been bouncing around the past month, it’s hard to tell what’s caused by the hormonal change and was is just natural considering this stressful situation.

I kept waiting for the hot flashes and mood swings to immediately take over, but nothing was really noticeable for the first two weeks. By the end of the third week though, I started to get hints of a hot flash when laying in bed. I like to sleep completely covered from head to toe and I’m sure that paired with the heat going in the apartment didn’t help. The first full-fledged hot flash happened towards end of week four. Alex and I were cuddling in bed under the covers. We were both fully clothed and I had on a sweater because his apartment is usually chilly. After a few minutes of nuzzling, I felt my body temperature start to shoot up and when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I sat up, threw the covers off of us, zipped my sweater off, flung the T-shirt up over my head, and sat there wiping my forehead waiting for my body to cool down. It just sneaks up on you so quickly.

“Wait, I have something for you,” Alex said from behind me. I thought he’d go grab me a cup of cold water, but instead I felt his icy hands up against my back.

“Yes,” I moaned before exposing the back of my neck to him so that he could warm his hands on my skin. I usually shriek in pain whenever cold hits me, but this time? It was such a relief.
 
Damn hot flashes, I thought. And so it begins.

Image: dailydropcap.com

Friday, November 11, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election: Yeah, That Really Just Happened


It's been three days since Election Day and I still can't believe Donald Trump actually won the presidency. During the past year and a half of madness that was his campaign, I devoured any news covering him and the other candidates. I was fascinated, yes, but I just assumed that there'd be no way that such an ignorant loose cannon would get very far. But then the other candidates started falling off and a year after launching his campaign stating that Mexico was sending us its drugs, crime, and rapists, he received the Republican nomination. Surprised me for sure, but then I thought that after three dismal debates against Hillary Clinton, his bumbling idiocy would be so clear to anyone left doubting if he'd be a good president or not. "But look at him!" I'd tell my boyfriend, who was cringing too hard to look at the screen. "Everyone is going to see how terrible he is! This is perfect!"

But no, his supporters kept cheering on louder and no matter how many scandals came to light, pussy he'd grabbed, or derogatory comments he spewed, he found a following of "deplorables" eager to carry their savior straight to the White House. He'd been an entertaining hot mess to watch, but as election night wore on and all that red started covering the map, the dread and frightening realization finally set in: Donald Trump, a man who's taken to Twitter to insult everyone and your moms, was going to be the next president of the United States of America. Up until that final moment, I just could not, would not believe that such a hateful person could win out over all.

And yet he did and that fact hit me like a ton of bricks at 3:30am when the terror finally caught up with me and I started sobbing in bed. It makes me sad and terrified not just because of the direction this country will take under his leadership, but because of how many agreed with and voted for someone who's demonized entire ethnic groups with stereotypes and lies. His campaign has fanned the flames of fear in people and given them the permission to act on that ignorance. Since Trump was named as the president elect, news of confrontations, hate crimes, and bigotry against members of Black, Hispanic, and Muslim communities has been trickling in.

Like others in my social circles, I realize that I am so spoiled by living in such a culturally diverse, liberal bubble. The idea that a racist, sexist demagogue with no clue as to how to run an ethical business let alone America could ever hold the highest office in the country is just preposterous to us. But turns out there's a huge chunk of Americans, namely working-class white Americans from rural areas, who believe differently and who've grown resentful of how our government has neglected them. Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" by deporting certain people, increasing racial profiling, building walls, bringing back their coal-mining jobs, and instituting discriminatory policies based on religious beliefs resounded with them. And that's the part that really scares me. Because while most of us are hoping that he'll only be able to do so much during his time in office, it's a fact that our neighbors around the country voted for him despite a platform built on hatred and ignorance. Their worries and racist inclinations might have been kept at bay before, but once Trump came in and laughed at the very idea of political correctness, they saw someone who was finally speaking their language. So what if the message was full of insensitivity and lies? Every other politician is full of broken promises anyway. At least here we had a government outsider ready to destroy the party with a sledgehammer, someone who understood them and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. To them, this was someone who could snatch America back from the evil clutches of liberals and minorities. As Van Jones said, "This was a whitelash." Never mind that Trump is just as elitist as those they feel have shunned them in the past.

When I attended Syracuse University in 2005, my friend and I attended an Ann Coulter event. She and I were curious as to what it'd be like because we knew her to be a conservative pundit with nothing but vitriol running through her veins. I couldn't tell you what on Earth she was there to talk about because all that's been cemented in my brain are a) the insults she hurled at a young woman who dared to challenge her prejudiced viewpoints during the Q&A portion of the evening and b) how scary it was to be surrounded by an audience that cheered her on and lavished her with praise. Who were these people and why were there so many of them? Who raised them? Why were they so mean?

And now, come January 20th, we're going to have a bonafide bully leading our country and representing us around the world. "Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together," Trump said in his victory speech. "To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people." Oh, really? Now?! Now you want to "come together as one united people" after the divisive venom you spit in our faces? Please, Mr. Soon-to-Be President, how exactly do you propose we heal from the wounds you slashed into us? Because I think you'll soon find that while mere words can launch a crowd into action, it'll take more than just words to soothe the unrest it has caused.

Monday, November 7, 2016

More Decisions, More Surgery


Three weeks after September’s surgery, I was scheduled to have yet another lumpectomy. The pathology results had shown that the margins weren’t clear for one of the two tumors removed, meaning some cancerous cells might have been left behind. Two days before that surgery, my doctors called. They had presented my case at a weekly conference to the hospital’s surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists who collectively felt that I should consider a mastectomy because of the tumor’s weird behavior. They were concerned that it will spread or creep up again despite radiation and medication like it did this second time around. One minute, I’m feeling on top of the world, paying bills, pushing money into my savings account, on track with work, and texting my friends about my wonderful start to the day and the next I’m a sobbing mess. After receiving the day’s fun assignment from my Time Out New York Kids editor, I actually texted, “This is awesome!” Yeah, that kind of morning.

And then this call comes in and just devastates me. I tell the girls. “I’m about to burst,” I reply to their attempts to soothe me via Whatsapp. I run into the bathroom, close the door, and slump into the carpet. Muffled hysterics ensue.

A mastectomy. Everything gone. Mangled. Broken. Ugly. No longer sexy. Or pretty. I’ll look disgusting. No one will ever want me. The pain. It’ll hurt. What if it comes back anyway? F'ing surgery again? More intense. Will I feel an emptiness in my chest? The shock. Waking up and finding nothing there. Just gone.

The suggestion had come up in conversations before. My mom brought it up after I told my parents I’d have to have a third lumpectomy. “Mira a la Kardashian! Y Adamari López!” I corrected her that it wasn't Kim Kardashian but Angelina Jolie who'd had a mastectomy and then shut that suggestion down real quick. That’s way too drastic and never anything I would voluntarily sign up for, I told them. Even when I wrote about Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy in 2013, it still felt so distant from what I’d ever had to go through. My case didn’t feel that serious. It wasn’t even genetic!

And now, three years later, here I am. It feels so unfair to have to consider this decision. I still feel little.

I showed up at my surgeon’s office the following day and asked her a list of questions my therapist helped me write down. She put me in touch with a patient of her’s who was more than happy to chat on the phone with me for an hour, share her experience, and address any concerns I had. I researched and read about the procedure online. What to expect. The benefits and risks. I met my potential plastic surgeon and cried when he told me the process would take so much longer than I had anticipated. I thought I’d be OK by next summer, but no. A year, maybe more. I thought I could put most of this behind me in a matter of months, but because I’d already received radiation once and am supposed to go in for another round, he just didn’t want to risk complications by acting too quickly.

On one hand, this whole situation f’ing blows and quite simply, I don’t want it. Nope. I’ve only just started feeling back to normal after my last surgery and now I’ll have to go through the process all over again. The being physically helpless, the discomfort, the not being able to just do things like wash my hair and shave my arm pits or wear anything other than a button-down shirt. And don’t get me started on taking time off work. But this time around I have to accept that I’m going to need help and I simply cannot do all the things. The big-deal week-long Holiday Handmade Cavalcade I was helping organize for the fourth year in a row? I decided to back out of that along with two other markets coming up in the next month.

But here are the silver linings I’ve been clinging to since deciding that yes, I’m having a double mastectomy.

- If I do nothing, my chances of breast cancer recurrence is 30 percent. After a double mastectomy it would - supposedly - go down to 1 percent. I won’t have to look over my shoulder waiting for this to return (although I can’t front, I’m still scared something will show up somewhere else so I don’t know if that total ease will ever fully return.)

- I won’t need to go in for regular MRIs and mammograms twice a year anymore, which is great because a) those MRIs are so damn loud and obnoxious and b) fewer blasts of radiation, which just cannot be good for me.

- I can turn my lifelong insecurities about my small breasts and the turmoil this cancer has caused me into something better. After seeing the possibilities that breast reconstruction can offer and how some women have reclaimed their body by challenging society's perception of femininity by going flat, getting an amazing chest tattoo, and other feats of “I am still woman, hear me roar,” I’m hoping that I can come out of this journey appreciating my body more than I have before.

It’s been a week and a half since I made my decision and I’m still waiting for this surgery to be scheduled. This is a problem because I’ve slowly slipped into a mental space that feels like it’s not really going to happen. I’m finally feeling physically better from the last surgery. My left arm is no longer in chicken wing mode. I can wear my backpack, sleep comfortably, and be social again. I can relax because I'm good, right?

But I know as soon as I get that damn call that my surgery has been scheduled, it’s going to get way too real all over again.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Chat With: William Álvarez

Sometimes a good way to get a little motivation to keep pursuing your goals is to talk to others who are paving a similar path for themselves. Over the next several weeks, I'll be chatting and posting about others who've marched off the norm in their careers or personal lives, have ditched their 9-to-5 jobs to pursue their true passion, embraced the freelance life, have made travel a priority, created their own business from the ground up, or are just kicking ass according to their own rules.


Name: William Álvarez
Location: New Jersey/New York

Describe your current work + life situation.

I'm based out of the NJ/NY area, and spend around 10 days every month traveling to anywhere in the world that I have friends to visit. Most of the times these are places near a beach. My travel plans include a now official (and almost obligated) quarterly trip to Colombia, which where I'm from originally.

I quit my corporate job a year ago and started consulting on search engine marketing on my own. I work remotely and deliver client work over emails and phone calls. This allows me to manage my own time and gives me the flexibility to do my job from anywhere in the world I want and can be. I'm a free agent and sell my time based on my immediate life plans.

What route did you have to take to get here?

After so many years thinking about jumping on this lifestyle, I hesitated so much because I was concerned about not having a steady income, so everything was about not making money. At the same time, I was quitting my job because money was not a motivation for me anymore. After becoming more experienced in my field and cultivating my professional network, I have found it pretty easy to get gigs consistently every month and money stopped being a concern. I set up my business myself, got help from a lawyer and a CPA, put up a basic but complete website and have my social profiles up to date with contact information and my full skills and services offered.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments so far?

My biggest accomplishments have to do more with nurturing my passions. Something I could not do with peace of mind while I had a 9-to-5 job. I have more time now to train in capoeira almost every day, and learn more from more people around the world that I really admire. I've become a better player and my game has improved a lot. I dedicate more time to physical activities and feel much better mentally too. I'm never worried about what I can do to keep my boss happy? Instead, I now focus on making myself happy. On the professional side, my clients are happy with what I do and have no problem with me traveling around the world.

What are some of the greatest things about living the life you do?

I don't have set schedules for anything. Well, work sometimes still requires that, but much less than when I was an employee. I can spend a whole week day watching Netflix and no one is going to tell me anything. I can meet a different friend for lunch every day and can keep up with their lives. Overall, I'm never rushed to finish anything or meet a deadline, or aspects of life that put people under pressure. I have a lot of tranquility today.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face on your journey?

The biggest obstacles were the first months after I quit my job because of the uncertainty about what was going to happen. Had it been a good or a bad decision? Was I going to be able to pay my rent? How was I gonna fulfill my dream of traveling more? There's still a big dependency on work because money doesn't get deposited in my bank account out of thin air.


Your perfect day…what would that look like?

My perfect day is when I'm on the beach looking at the horizon and contemplating nature. I think this is true now and also in the future. I will always want to be by the ocean, on a boat, swimming freely. Soon, I want to start helping misrepresented communities in places that I enjoy, that probably have resources that they don't know how to explode.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To my younger self: be more adventurous and take more risks earlier in life. Don't wait too long.

And what advice would you give those who are scared of making that leap?

To others: be good at what you do, make sure that you're versatile enough to be able to take any or many possible roads in life. Believe in education, no one can take that away from you. Never be afraid of pursuing your dreams, try and if you failed, at least you will have lived that experience and learnt from it. But hopefully you won't fail and will find a more rewarding life.

Follow William on his website, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Images: William Álvarez

Monday, October 10, 2016

And Then Life Kicks You Right in the Face Again


Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2012, I’ve had to go in for regular check-ups with my lumpectomy surgeon and oncologists. In the span of nearly four years, I’ve had eight mammograms and ultrasounds, PET and CT scans, and five MRIs along with doctor’s appointments every three months until I finally graduated to every six in 2014. When I asked my surgeon how long I’d have to keep going in for check-ups, she said, “The rest of your life.”

Ha, ain’t no way I’m sticking around this city for that long, I thought. I still had dreams of living elsewhere and the idea that I’d have to keep seeing these people every few months year after year didn’t sit very well with me. The only comforting thing was that there were so many eyes on me, radiologists, physicians, gynecologist, and oncologists that should anything else pop up, you’d better believe someone would be on it immediately.

During a typical check-up with my surgeon two and a half weeks ago, she discovered a lump under my arm. It was one I’d felt before, but neglected because there was a similar lump of scar tissue, which was being monitored closely, where the previous tumor used to be. This new lump was right under the scarred spot where a lymph node was removed during that lumpectomy and even though all my previous imaging had come back clear, she wanted to have it biopsied then and there.

What is usually a quick appointment in which I get felt up for all of two minutes before being sent home to go on with the rest of my day, turned into an unexpected emotional blow. I have cancer again.

The tears had already began pouring out by the time the needle first pierced my side during the biopsy. Yes, it hurt enough for me to yell out, but I was also terrified. I’ve walked into every single test with my head in a cloud, telling myself it’s just this fact of my life, no grand deal, let’s just get this over with. But then after every test, when I’m still waiting in my oversized gown for the radiologist to give me the all clear, I cannot breathe and a tiny voice inside asks, "What if it’s back?"

Since my first diagnosis, I knew that I would get it again. No doubt in my mind that it would return perhaps as a way of preparing myself for the eventual fall. I was in my early 30s and in all the years I hopefully have left ahead of me, I imagined that something would happen again. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. I still haven’t even finished my five-year-long run with medication and my radiation treatment should have lowered my risk of recurrence to less than 10 percent. What the hell did I do wrong? Did I think about it too much? Did I stand in front of the microwave too long? Was it something I ate? Did I spend a year breathing in carcinogens at my last place? Did I miss one too many medication doses? Was it all those mammograms? It didn’t make sense. What was it??

If I thought 2012’s situation was incredibly quick - a week between lump discovery and diagnosis - then this time was dizzying. I was undergoing surgery just five days after that appointment and while I’m grateful for my medical team’s quick response, it left very little time to process what the f was going on. So I turned to my usual coping mechanism: I cried and then I plowed on.

In the last couple of days I got a few more answers as to what was going on and what’s happening next:

1. Cancerous cells were found in this new lump as well as where the first lump used to be. So much for benign scar tissue.

2. It's recurrent breast cancer and both lumps were caught in early stages and with characteristics identical to the previous lump.

3. A swollen lymph node was removed, but no cancer was found there. Cancer in the lymph nodes = really bad.

4. Unfortunately, pathology results from the surgery showed that the margins for one lump was not clear, meaning that not all the cancerous cells were removed. Today, I find out if I'll need to have surgery again.

5. I’ll have to undergo radiation again and to reduce complications that could arise from going through radiation a second time around in the same area, I’ll either have to go in twice a day for 15 days or once a day for 25 days. Either way it’s going to suck.

6. My medication, Tamoxifen, is meant to keep estrogen from reaching the receptors of these cancer cells because it uses the hormone to grow and spread. Clearly that wasn’t enough in my case so beginning today I’ll also be receiving monthly hormonal therapy injections to suppress my estrogen levels. Basically, my body will be slipping into menopause for the next year. I’m more nervous about this than surgery or radiation. I’ve been through both, I know what to expect. This? God...

So with the exception of chemotherapy, we’re pretty much throwing everything we can at this. I’m just tired of having to deal with one blow after another and when I think I’m just starting to finish a plate full of crap, I get dished another. I won’t be able to live abroad for an extended period of time next year. Whatever money I was hoping to save up by giving up my apartment will now go towards paying for my treatments. It’s a chance to reassess, I’ve been told, go back to the drawing board, prioritize what matters. Thing is I thought I had, but it feels like life just served me one big Nope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Summer Daze


Can you believe that today's the last day of summer already? I absolutely love autumn, but I'm also not thrilled that winter is around the corner. I think I squeezed in quite a bit this season...

1. Hikes and picnics at the park
2. Coffee dates, brunches, summer drinks, and sangria nights with friends
3. Moved out of my apartment
4. Performances by my musical friends
5. Bike rides along the Hudson River
6. A musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
7. Marc Anthony concert for my mom's 65th birthday
8. Trips to the museum
9. The Dominican Film Festival
10. My little cousin's first trip to the Bronx Zoo
11. Baseball games
12. Rooftop parties
13. Movie screenings on the grass
14. Rock climbing and surfing

You know what I didn't do though? Swim! The only real swimming practice I've had in this year was during our trip to the Bahamas in April. There's always next summer I guess. As for autumn, I'm looking forward to:

1. Freshly picked apples
2. Pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon pancakes
3. Hot cider
4. Sweater weather
5. Changing leaves and fall colors
6. Settling into a new routine
7. More selling and donating things
8. Doing craft markets and shows for Porcupine Hugs
9. Picking up the knitting needles once again
10. Starting to write my memoir
11. Planning for a life abroad in 2017

What are you looking forward to in this next season?

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Chat With: Janet Brent

Sometimes a good way to get a little motivation to keep pursuing your goals is to talk to others who are paving a similar path for themselves. Over the next several weeks, I'll be chatting and posting about others who've marched off the norm in their careers or personal lives, have ditched their 9-to-5 jobs to pursue their true passion, embraced the freelance life, have made travel a priority, created their own business from the ground up, or are just kicking ass according to their own rules.


Name: Janet Brent
Location: Portland, OR

Describe your current work + life situation.

I can work from anywhere with an internet connection. But that usually just means I work at home. My business helps small businesses in personal development, spiritual growth, and health and wellness to grow their community and profits through brand storytelling, ebooks, and digital courses. My background is graphic/web design so I help with all the design and tech to make it happen. I have a roommate at an apartment and still hesitant to put down roots after being a digital nomad and living abroad for four years.

What route did you have to take to get here?

As I mentioned, I lived abroad for nearly four years. I also traveled around the world for a year while running my business. I took a super unconventional path that I wouldn't necessarily recommend. With no savings or cushion, I took a one-way ticket to live in Southeast Asia. I took a full year career sabbatical living without much money, which included being in a Buddhist monastery retreat and walking 400 miles in Palawan island with a local Filipino. I also lived in a poor slum community because I was so broke. I learned business and web design skills from scratch while starting freelancing on the side. It was kind of like being in the kiddie pool. A training phase. I've improved SO much, both in my skill levels with design and tech and how to build a business.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments so far?

My accomplishment is just not giving up. So many times I keep thinking I should just throw in the towel, but I feel compelled to keep going. It's been a long, slow road. It felt very much like a hobby business for the first few years, not getting much traction. Now I'm serious and motivated to grow beyond myself. The moment you decide to do something, it is done. Linear time just has to catch up. To make a full-time living doing what you love takes some level of success, but now I'm ready for my next phase of success: scaling my growth!


What are some of the greatest things about living the life you do?

I love the freedom my schedule allows. I could take a random road trip to Seattle to meet a client and eat my way around Pike Place Market, run a 10k in Portland, and focus on "client onboarding", which really just means relationship building, and then hand off tasks to delegate with another designer (I'm absolutely about to do all of those things). I love making business decisions and literally feel like the sky is the limit with how I want my business to look like in terms of creative offerings.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face on your journey?

So many obstacles! As I mentioned, living in a slum. That meant battling my poverty mindset and stories around lack which has taken me a long time to overcome because I'm stubborn. It's still a process and a work in progress. So I've had to face battling a high amount of debt, living with my mom which made me feel like a loser (I'm moved out now), and other things. I'm still working on it.

Your perfect day…what would that look like?

Still somewhere exotic, and traveling. Or at least somewhere near the ocean! After living in Oregon most my life aside from the time in Southeast Asia, I've got my sights on California. Having some sort of movement practice like yoga in the morning, and exercising at least 30 minutes a day. Drinking a green smoothie for breakfast. Working on my mindset through meditation or mantras and affirmations, and gratitude practice. Basically being more intentional on my self-care to make sure I'm operating at an optimal level. Then meeting a new client on Skype, and doing three to four hours of client work a day, then one to two hours of marketing and working on my business. And, of course, being with my special someone and cooking something good for dinner together, which usually just means he takes over while I wash the dishes - I'm fine with it.

What’s your current mantra?

Dance to your own beat.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Dear Janet, Seriously, you're amazing. Just do you. The rest of it will work itself out.

And what advice would you give those who are scared of making that leap?

Baby steps will get you there. So think small. It sounds counterintuitive because you want to think big. But in order to get there, you have to take small incremental steps. Think small. Give yourself some cushion. It doesn't have to be money, necessarily, but even a community of people that has your back. So start networking. That's the smartest way to get a job or make a job these days. Also, I said I had no cushion when I traveled to Asia and that's partly true, because I had zero savings and less than $8,000, but I had my family, and then a Buddhist monastery - and that's a huge cushion! If you want to see how to live abundantly, live in a Buddhist temple.


What inspired you to light that fire under your ass?

It was a "nightmare client" that really humbled me to the leaky faucet in my business and motivated me to be better. It was the last straw that made me realize if I was going to take my business and myself seriously, I had to take an honest look at what wasn't working. And it wasn't just "bad clients". There's a lot of personal responsibility that could be improved upon to eliminate bad clients. That meant being a better communicator and better boss, even if that just means bossing myself. I've now hired a team member to fix the so-called leaky faucet in my systems and feel so much better about my process! Learn from bad experiences and it can only make your business better. The bad client was a blessing in disguise because it meant that I decided once and for all to quit my hobby business and start taking myself seriously. I'm always so much more motivated by what I don’t want (nightmare clients!) that it made me want to try harder, rather than give up and get a job.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I now have a full client docket so that means I need to raise my prices and start building my team of designers. I say that so nonchalantly, but it's scary raising your prices at first! But it makes my business better to do so, and it helps clients invest better, too. From there, I'd love to create some sort of digital course of my own, get on the webinar game, and just step up and play bigger, one small step at a time. Eventually, I'll be holding women's retreats around the world, and partnering with other amazing entrepreneurs to hold cruise ship retreats and a self-publishing company.

I also get a percentage of sales with a corset company so I'd like corsets and boudoir photography in the retreat experience. Something about self-love, creative flow, and transformation. I want to inspire women to craft their stories and go on their own adventures, their heroine's journey or Queen's Quest. I also have some erotica stories bursting to come out and am partnering with a friend around that. I'm mostly dreaming because I have a hard time planning things in terms of calculated decisions, but have a brain dump full of ideas that I'm sure will happen eventually. I'm much less linear left brain and more creative right brain. What if dreaming was synonymous with planning? Because I honestly think that's the only way I can get things done. I don't understand people who have their businesses planned out a year in advance or more. It amazes me. I wish I could do it, but I just have to do it my way, since I'm the boss, for better or worse!

Follow Janet on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Images: Janet Brent