Even with Cancer, You Can Follow Your Dreams

Learn How 3-time Cancer Survivor, Judy Salinsky, Never Stopped Living

Summary

Judy Salinsky is a cancer survivor. Since she was first diagnosed nearly 25 years ago, she's faced cancer three times. Yet, even when first diagnosed at 39, she never stopped doing what was right for her body. She ate right. She's a marathon runner. And she has continued her work as an artist. Now at 64 she's recovering from cancer yet again, and yet again she's focused on life. Chia recently talked to her about her diagnosis and her life. 

 

**** Video Transcript ****

CHIA: I'm really excited to be here in beautiful Del Mar, California, with the ocean and with my guest today, Judy Salinsky. I think we share an unspoken bond that we were both diagnosed with cancer at the age of 39. Am I right? Was that your first diagnosis?

JUDY: The first thing that came to my mind was a total denial that I was too busy for this. I got to go to school. I have to go to work. I have too many things to do. But thank God to my wonderful husband. He made a call to the doctors and said, "There's something wrong."

And while I was in the shower, the nurse called me back and says, "It seems like you're going to have to come in." And because I was in such denial, I got lost on the way to the doctor's office, even though I've lived in the area for 40 years. It's amazing how strong your mind can be, either completely negative or completely positive. And at that moment, it was total.

 

The First Thing is Always Death

Denial and adrenaline. I think at that point it's your adrenaline just guiding your body.

Confusion. And the unknown. The unknown, the first thing we all think about is if you're going to die.

That's the first. Yes, the first thing.

And once you get educated and you learn the steps and you eliminate all negativity in your life, you turn off the bad news and you disassociate yourself from negative people. You surround yourself with things you love, people you love, a garden, the ocean. In my case, you keep yourself very busy and you take one day at a time.


Tell me a little bit about your cancer. 

Mine was carcinoma. It was tumors in my rectum. It started off as one small one. And by the time they actually went in and did a scope, there were two, and I had the surgery to remove them.

The problem I had was that the surgeon didn't close me up properly, and a week later, I had severe hemorrhaging. And once again, my husband took care of me and took me to the E.R. and they thought they were going to examine me being awake. And I said, "No way!" because they were going to put something in my fanny as big as a baseball bat.

So I was put under and went into surgery and went through radiation, severe radiation.

Judy used Aloe Vera to heal from cancer radiation.

I read I kept reading about Aloe Vera, and I took the Aloe Vera plant. I cut it very thin like filets, and I draped it on me for three days and three times a day in an area about this big (holds up her hands a foot wide). And when I go through my treatment, the doctors were questioning, "how come you don't have a radiation burn?"

I said, "Every day I'm putting this Aloe Vera plant on my body."

Note that you can't put the liquid gel in the bottle because it has point 0% alcohol. It has to be raw, the real thing.

The burn did finally show, but I delayed it.

Okay, very interesting. That's great for everybody to know because we're always looking for a solution to radiation burns.

I had to wear long, flowing dresses, but I couldn't wear it regular panties. I had to wear men's underwear: Calvin Klein.

Yes, the briefs with no elastic around the leg, because I was all burned and that protected me. Oh, my God. That's a secret.

 

Getting Cancer Three Times, Still Running

No, but nobody knows all these little things we have to learn then later. And so as we go through this. But that wasn't just the first time. Then you had cancer a second time.

Actually I've had it three times.

Three times!

So, that was anal cancer and then 22 years later (I was diagnosed again). 

I've never smoked. I've been an athlete my whole life, but I kept having a cough and I told my mom and she said, "Why are you coughing?" And I came up with excuses. It must be the milk. It must be the yogurt. Must be the ice cream. Too much dairy. And she said, "you need to talk to somebody about it."

I had a cold, so they kept saying, "oh, you probably got pneumonia." And then one fabulous doctor decided to do an entire scan of my lung. And she said, "The reason why you're not getting well is that you have first stage lung cancer."

Oh, and how old were you then when you got this diagnosis?

That was 64. 

64. What really shocks me, though, is that you are an athlete. You're an athlete. And so it is so important for us to be aware of our bodies constantly.

I mean, right now with you just saying that you have to be aware of your body, I'm getting chills because if I wasn't paying attention to why the toilet is full of blood from the first one and why am I coughing (during the second). It's not a tickle.

And my mother, thank God and my husband -- both were saying that there's something going on. And you've taken three different antibiotics yet you're still sick, right?

Something is wrong, right? You have to face it. You need to face it head on.

Let's tackle this. Yes. I was determined. 

So three time cancer survivor. But I love a story that you wrote that I wish you would tell me a little bit more about is after your surgery, you talk about how weak you were and then a year later, tell me what accomplishments you have come to from that day. I believe you said you could barely even walk across the room, right?

Yeah, 25 feet was a challenge. Yeah.

I posted this on Facebook because I grew up in this area, and I've had friends that have been on Facebook and have been in my life for over 50 years. A lot of them are going through depression or illness and they just sit back and they're accepting it.

 

Judy Salinsky: Marathon Runner

I'd say, "Just put your shoes by the front door. You don't have to think about walking the first day. Just put the shoes by the front door the second day, open the door, put your shoes outside and sit there and look at your shoes. It may take a week, but all you have to do is make that one step. And within that first day on a walker, try to do 25 feet."

I was determined to start exercising again. So every day I did something. Just like you brush your teeth, right? Just like you brush your hair. You walk. You never go for distance. You go for time. Because once you go for distance, you're putting pressure on yourself.

Today, I only walked 100 yards. Oh, my God. I don't feel like it, so I'm not going to do it at all. You go for time. I'm going to walk 10 minutes. It doesn't matter if you're walking 20 feet or 20 yards or a half a mile. You have done your 10 minutes and every single day. you just do a tiny bit more.

I went from 20 feet -- and it was just last February that I finished my third bout of cancer -- now, I'm swimming two miles, three times a week in the swimming pool or the ocean. I'm hiking. I just came back from Catalina. I'm hiking five miles and going up 600 feet in elevation. I'm riding my bike 22 miles when I couldn't even walk around the block.

The thing I had to learn is "what is a head trip". You can't look back on the way you were before. Before, you accept what you have now, and you thank God that you're vertical and you're moving.

I love it. And it's true. Set a new path, a new goal, a new life. And I think that's a goal for anybody, because what you've accomplished, there's just no excuses for anybody. I think it's a wonderful message and words of wisdom. I think for anything that we're overcoming in any illness, I think those are the greatest words of wisdom.

I truly believe that people that have an issue with exercising is they haven't been taught that it's okay to do a little bit. And we're all unique. We're all different. I wouldn't expect everybody to do anything at my level, just like I met someone who inspired me after the second cancer, and he was a marine and they brought the equipment into his room in the hospital and he trained.

And he ended up doing a marathon. He ended up doing the Ironman.

And he he talked to me all the time when I was going through treatment. "You can do this, you can do this." And he became my mentor.

And this moment I can't think of his name, but he's very famous because he went from a situation worse than mine. He was fighting two and three types of cancer, and he was determined. He went on experimental drugs and he ended up doing the Ironman.

 

Judy Salinsky: Sculpture Artist


That is an amazing accomplishment just for anybody in the world. But yet, I mean, given the whole situation of cancer, that is amazing. It's amazing how strong the mind is.

Today, of course, one year later, we're not just celebrating your running and hiking and swimming accomplishments, but we're also celebrating your launch of your sculptures. And so I'm sitting here with a famous artist, too, that lives and breathes art and creativity. And so tell us a little bit about that whole life that you have, because we're celebrating today.

Yes, we are. I was able to get into a very fun gallery in Avalon, Catalina, 26 miles off the coast of California. And the woman who owns the gallery is very supportive and loving. And that's the kind of people we have to surround ourselves with. It took me five years with doors shutting.

People say, "no, your art's beautiful, but no thank you."

I was in a gallery in our very famous town of Laguna Beach, and I was taken advantage of and I pulled my sculptures out of there. I was in another gallery and they had no respect for my pieces. They actually put a painting in front of my sculpture and my girlfriend told me about this, and I was like, "Pull my sculpture out of there!"

Yes. Because they're beautiful sculptures. They are so beautiful. I want to hold one.

I also had the amazing privilege of being accepted in the first California art show with the National Sculpture Society in New York City. Oh, my goodness. And my big stingrays were in the gallery at the National Sculpture Society in New York.

And so never giving up.

Never, never, never giving up. And I learned that by reading about movie stars. Don't accept no. A professional person never accepts no. And I keep saying that. And finally it's true.

It's a yes.

It's a yes.

Yes. Yesterday, you attended your kind of grand opening of your art in Avalon. And that's so exciting that we could be here today to celebrate with you. So this is amazing. Now, tell me about your support group. Tell me about your husband, your parents and oh, a little bit about that journey as well.

Oh, being an artist. A lot of people know that our imagination is extremely powerful. And the words, "what if?" That's  not good because it's uncertainty.

"I'm going to cook. I'm going to have a bowl of ice cream. I'm going to eat pepperoni pizza, because I'm going through treatment,  and I want to do everything that makes me feel good."


I went through oncology counseling. That helped me realize that there's a triangle we go through in our brain. And if you follow the triangle and stay away from the what ifs and only think of now, "what are you going to do now?"

The other point of the triangle is what makes you happy right now. I'm going to garden. I'm going to paint. I'm going to cook. I'm going to have a bowl of ice cream. I'm going to eat pepperoni pizza, because I'm going through treatment,  and I want to do everything that makes me feel good.

 

Do What Makes You Happy, Now

Yes. And eating pepperoni pizza was my security. So everything positive was on the other side of the triangle. So you learn to stay on that side of the triangle.

As far as my husband, he's grounded. He's supported. He's loving. He's caring. And he's my guardian angel. He's also my art director.

Oh, my gosh. I love it. He's he's an amazing man.

He's an amazing man. And you need to surround yourself with that and divorce yourself from negative people. I had a girlfriend asked me if it was contagious.

It scares me how some people just don't really know what to say or do, but because they're also facing their own fears. And I see that, like, I call it the black eye. That's kind of my thing. When people would look at me, they had these black, deep, like, fear eyes. Because they're facing their own.

The support my mother is we're Sicilian, very emotional. There's times when my mom will go off crazy and and be extremely emotional over things. But when it came to me, the strength that my mother showed was rock hard.

My mother gave me strength, strength and happiness, and we only talked about happy things when we went to for walks together. My mom never drove, so we would walk on the beach. She'd ask me how I was today, and she would only talk happy things. And we turned off the news.

Oh, turn the news off.

 

Four Magic Words: "How Are You Feeling?"

That is a really important point. When you're speaking to somebody, don't talk about the negative or drag out the problems. I think it is important to say "keep a positive conversation, keep a forward thinking conversation." I think that's more helpful to someone who's going through. 

That's important.

One phrase that I've learned in helping others is I never said, "How are you doing?"

I said, "How are you feeling today?" Because "how are you feeling today?" is letting them either tell them or tell me the good that they're feeling or that they're not feeling so good. It opens them up to talk about their pain because we all go through it or talk about how many times you threw up or what homeopathic you're taking to help yourself or whatever.

So how are you feeling? I feel like that's the magic word. 

 

"I'm Covered In Blood, Everywhere"

You talk about it as if it were a miracle, that certain signs were put into your life and that you think you sensed God.

I don't go to an organized church. I don't have an organized religion, but I'm extremely spiritual. And I became even more spiritual.

Judy Salinsky Creation: Stingrays in Bronze

I'm not going to say I had a wow experience. I'm going to say everything I believed just got really, really strong at the age of 39.

I was working, and I was in school, and I had things to do. Then, all of a sudden, I got up to get ready for school, go to the bathroom, and I think I'm having diarrhea. And I look, and I am covered in blood everywhere. The toilet was all blood.

I once worked in the grocery store and read that if you have a hemorrhoid, you may bleed slightly. So I called my husband in the bathroom and said I think I have a little hemorrhoid.

And he saw it, and he said, "I really believe it's not a little hemorrhoid. I think we need to call the doctor."

He was so grounded. He wasn't hysterically crazy. And I said, "I don't have time for this. I'm getting a shower because I have to."

He then calls the doctor and the nurse calls me back and tells me to come in right away.

I feel like that's an angel story. You have to listen to that little voice.


How strong is our mind. I got lost driving to the doctor because your mind can get lost. It was the first time I realized how strong the mind is.

I've lived in the area for 40 years, and I got lost going to the doctor. It was denial.

So I go to the doctor, and right away they call. And that's the other thing. If something is wrong, they don't wait three days to call you. They'll call you that night. Yes. That was so how we started to move toward surgery and radiation.

That was the sign, even though it wasn't really technically related to your cancer, it was a sign to get in and you were able to start treatment and really. Yes, get going.

And that that's the first thing I said is, "was that blood related to the cancer? And they said, "no, we have no idea where that came from."

I feel like that's an angel story.

You have to listen to that little voice.

 

Ramona, My Cancer Angel

Now, tell me about your good friend and how she came into your life as an angel as well from Harvard.

When I was in college, she was my roommate. She studied to be a doctor. She's an MD, PhD. Her name is Ramona. She is a very guiding angel in my life.

She came in my life when I was 60. It was three years ago. So, at 64, I was the first lung cancer she saw where the person never smoked. So she came into my life, but more importantly, she went back to another doctor and got that full X-ray of my lung and saw the white puffiness where they thought it was pneumonia.

And it was actually a star representing the type of cancer I had.

And she told me, "You have cancer. That's not pneumonia." And then she took care of me there.

And then there are trains and flights, and even in my neighborhood. She took care of me there as well.

The third time was when I called Ramona  to tell her it came back less than three years later. I had to have my second lobe on the right side removed, and only a year ago, it came back, and it was in my third lobe. I was very upset and saying, "Okay. You took my second lobe out. How come you didn't give me radiation? How come you didn't give me chemo?"

 

Protocols Govern Your Cancer Treatment

And they said it wasn't in your protocol. So what I'm learning is, depending upon what type of cancer you have, there is a protocol they follow and they don't deviate from that. So that's why they just took the lobe out. And that was the end of it. They figured it was small, it's gone. And that was a little upsetting.

Because they didn't really radiate around to make sure all the margins had really, truly come to an end. Correct, or did they?

Didn't give me chemo to make sure it wasn't traveling. Even though you do a CAT scan and full body scan, they can't see it. But, it could be there.

The margins could always be there. Correct?

Correct. So. Unfortunately, less than three years, it did come back to the lower lobe, which is a third lobe on the right side. And the surgeon says were taken it out. And I says no. And this is where mama taught me. You always go for a second opinion.

I called to advocate for your own health. I have to scream that out real quick. You've got to advocate for your own.

Health, no matter what.

You have to fight, and you have to believe. Because as my husband taught me (he's in medicine): They are practicing medicine. They are not God. They don't know everything. There could be deviation from what's going on and there may be an alternative.

And thank God I went for the alternative. I called Ramona. She connected me with the people at Dana-Farber and they asked for my medical records. She taught me what to say and what to ask. She was my big sister, helping me, supporting me, giving me love and support, calling me every day. How am I doing? And Dana-Farber set me up with a patient advocate. They guided me and they counseled me. And because of COVID, we were right in the middle of COVID.

Oh, my God. We did a Zoom meeting. And thank you, Dana Farber. You saved me from having my third lobe removed.

I went through chemo. It was very difficult, but that was another angel. I was supposed to go on one type of chemo. And the night before I started,....

The oncologist, the killer chemo. Right? You were really about to enter the gamut.

Yes, they were going to douse me. But because of my situation, a day before, they called me, and said, "we are going to give you a lighter treatment, and change your protocol so it won't be so difficult for you."

So, yes, the treatment was survivable.

 

"The Walls Were Melting": Manage Your Own Treatment

And another friend who studied homeopathic medicine helped me, and said, "All these angels coming and helping me."

So my cancer path maybe was not what I had envisioned in my life. But it has been the greatest blessing of my life. In a weird kind of way, it has been a blessing because it has opened my life to people like you. 


All the positive people that said, if you're nauseous, you don't have to take the nausea medication. Because the first time, when I was 39, they tried to give it to me, and I hallucinated. They had given me an IV for the nausea. And I was in the hospital and the walls were melting. You could see the walls and the cupboards were melting. And I was yelling, Tell him to stop.

And my husband was right there. Pull the needle, get rid of that stuff. And they tried to charge me for the drug.

Like, no, thank you. That was a free ride.

So I went on homeopathic. Oh, wow.

I took the nerve pain drug while I was in the hospital. But then when I got out, my girlfriend told me there's a homeopathic remedy for nerve pain. Took that, and it worked.

Wow. That's interesting. I really, really think that's important for people to be able to just read and keep an open mind.

You have to have an open mind. And you have to educate yourself. Be an advocate for yourself. Have hope. You've got to have hope. Positive surrounding great care. Caregivers. Family. Friends. It supports you.

So my cancer path maybe was not what I had envisioned in my life. But it has been the greatest blessing of my life. In a weird kind of way, it has been a blessing because it has opened my life to people like you. 

Yes. This is the path I was given. It's the most beautiful path.

 

Final Words: "You have to get rid of all the negativity in your life"

As your closing words, what would you want to say to somebody going through cancer. What are your words of encouragement? 

What positive words and encouragement would you give to somebody going through this?

It's very difficult, but you have to get rid of all the negativity in your life, whether it's what you're thinking or the people that surrounding you. You have to believe in yourself, your positive heart, your passion when you're going through this.

You have to dig deep. Think of the passion and what makes you happy? Bring it out and use it to your fullest ability. And that begins the healing process. If you can believe in yourself and do things that make you happy, that's what's going to help you get through this.

So the power of the mind and the power of love and I can't. For meeting me on this gorgeous Sunday morning, the day after your grand opening. I feel special that I get to celebrate a little bit of your life today.

Once again, the angels brought you into my life.

Visit www.judysalinsky.com to see more of her amazing artwork!