Meet Cindy Chaconas, founder of ‘Pink Up The Pace.’ Cindy is an unstoppable force for change in her community… A breast cancer survivor and daughter of a breast cancer survivor, she started ‘Pink Up The Pace,’ a fun – and very pink! – 5k Walk/Run benefitting breast cancer patients.
Can you share a bit about your background… what you did before you found out you were sick and what your plans were then…
I graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Health and Human Performance specializing in Athletic Training and High School Physical Education. When I graduated I went back to Miami and taught High School PE and was an assistant Athletic Trainer for almost a year when I realized I could not do that for the rest of my life. So I went back to Gainesville to get pre-reqs to apply for PA school while working as a physical therapist aide. While working there I realized that physical therapy was similar to athletic training but with a different population group so I decided to go that route.
I applied to a physical therapy graduate school… and I graduated from physical therapy in May 2007 and started working after I took and passed my boards. I worked for a year at a Community Medical Center about an hour away from where I live but didn’t like the commute and was fortunate to have a friend tell me about an opening and got hired at a nearby hospital.
I started working there in September and at that time I was also training for my 4th marathon. By that Fall, my lump got bigger and I went to get a second opinion in late November. By December I started getting testing done and from there the roller coaster took off.
How did you find out? What about your mom… what was that like?
I found out on January 5th after I was told before the end of 2008 that I should call and make an appointment with my doctor regarding my results. I went in and was told that they suspect that I might have breast cancer but they have to do surgery to know for sure. I said, “when can I get it done,” and they said Wednesday, January 7th. I walked across the building to go to the main hospital and told my boss I needed time off because I might have cancer and the tears just started rolling.
I had surgery on the 7th and did not find out until the next day when my doctor came in to check on me and deliver me the news. My family and friends already knew. My mom found out three weeks after I did because my situation gave my mom the courage and motivation to get herself checked as she had felt a lump to. When I found out I was in shock and disbelief. It was hard to take it all on since I was dealing with my own issues and felt bad, as I was not able to be there for her and help her. The distance between us did not help.
How are you both doing now?
We are both good. I am healthy and strong. I am blessed with two beautiful kids and taking things day by day. I have had two scares since the diagnosis but luckily they have been negative. It is something I will be face every year when I have to go in to get my yearly exams. My mom is also healthy but unfortunately her breast cancer required her to take medicine after the chemo and radiation and that has given her side effects that she hopes will get better once she is off the medicine.
How did you go from a patient to someone out there championing a cause for others?
I am really not sure how it happened. My main motivation originally was to raise money for my mom to help her with her treatments since she did not have insurance but realistically it is hard to raise money for one person that does not even live in the town that you are raising the money. But then, I thought, “I can’t imagine how many other women are out there dealing with the same issues my mom is.” Once I started getting the medical bills I got mad with the pharmaceutical companies and realized that if I was lucky enough to raise any money I would barely be able to cover a fraction of the cost. So with my physical therapy background our goal is to delay or avoid surgery if possible. With that in mind, if I could help raise money to aide men and women who have an issue or concern get in the door as soon as possible instead of waiting then maybe we can catch things from a benign lump to an earlier stage before things get to bad and to pricey.
What was it like setting up the Pink up the Pace run for the first time?
A whirlwind. A dream. A lot of hard work. Not sure what I was doing aside from swiping my credit card. But every minute was worth it and memorable. I went to a local running club I belong to and asked how much it would be to put on an event. They said about $10,000! Since I had no money for the race, I used my credit card, and overcharged it! They had a list of how to put on an event, and I reached out to the running club and 20 friends and those were my main helpers as the race grew. Now people will email me to try to help.
What is the greatest achievement of the race?
The greatest achievement I think is the overall support that the community has given the organization and as a result being able to raise the amount of money we have to help raise money for our mission.
In 2009 we had 863 race participants and raised $20,000. In 2010, 1,500 race participants and raised $30,000. In 2012, we had 3,000 race participants and raised $50,000. 2013 we had 2,700 race participants and raised $30,000 and this year we had 2,400 and raised $30,000.
What achievement are you most proud of?
The fact that I have created this organization from a thought during what I felt was one of my worst and lowest points in my life. I would not have been able to create Pink Up The Pace without the support of my husband, family and friends.
How has putting on these races changed you?
I think I’m modest and when people say positive things to me it goes in one ear and out the other. I don’t usually think of myself this way, but now I know I’m capable of putting those big events on and it’s so surreal. Every now and then I realize the impact. I’ve gotten two awards for the work we’ve done, including an American Cancer Society Award and that gets me choked up – I don’t know why. Maybe having kids makes you more sentimental!
Is there one moment or experience in your life that shaped who you have become?
That is hard to say. I think all my life experiences have help mold me. I have a great role model, my mom raised my sister and I as a single mom since I was 6 years of age. I feel like I had to grow up earlier than other kids to help.
How proud are you of the Pink up the Pace and what are your future plans for the race?
People always ask me about the future and its hard to say. Pink Up The Pace will stay a local race as I do not have the time or man power to expand the race to other cities. As long as there is a need in the community we will keep hosting the race as long as we can. My other goal is to do more educational work, to teach women to be advocates of our own bodies because no one else knows our bodies like we do. If you educate girls at an early age, they can be vigilant. So many people are diagnosed and stay quiet. Until it happens to you or your friends, you don’t realize.
What does it mean to you to live boldly?
To take risks in life, challenge yourself.
Who were your heroes or role models growing up? And who do you look up to now?
My mom has always been my hero and role model as she has always been there for my sister and I. She gave us what we needed with love and made sure to give us her all even when things were bad. I don’t think I look up to anyone or have role models. As I get older I am realizing that I am who I am and that I cannot compare my self to others. I need to do what is best for my family and myself. But because I am young there are many people out there who are older and have experienced more than me. So I learn from them and get what I can from their experiences and save that information if ever needed.
If you could offer someone who just found out they have cancer or another serious illness some advice, what would it be?
Take it day by day. As hard as it is try not to worry because it does nothing but make you more anxious. Yes you will have good days and bad days but live for today and not tomorrow. Pretty cliché but as simple as it sounds it is really hard to do.
You have this sense of calm and collectedness about you… where does it come from?
I appreciate the compliment and find it kind off funny as my family might say the opposite how I try to fill my day to the fullest! They say that because it’s the truth – I am a multi tasker and I think that I am pretty good at it!
To learn more about Cindy’s Pink Up The Pace! Race, go to: http://www.pinkupthepace.com
Genie James, M.M.Sc., is internationally-recognized as an author, speaker and investigative healthcare journalist. Her current passion: Finding out what works and what doesn’t in today’s $115 million anti-aging product and services market. In other words, she is here to help you ‘cut through the hype.’
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in the Florida Panhandle. I was born in Graceville, a tiny town with a two room hospital, then lived in a tinier town, Bonifay, until I was three. My family moved to Panama City where I was later elected the first female student body president of Bay High School.
I attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia for my undergraduate and graduate studies. I have since lived in Tennessee and Florida, returning in 2014 to once again make Nashville, Tennessee my home.
I am grateful for both my small town roots and my big city experiences. Today, I am equally as comfortable and happy eating greens and cornbread in a church basement as I am toasting champagne at a black tie event.
Southern. Southern. Southern.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER BACKGROUND
I have a Masters of Medical Science and was clinically trained and licensed to treat adult neurological disorders. The research I facilitated involved stroke and head trauma patients who had lost language and reasoning functions. Working with Dr. John Tonkovich, we pioneered an approach of using right brain therapies – such as music, pantomime, dance and art – to reprogram the firing of neural synapsis. The result was groundbreaking evidence that it is possible to literally re-wire the brain not only to recover lost language skills but, also, to enhance new learning. Though I no longer practice clinically, I use those same techniques today in my own learning and brain development. They are my toolkit for growth and new beginnings. I have worked in the business side of healthcare for now close to thirty years. I have a track record of success developing revenue growth strategies for fledgling businesses and/or flagging business units within large organizations. Working with healthcare systems, large physician groups, pharmaceutical companies, I gravitate towards and excel in start-up and turn around initiatives. I have worked in a variety of healthcare businesses including respiratory medicine, infusion care, physician practice management, rural hospital strategy, women’s health services, integrated models of care including clinics specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapies. Today I am most intrigued by the emerging science of personalized medicine. Via cellular level analysis of genetic biomarkers associated with aging and disease, it is finally possible – and often financially feasible – to move past a “one-size-fits-all” to an individualized approach to health, wellness and treatment of disease.
Because of the four books I coauthored with my former husband, C.W. Randolph, Jr, MD – From Hormone Hell to Hormone Well, From Belly Fat to Belly Flat, In the Mood Again and The Fountain of Truth: How to Outsmart Hype, False Hope and Heredity to Recalibrate Your Age – I am most well-known for my approach to losing unwanted belly fat and keeping those pounds off for good. At first I pooh-poohed my growing reputation in the crowded weight loss arena. Today I embrace it. Belly fat, because of the chronic health issues it spawns, is our nation’s greatest health crises. Why shouldn’t I be on the forefront delving deeply into the science of personalized medicine to discover emerging approaches to weight loss and life-time healthy weight management?
HOW DID YOU BECOME PASSIONATE ABOUT HEALTH CARE?
I would have to say my love of healthcare was inborn. I began working in physician offices at thirteen and, by seventeen, spent my summer employed as a surgical ward clerk on the graveyard shift, 7pm- 7am. Not much dating going on that summer!
I headed off to Emory enrolled in the pre-med curriculum but, despite my love of healthcare, I could never fully visualize myself as a physician. That is how I make choices even today, I close my eyes and visualize. If a picture doesn’t come into focus, I move in another direction. Still, my deciding not to go to medical school broke my mother’s heart. She was of that era when doctors were considered M-Deities. Mother abhorred my fascination with business and stated clearly that, if I took even one business course, she and my father would cease to help fund my education. While my peers where smoking pot and having wild sexual liaisons, my rebellion was to read texts on economics, systems thinking and business strategy. In other words, I was a nerd. Nevertheless, my closet studies, combined with feet-hit-the-street experience, paid off. I was hired by Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company, organized a sales force and strategy for a home infusion company, launched a product called Lasinoh for Nursing Mothers (which later sold to Johnson & Johnson), developed and executed a direct contracting model for health, wellness and prevention services for Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta before moving to Nashville the first time and starting my own consulting business with a heavy emphasis on women’s health, integrated medicine, prevention and wellness. That was the early 1990’s. My first two books, Making Managed Care Work and Winning in the Women’s Healthcare Marketplace, prove spot-on today but, then, were way ahead of the times.
WHY IS ADVOCATING FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I advocate for women because surveys show that women make more than 90% of all health care decisions – and are responsible for the spending of more than 90% of all health care dollars. Women are essentially the gatekeepers for healthcare choices not only for themselves, but for their husbands and families. If you want to change the health care system at a systemic level, you’ve got to have female consumers leading the paradigm shift. That’s where I come in. I give women a toolbox for making choices related to the health and wellness of themselves and their families. Grassroots awareness and activism can eventually translate to a paradigm shift across a community, a state and our nation…but it begins with ourselves and in our homes.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE BOLDLY?
First, living boldly means having a commitment to not kid myself when it’s more comfortable to kid myself. Right now, so soon after a divorce, closing of a business and leaving a much-loved yellow Labrador and many other dreams behind, being brutally honest with myself is particularly tough. But extremely necessary. I ask: What role did I play in the dissolution of my marriage? How many ways did I sabotage my health and well-being? When will I ever learn to never, ever, ever again mix men and money? What are my assets and strengths that I can bank on as I explore my next business move and career turn? I am starting over AGAIN. At fifty-five. What’s my option? Crawl under the bed? No, I will not. I will boldly move into my future because I can’t think of a better alternative.
I think most people think of being bold as a courage thing. But courage is just fear with a prayer. So boldness to me is the awareness of the downside and the willingness to move forward regardless.
WHO WERE YOUR HEROES GROWING UP, AND WHO DO YOU LOOK UP TO NOW?
My first, and I think primary, role model was my grandfather, Angus Douglas (Doug) Williams Sr. He was an orphan who became a farmer, then a postman, before owning car dealerships throughout the Florida Panhandle and Southern Alabama.
My “Papa” was an entrepreneur and a social activist, very much ahead of his time. Because of the stronghold of respect he held in his community, the Klu Klux Klan was never able to gain a foothold in Graceville. He was fabulous man, husband, father and grandfather– he was also a pillar of his church and community. Before he died, Graceville had a parade and established a “Doug Williams Day.”
At Papa’s funeral, seven black men of various ages came forward to tell our family how Papa had put them through college on no interest loans. We had previously been unaware of that particular channel of Papa’s generosity. As I said, he was much ahead of his time. I believe I also got my love of clothes and shoes from Papa. He was the snappiest dresser. In his eighties, he had this rose-colored suede jacket he wore for special occasions. He wasn’t really vain, but he was a good-looking man and a damn good dresser! In an era when men didn’t wax and wane about fashion– he had his own walk-in closet, color-coded.
Today, the group of women in the Women’s President’s Organization (WPO) are my role models. One in particular stands out: Sherry Deutschman, CEO of a company called Letter Logic. She started her now $40-million+ company on her kitchen table. Sherry is strong, smart, bold and incredibly humble. Her model for an employee-centric organization has impacted my own leadership style. Her humility reminds me how God will often use the unsuspecting for greatest good.
On a more national scale, I admire Donna Karan – she is a proven brand who has also enlivened a passion for integrated healthcare. Because of her personal experience with her husband’s illness, Ms. Karan established The Center for Health & Healing. If she can merge a love of fashion with a mission to create a new model for health services delivery, perhaps my future has brighter edges than I yet have the bandwidth to imagine.
WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE AN OPTIMIST, A PESSIMIST OR A REALIST?
I would qualify optimist – I’m a pragmatic optimist. I push myself to believe in my dreams and reach for the stars while, also, remaining honest and grounded about money. You kid yourself if you have dreams but don’t do the math. Unfortunately, like my younger self, many women fall short when it comes to objectively analyzing financial statements and budgets. I cringe when I hear a female peer say ‘I don’t do the numbers.’ They are limiting themselves. I always do the numbers, the math, first.
IF YOU COULD OFFER YOUR YOUNGER SELF SOME ADVICE WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Eat more, have more fun and don’t think that you have to marry every guy you have sex with. Seriously.
IS THERE ONE MOMENT OR EXPERIENCE IN YOUR LIFE THAT HAS REALLY SHAPED WHO YOU’VE BECOME TODAY?
Going out to Big Sur in my early-thirties, post first divorce, with the intention of attending some new-age workshop and getting naked in the hot tubs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I did both. In addition, I met a Benedictine monk named Brother David Stendahl Rast and, later, Sister Catherine Hellman, then CEO of St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon. Conversations with those two changed my career path, actually my life’s direction. I decided, somewhat rashly I might add, to stop making a living on sick-care and, instead, focus on prevention and wellness. I have to tell on myself: That time I didn’t do the math. If I had, I am not sure I would have had the courage to make what turned out to be a significant financial investment in a career U-turn career shift that took decades to show a return-on-investment (ROI).
YOU HAVE AN INFECTIOUS ENERGY – AN ENERGY PEOPLE REALLY PICK UP ON AND RESPOND TO – YOU ALWAYS SEEM MOTIVATED TO DO BETTER, TO BE BETTER, AND IT’S A REALLY UNIQUE QUALITY. WHAT MAKES YOU THAT WAY?
My faith. It’s the most real, the most authentic part of me. I shouldn’t be alive today for a variety of different reasons: an eating disorder in my youth, a pattern of abusive relationships, repeated workaholic freneticism. Honestly, it’s a miracle that I’m still walking this planet. I figure Somebody Somewhere needs me here to do Something.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Recently my dear friend Donna asked my niece Shelley ‘Has Genie played an important role in your life?’ Donna later told me how Shelley’s eyes widened and filled with tears as she said, ‘I wouldn’t be the person I am today, I wouldn’t have my sense of womanhood, I wouldn’t know how to be a good friend and I certainly wouldn’t have the confidence to build a career if it weren’t for Genie.’ If I leave no other legacy, Shelley’s testimony of how I might have put a few fingerprints on her life is more than enough.
WHAT’S ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
I want to drink champagne in a hot air balloon, have sex under the stars on a soft towel on a warm beach, do a photography safari in Africa, and have one stint as a runway model. Oh, and I probably should have said this first, I am committed to earning national recognition and respect for my investigative journalism cutting through the crap and hype associated with the burgeoning anti-aging industry.
IS THIS WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW?
It is what I am beginning, primarily through my monthly eNewsletter for now, but I am developing a full-out digital strategy to follow. I recently incorporated GJ Enterprises Holding Company, Inc. and have a vision of my family of companies to be formed under that umbrella. At fifty-five, I am determined to be unstoppable, a force to be reckoned with. In other words, I am committed to be FIERCE!
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH OUR COMMUNITY OF FIERCE WOMEN?
Expect that the wind is going to be taken out of your sails and you’re going to be buckled at the knees by something, sooner or later. Life lived well is both beautiful and brutal. You might be tempted in the tough times, as I have been, to crawl under the bed but its not pretty, clean or comfortable under there. It is also not a space allowing for growth and expansion. Get up, dust yourself off, say a prayer and call a girlfriend for encouragement. Then put on your favorite shoes, some lipstick and simply get up and out there until you are strong enough to kick some ass!