We’re taking a closer look at some of the ways in which our people choose health in their daily lives. Karen Panozzo is a Media Director and two-time breast cancer survivor. Here she talks about the importance her fitness-centric lifestyle has had on her recovery, and the power of taking time out for yourself.
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Firstly, thank you so much for being willing to share your story. We talk a lot at PHM about moments along the health journey, and I’d like to start by talking about what I imagine was one of the most impactful moments in your personal journey.
Yes, so, I am a two-time breast cancer survivor, first diagnosed in 2010, and then had a recurrence in 2017. The second time around was a much different and bigger battle than the first one, and I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
Of course through the diagnosis and surgeries I needed to take some time away to recover and heal, but I continued to forge ahead as strong as I could with both work and my personal life. Exercise and health and fitness have always been a big part of my life, certainly before my diagnosis but also during and after treatment. I have always maintained that part of my lifestyle, and I believe that having that foundation and keeping it a priority in my life has allowed me to have a stronger and better recovery, both physically and mentally.
Being in the health and wellness space for such a large part of my career has also really helped me to be an advocate for my own health, as well as a resource for my family and friends. Knowing what questions to ask my doctors, how to speak to them, understanding how to do the research and where to get the information I needed; these are things that for many people who are confronted with this diagnosis don’t always know where to begin.
But fortunately, my experience put me ahead of the game and I knew where to start. Being in this space professionally ended up helping me in my own personal life in ways I never would have expected. And I’ve been able to extend that knowledge and expertise to the people in my life who are—or who have loved ones who are—going through similar, life-changing conditions.
It’s awesome that you were able to maintain some semblance of normalcy through your recovery. It sounds like your exercise and wellness routine played a big role in that.
It definitely did. I’ve always been a big fitness person, whether it’s running half marathons, lifting weights, century-ride cycling, yoga, group fitness classes—I’ve done it all. I always made the time for exercise. After my recovery, I couldn’t wait to get back at it. It was really difficult for me to “do nothing.”
Getting back into it was slow and steady, and I was told that I might lose some mobility and functioning. I don’t know if it was my will and determination, and what I brought to the table prior, but I have no real limitations today. This was a big scary unknown: would I be able to continue to do what I love to do every day? And thankfully I am.
How would you say your experience through all of this has impacted how you approach your career?
Throughout my career I felt I understood the importance of right information, right time, right person. But going through this serious health condition was a real eye-opener in grasping just how important of a factor that information is in the physician-patient connection.
Especially in critical moments, the physician really has to be the expert. When it comes to the approach that physicians take with their patients, and the kind of critical information that they need access to, the work that we do is so essential. At the same time, the patient needs to be educated to be able to ask the right questions.
So what was most impactful is that I truly realized, oh my gosh, if patients and HCPs have the right information and can both bring that to the conversation, what a magical way to solve health challenges!
I imagine the idea of “choosing health” has taken on a lot more meaning for you since.
You know, it’s an interesting thing. When, say, I interview people for positions at PHM, they often ask me what I like about working in this sector, essentially why I choose to work in health. While obviously I don’t go into my own diagnosis, I think it’s really interesting to let people know that one of the greatest things about working in health is that when I think about “taking my work home with me,” I don’t just mean I take my laptop home and do work. Look at how my work has directly impacted my life. You simply can’t say that in most other verticals.
Any advice you can give from what you’ve learned through this?
The biggest takeaway I can offer is that we need to take care of ourselves first and foremost. We’re often caught up in taking care of others: children, parents, partners. Take time and don’t feel guilty about feeding your own soul and nurturing yourself. It’s okay to take five minutes, an hour, a weekend, whatever, to just do you.
During my recovery I was told to not lift more than five pounds, or walk for more than 15 minutes each hour. That was a big challenge because I’ve always been very go-go-go, and here I had to allow myself to just do nothing. I needed to rest and let others take care of me. But while I would never want to go back to that time, it was so therapeutic to just be, and to really focus on nothing else but my recovery. So I took that feeling and that lesson with me.
We never had a recliner, but I was advised to maybe get one since I’d have to spend the better part of eight weeks sleeping on my back. My husband thought I would want to get rid of it after my recovery, since it represented such a hard time. But you know, I love it. I find peace in that chair. I don’t equate it to the difficult parts of my recovery, I equate it to the time when I just focused on me. When I’ve had a hard, heavy day, I go sit in that chair.
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Questions? Thoughts? Ideas? Contact us.