Pasha Hogan, 44, is a speaker, yoga teacher, workshop leader, psychotherapist, Reiki Master and three time cancer survivor.
When I caught up with Pasha, she was busy working on her newest venture, a book entitled, Third Time Lucky: A Creative Recovery. It is, as the title implies, a memoir about her journey through pre-diagnosis of breast cancer at just 26 years old. The book is an extension of the cancer program Pasha founded in 2003 called Creative Recovery.
HBP: Pasha, I’ve only heard bits and pieces of your story. But I really want to hear the rest. I know you were diagnosed the first time with breast cancer at just 26. A cancer diagnosis at any age is unwelcomed, but at the peak of your life – what happened to you emotionally when you heard the news? And what was your life like before the diagnosis?
Pasha: I had a fast paced life. I was living in New York City and working in the corporate world. I’d gone to college and majored in business. I was doing everything that I thought I should. After New York, I moved to London. I was that girl on the fast track. I was doing everything that goes with that, getting my hair blown straight every week and dry cleaning my clothes, the nicest clothes I could find and working my way up the corporate ladder. Honestly, it felt soulless to me. But I didn’t know what else to do.
HBP: It sounds like you were sort of on automatic. I think a lot of us are. We have an image of what life is in our heads and in our twenties, we rarely question that. But then you had this major “disruptor”, if you will…
Pasha: Yes. Definitely. It was a huge shock to be diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t in my family. There was no history at all. So for me, it was totally out of the blue.
HBP: Did you crumble? Did you question why me? I mean if no one’s ever had it in your family, I can imagine that could cause some angst and bitterness. Like why was I singled out?
Pasha: The weird part is, once I got over the shock, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was young.
HBP: So the invincible gene of youth kicked in and instead of crumbling, you just acted like it couldn’t really affect you?
Pasha: I was determined not to let it stop me. I had a lumpectomy and I had mild chemo. I also had six weeks of radiotherapy. I would get chemo then take a few days off because I felt sick, but then I’d hop back on the tube and go back to my lifestyle. I was determined to work hard and play harder. I did make a few changes in my life, like I moved back to Ireland (that’s where I’m from) to be near my family and to accept a big promotion on my job. I ended a bad relationship.
HBP: It sounds like you were trying to give yourself a new start, perhaps distance yourself from the diagnosis?
Pasha: Well, that didn’t work. Six months later, I got another diagnosis.
HBP: So how’d you handle it that time?
Pasha: You would think I’d have gotten it at this point. But I was worried about my corporate climb and I had my boss bringing me files in the hospital. Let’s keep up appearances. Let’s get over this hiccup.
HBP: Wow. I’m floored that you continued to just work around two cancer diagnoses as though nothing had happened.
Pasha: After a year, I did start to question what I was doing with my life and why I was doing a job I didn’t care about. And spending my money keeping up that lifestyle. I started to ask myself some questions and do some soul searching. I thought maybe I should be doing public relations. I always liked being around people and helping them shine. I did a part time course in that and decided it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the level that I wanted to relate to people with. Next I considered being a psychotherapist.
The day I got accepted into a psychotherapy course, I was on a lunch break and went for a routine appointment and the doctor found another lump. I was 31. Believe it or not, that was the luckiest day of my life. I got it that day. I said, “Okay, I’m not getting any more warnings. This is my life and there’s no going back to normal – to what I know. It’s time to step into unknown territory.” That was the big turning point for me.
HBP: So where did it all go from there?
Pasha: Well this wasn’t like the other two times. It was a very aggressive cancer. I had chemo, lost all of my hair and had a mastectomy. During my first bout with cancer, I didn’t lose my hair. But everything was different this time.
The doctors said “We treat it aggressively.” I lost my breast. I was 31-years-old. I’m thinking I’m single, no hair, no breast. I don’t want to get back to the life I had because I believed it contributed to getting me to that place. It was such a big moment because I just knew in my heart and soul that someone was saying to me, “All right, you’re not getting another warning. Pay attention. Start looking at how you’re living your life.”
HBP: And did you? Did you take that big step back and look at yourself? I think that can be one of the hardest things we can do.
Pasha: It was hard. It was hard to look at what was driving me. Why it was important to me what other people thought. Then “doing” took a back seat and I started asking myself what makes my heart sing, what do I love, what do I want to contribute here on the planet.
HBP: Where did the answers lead you?
Pasha: I changed my lifestyle in a big way. I left corporate life and did training for a psychotherapy course. It was incredible timing. There, I had the support to ask some difficult questions – to look at my diet, my beauty regime. And to ask myself, “What did beauty look like?” From this, I chose not to have reconstructive surgery because I felt like my body had been through so much. After the second surgery, I had a half of a mastectomy. I did breasts implants. My body had a bad reaction to the saline breasts.
When I had the third recurrence, I told them to take them out. At a point when I’d worked in the insurance industry, I saw so many claims filed about silicone implants. From reading devastating effects that they claimed were caused by the silicone implants, I felt pretty confident that I didn’t want them in my body. That was a big decision and I’m happy I did. It’s taken years for me to accept myself as a beautiful woman with one breast and I’m there now.
HBP: That’s fantastic. Let’s follow that discussion a little bit – beauty. How do you view beauty now? Your own and that of other women? There’s so much pressure to look a certain way if you’re female. But a total life transformation like you’ve had must have changed how you think in this area, too.
Pasha: Absolutely. I started by asking myself “What is being beautiful? What is being healthy? And according to whom? I feel like most of our life we’re told what that is by someone who wants to sell us something. They want us to feel bad about ourselves so we can shop and feel better about ourselves. Now when I see an ad, I’ll ask myself, “Is that really true? Do I believe that? I don’t jump on the bandwagon anymore.
HBP: What are some practical changes you’ve made, like you mentioned shopping less on impulse.
Pasha: I always look at ingredients when I buy things now. I’m 44 and coloring my hair was a big thing. There are so many chemicals in hair color. I still want to look beautiful, but use things that aren’t going to hurt me. I use herbal hair coloring now. I use mineral foundations. I’m always aware now. I do my best to make sure what I’m putting on my skin and hair isn’t damaging. I’ve had so much chemo and so many chemicals in my body.
HBP: So beauty products are all different for you now. Were you really into the mainstream stuff before all of this?
Pasha: I was. I’d go to the cosmetics counter and come away with $300 worth of products to look “natural”. I’ve learned balance. I’ve turned the word beauty over in my head. It’s really not something you can purchase. It’s an attitude. How you see yourself and accept yourself.
HPB: How does a relationship tie into this? What has dating been like for you?
Pasha: It’s been a progression. In the beginning, I put so much emphasis on my breasts and what I’d been through. I thought I had a big secret, something to hide. But I found most men really didn’t care, which shocked me. A few didn’t call again once I told them, but that wasn’t the majority. The more comfortable I became with accepting that I wasn’t my breasts, that there was more to me, the less it became the focus.
HBP: That’s a great point. And I think it can be applied to a lot of different things we women judge ourselves about – whether it’s weight or body shape or whatever. How we see ourselves affects who we let into our lives.
Pasha: You know, I made poor choices at the beginning of dating after everything because I felt like if a man accepted me, then I should go out with him. That was enough at the time. Now I realize the question is, “Do I like this person? Are they worthy of me?” It took me several years to get there. But I’ve been in a really good relationship for three years now.
HBP: So how would you rate your life today?
Pasha: I love my life. I have a very full life. I have to pinch myself sometimes. It’s so different. Nothing I would have imagined before. I feel very blessed and humbled every day.
HBP: Okay. Hard question: Do you think you would have gotten here without the cancer?
Pasha: I think something had to wake me up. I think I could have eventually gotten here without cancer. I help others see that they can slow down now and check things out – they don’t need to get cancer to change. It’s really about transformation so we can live our best life.
To find out more about Pasha’s recovery program, her meditation DVDs and Yoga DVDs, visit her website at www.PashaHogan.com