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Why Rene Syler AKA “Good Enough Mother” Chose Offense Over Defense in Beating Breast Cancer

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In 2006, Rene made a life-changing decision. As the daughter of two breast cancer survivors who had recently been diagnosed with her own breast disease, Rene decided to have a preventive mastectomy, a surgery that was profiled by Oprah Winfrey on her show. That experience also ignited Rene’s passion; now she travels the country as an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, spreading the word about early detection and treatment of the disease. Rene was also awarded the prestigious Gracie Allen award for her television series on breast cancer.

But just as she had made the decision to have a mastectomy, Rene was fired from her high-profile TV job. After battling a significant depression, she began to rebuild her life and career. She started by assembling an online presence and community at GoodEnoughMother.com, born of the publication of her first book, Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting.

Rene continues with her television work as host of Sweet Retreats on the Live Well NetworkExhale on Magic Johnson’s Aspire as well as a sought after expert on The Today Show, The Bill Cunningham Show, CNN Headline News, The Doctors, the View and Wendy Williams, among others.

Check out our interview with Rene and learn more about her journey of perseverance.

You describe yourself as a “wife, mother, breast cancer awareness advocate, TV personality/producer and all around badass.” What makes Rene Syler a badass?

Just that title makes me smile! What makes me an all around badass? In two years I lost my job, my breasts, my hair and I found myself. I have been to hell and back and I’m still standing! But not just that; I’m stronger than I was before I went through the storm. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve faced challenges and overcome then. I didn’t curl up in a ball and give up, though that’s what I wanted to do, many times in fact. I put my head down and leaned into the wind. I kept fighting, I kept moving forward even when all I could do was crawl. The fact that I kept going, that I have never given up in the face of mental and physical challenges.. well THAT’S what makes me an all around badass!

In 2006 you underwent a televised double mastectomy, but were never actually diagnosed with breast cancer. What led to your decision for surgery and to allow the world to watch?

I’ve always been about educating; it’s what led me to a career in TV to begin with. So it just seemed like a natural extension of who I am to want to be public with my journey.

I am the daughter of two breast cancer survivors. My mother was diagnosed with the disease as she was turning 65. They caught it very early on a mammogram; she had a lumpectomy and radiation and is now 17 years cancer-free. My father was also diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot of people think men can’t get the disease but they can and they do; more than 2300 men are diagnosed each year. My father underwent a radical modified mastectomy as his treatment.

Then it was my turn. In 2002, I had just been hired by CBS to be one of the anchors of the newly revamped The Early Show when I was diagnosed with Hyperplasia Atypia, thought of by some to be the stage right before breast cancer. That was sort of the official start of my journey. The following years were something of a blur; I had four biopsies in four years, some more aggressive than others.

After the fourth biopsy, I took a hard look at my life. Was I WAITING until I got breast cancer before I did something about it? I had two first-degree relatives with the disease one being a man, which made doctors think there could possible be a genetic issue. I had genetic testing with inconclusive results. I knew that if I did nothing (and based on my past experience) I was more than likely going to be on the table every year having a biopsy.

I decided to play offense instead of defense. I had a wonderful breast surgeon who spoke to me about my options, which included taking Tamoxifen (to prevent cancer in high risk cases), continuing the way we were or having a preventive mastectomy. Because I was emotionally drained from biopsies year after year and I needed to do something about the significant damage to my breast caused by the biopsies (they were all in the same location in the same breast), I opted for the preventive mastectomy. I scheduled the surgery for January 2007.

Just as I was coming to grips with this difficult decision, I was fired from my job as one of the hosts on The CBS Early Show. My bosses did know I was having the surgery and I’m fairly certain that did not factor in their decision to fire me. But this is how TV goes; it’s just that it could not have happened at a worse time.

So on December 22nd, 2006 I said goodbye to viewers; on January 7th, 2007 I said goodbye to my breasts.

Fast-forward to where we are now. My scars have healed and my life is, well, my life. I no longer have mammograms because I don’t have breast tissue and the surgery reduced my cancer risk to almost zero. I don’t have any regrets and I don’t feel any less of a woman because I don’t have my real breasts (I had reconstruction a few months after the mastectomy). I’m active, healthy and don’t live in fear of breast cancer.

One of the reasons I have made breast health and minority women a priority is because women of color, though diagnosed less, are dying MORE of breast cancer. We need to be more proactive about our health. We need to listen to our bodies. We need to know our family history. We need to stop with self-destructive behaviors. We need to exercise and keep our weight in check if we want to win the battle against breast cancer and so many other issues that plague our communities.

Flip the page as Rene gives valuable tips for mothers and fills us in on what it means to be “good enough!” 

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Ilen & Lauren Bell are the husband and wife team behind Black Fitness Today, born, in 2011, out of their motivation to change culture, build a platform and lead the charge. Their purpose is to help change the culture towards health and fitness in the African-American community, showcase those who are making an impact, and promote healthier living. They also aim to serve as a platform for African-American fitness and health professionals and enthusiasts who are otherwise overlooked in traditional fitness media.

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Podcast

Episode 5: The REAL Bow – Dr. Rainbow Barris

On ‘Black-ish’ Success, Marriage, Motherhood and Living Healthy Her Way!

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Rainbow Barris, Blackish, Kenya Barris, Rainbow Barris book, podcast

We had the great pleasure to chat with The REAL Bow – Dr. Rainbow Barris for episode 5! Click on the link in this article to listen! And, read on to see more info on your chance to enter to win a copy of her brand new book!

podcast, rainbow barris

In this episode, we get right into our interview with Dr. Rainbow Barris, who is the inspiration behind the character Rainbow Johnson on ABCs hit show ‘Black-ish’ and author of Keeping Up With the Johnson’s – Bow’s Guide to Black-ish Parenting. It’s hard enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle period – let alone as wife of director and writer Kenya Barris, being a medical doctor and raising six children! But Barris has found what works for her and wants to encourage other women balancing family and career to find what works uniquely for them! Plus, we talk about the show, Mr. & Mrs. Barris’ recent $1 million donation to Clark Atlanta University, and what life is like for her now. Don’t miss this!

Beginning Friday, June 29th – you’ll be able to enter to win a copy of Barris’ book! Stay tuned to our website, and Facebook and Instagram pages.

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Podcast

Episode 4: Leah Uko – Journalist on Fox 11 Los Angeles + Bodybuilder

Los Angeles area native Leah Uko is back home working as a nightside reporter, as seen on Fox 11 Los Angeles. But she’s also a bodybuilder preparing to step on stage again this fall. Learn more about her journey, why she loves to bear arms on camera, and why discipline and journaling keep her motivated and determined to reach her goals.

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Interviews

CrossFit Inc Global Branding Manager Talks with Black Fitness Today Ahead of Manion-WOD to Honor Fallen Hero

Ilen Bell, MS, CSCS, Co-Founder of Black Fitness Today

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Manion WOD events will be occurring at CrossFit gyms across the United States on Sunday, April 29, 2018. Times vary by location. Proceeds from each event will go towards TMF veteran initiatives such as TMF veteran expeditions, veteran-empowerment programs, and scholarships.

 

On April 29th, CrossFit gyms across the country will recognize the sacrifice of 1stLT Travis Manion and complete the Manion-Workout of the Day (WOD) to benefit Travis Manion Foundation (TMF) veteran initiatives such as TMF veteran expeditions, veteran-empowerment programs, and scholarships.

Read our interview with CrossFit Global Branding Manager, Jimi Letchford, and TMF President and Sister of Travis Manion, Ryan Manion.

Who was 1stLT Travis Manion?

Ryan: Travis was my best friend, and younger brother by 15 months. Even though I was the older sibling, I looked up to Travis in many ways because he always set the example. Travis was a high character person even from a young age, and when he saw something wrong, he would stand up. He was an all-league standout in wrestling, football and lacrosse, a member of five championship teams, and an All-American wrestler. Travis was best known as a motivating and popular figure to his classmates. This combination of leadership, athleticism, and academic achievement opened the door to his appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

After graduating from USNA, he decided to follow in our father’s footsteps and was awarded a commission into the United States Marine Corps. After finishing at the top of his class at The Basic School in Quantico, VA, Travis was assigned to 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, with whom he deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. On April 29, 2007 during his second tour of duty in Iraq Travis, his fellow Marines and Iraqi Army counterparts were ambushed. Leading the counterattack against the enemy forces, Travis was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates. Travis Manion paid the ultimate sacrifice that day, but his selfless actions allowed every member of his patrol to survive.

 

How does CrossFit serve as a vehicle for honoring heroes like 1stLT Travis Manion, who paid the ultimate sacrifice?

Jimi: Every day, millions of people engage in CrossFit workouts around the world. Our Workouts of the Day (aka WODs) are constantly varied, (relatively) high intensity, functional movement challenges that are intended to elicit physical and mental responses like no other workout regimen. The CrossFit program may not be for everyone, but it is for anyone.

Our Hero WODs are a different breed. They’re intended to take you to your limit. It’s up to the athlete to decide whether they’ll push past this limit. During this process, we honor the Hero(es) in which the workout was named. The men and women we honor through these WODs have amazing stories of character and bravery, and knowing about their legacy pushes us to go even further than we thought possible.

CrossFit has closely aligned its core values with that of the military. Why might CrossFit be something veterans want to give a try?

Jimi: CrossFit has a very tight-knit community, and a great sense of camaraderie among participants. When veterans join a CrossFit gym, they often find that camaraderie very similar to what they experience while in service to our Country. The idea that you belong to something bigger than yourself can often be lost while transitioning out of the military to civilian life. Like the military, there’s also a competitive nature to CrossFit. That friendly competition is something many veterans continue to look for in the next chapter of their life, and CrossFit is a great way to fill that void.

“If Not Me, Then Who…” is a question that has come to shape 1stLT Manion’s legacy. How is TMF and CrossFit answering this question?

Ryan: “If Not Me, Then Who…” isn’t actually a question, it’s a mantra that Travis lived by every day, and we’re inspiring future generations to put that mantra into action within their own lives. Just before Travis left for his second deployment to Iraq, he attended a football game with my husband Dave, and while they were leaving the stadium, Dave said to Travis “How about I push you down the steps so you break your ankle, and you won’t have to go back?” Travis looked at Dave very serious, and simply replied “If Not Me, Then Who…” He went on to explain that if he didn’t go back, someone less prepared would have to go in his place. This is the way Travis approached everything in his life, even from an early age. Those words have grown into a national movement that is inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to be of service to their own communities, and to be part of something bigger than themselves.  

Jimi: Travis was as true a friend as you could ever find. He always looked out for others, and often times would even thank me for pushing him to work harder. He was also a fierce competitor, and would never cut corners. His mantra of “If Not Me, Then Who…” really does represent how selfless Travis was. To me, Travis is representative of all the other Heroes that our Nation, and CrossFit community, have lost. So, I’d like to tell anyone that will be honoring Travis (or whoever else they’ll be honoring this weekend) to do so with the utmost integrity to the workout standards. Remember that those we honor through our Hero WODs paid the ultimate sacrifice in their line of duty. It is now our duty to never forget them. “If Not Me, Then Who…”

How does CrossFit motivate its members to collectively complete intense WODs sometimes named in honor of fallen military and first responders whom the members have no personal connection?

Jimi: The people that walk into our CrossFit boxes are people that recognize that only hard work will achieve health and wellness. CrossFitters don’t believe that there is a ‘magic pill’ for fitness. It turns out that this psychographic also tends to be very altruistic and humble. As a CrossFit community, all we have to do is tell the story of the fallen Hero, how it may relate to the workout, and the rest just happens. For example, the “Manion” Hero WOD is extremely leg intensive. We know from our relationship with Travis that he always had the strongest legs of anyone on our team. So, Travis’ workout consists of a 400 meter run and 29 back squats (135lbs), done over 7 rounds. The numbers are somewhat poetic; Travis was killed 4/29/07.

Manion WOD events will be occurring at CrossFit gyms across the United States on Sunday, April 29, 2018. Times vary by location. Proceeds from each event will go towards TMF veteran initiatives such as TMF veteran expeditions, veteran-empowerment programs, and scholarships.

How can people exemplify Travis’ character and sacrifice beyond the four walls of a CrossFit box where many join together once a year to complete a WOD honoring Travis’ legacy?

Ryan: Get involved in your own community. Look for your passion and a purpose, and wake up with determination to make a difference in the world every day, no matter how small. Live by “If Not Me, Then Who…” and look for those opportunities that present themselves each and every day that you can be the best version of yourself, and take advantage of them.

What communities does TMF serve?

Ryan: We currently have offices in 8 cities across the country, which include: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington D.C. However our impact and opportunities for involvement are nationwide.

How does the Travis Manion Foundation ensure that children of fallen heroes are not left behind?

We work closely with families of the fallen, and specifically organize service expeditions for survivors. These expeditions allow family members of fallen military to spend time with others who can relate to their journey, while providing them an opportunity to carry on their loved one’s legacy by being of service to a community in need. We host 8-10 domestic or international expedition each year, and one such expedition is specifically for teens who have lost a parent or sibling in service to our country. These young adults learn that while their loved one may be gone, they can honor their memory and carry on their legacy through the actions they take each and every day.

Where can people find information on joining or volunteering with TMF?

Ryan: Anyone can join the mission by visiting travismanion.org. We have volunteer and engagement opportunities throughout the year, which includes our Operation Legacy service projects and the 9/11 Heroes Run 5K series.

What do you want people to know most about Travis?

Ryan: Travis always challenged himself to be the best person he could, and he did that by focusing on being big in the little things. Because of that, he was prepared when bigger challenges arose. The legacy that Travis left behind, and for that matter all our fallen heroes, is one that we all have a responsibility to carry on. The way that we do that is by look towards the character they lived with, and challenging ourselves to think about how we can be the best version of ourselves – because “If Not Me, Then Who…”

 

 

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