Episode 116: Lyme Survivor & Life Sherpa Gena Chieco

Episode 116: Lyme Survivor & Life Sherpa Gena Chieco

Overview

Gena Chieco is a coach, adventurer, and connector who loves inspiring clients to step into their best lives by providing tools to help them tap into their inner wisdom and dreams. She grew up in a rural suburb of New York City running around barefoot in the summer, obsessed with nature, with dreams of becoming a zoologist. After earning a BA with Honors in Psychology from Northwestern University and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law, she had the privilege of working for the Obama Administration. She contributed to a variety of initiatives, including immigration reform at the Department of Homeland Security and environmental issues at the White House. She left federal service in 2017 to serve as General Counsel & Chief of Staff to the CEO of a cleantech startup, marrying her passion for the environment and entrepreneurial spirit. The following year, while on an extended travel sabbatical, she began her coaching journey by enrolling in Dr. Martha Beck’s Life Coach Training Program. She realized that she has always been a coach in spirit – whether helping friends find jobs they love, encouraging team members to build upon their passions, or serving as a confidante to executives. All this, and she is no stranger to resilience, having lived through more than one challenging life chapter followed by a phoenix rising experience. Perhaps most relevant to our chat in this episode: she’s a survivor of Lyme disease. Her experience is best captured by the Mizuta Masahide haiku, “Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon.” 

Takeaway

Transcript

Gena Chieco life sherpa Life Coach Lyme disease Uninvisible Pod Martha Beck Obama Administration

Lauren: All right, guys, thank you so much for joining us. I am here today with Gena Chieco. Gena is a life and executive coach. She's got a background in psychology and law and politics. She worked in the Obama administration, and has worked with tech companies all over the place. So she's extremely well connected and doing amazing work out there. And now she's helping all of us achieve our dreams. She's also a survivor of chronic Lyme. So we're going to talk about that today. Gena, thank you so much for joining us.

Gena: Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure.

Lauren: It’s such a pleasure having you on. Those who have been tuning in to the show may have heard you in connection to some of the episodes previous to this, because I've been working with you as a coach. And it's been an amazing experience. But it's fascinating to me, because you've gone through this health journey that changed your career and the trajectory of your life, really. So we're going to talk about that today. 

Gena: Wonderful. Thank you.

Lauren: Yeah, of course. Let's go back to the beginning of this health journey. Can you tell us when you first realized that you had Lyme, and what steps you've taken since that point, to get to this place of health and being free of it?

Gena: So I grew up in a suburb of New York City in Westchester, and my sisters and I ran around barefoot in the summer. We played in nature, there wasn't much of an awareness of Lyme disease in the early '80s. It was actually only linked with the tick and the bacteria in 1981, I believe. So we were kind of running free and ignorant in nature! The thinking is that I was probably infected as a child, and it lay dormant or the symptoms weren't noticeable. When I was a senior in high school, I started to suffer from a number of symptoms linked to Lyme disease. I was tested for it, it was an elaborate process to get the diagnosis. Unfortunately, something like a third of all cases aren't detected through standard testing, and back then there just wasn't a lot of resources. So I got the diagnosis through a Western blot test.

Lauren: Well, that’s lucky for a start, because a lot of them give false negatives.

Gena: Exactly. When I think back on my childhood, it was just part of the experience to pick ticks off of us. I played soccer year-round; I'd play a game and come off the field and have ticks. I remember someone coming into school and doing like an assembly around Lyme disease. And it just seemed so abstract, and we didn't appreciate the severity of it.

It was hard to comprehend that an insect the size of a needle head could cause such serious issues.

So fast forward to my senior year of high school, I suffered some neurological … they call it brain fog, I was having trouble concentrating in school, I was dealing with massive fatigue — like, couldn't get out of bed. I was fortunate to see a doctor who believed in treating the symptoms more than doing a quick round. And so we did the initial six weeks of antibiotics and my condition didn't improve — and in fact, got worse. And so thus began a four-year journey of being on high doses of antibiotics, trying different antibiotics. I went on to college, and I was so fatigued from the Lyme disease that when I had mono, I didn't even realize I had mono — because I was so used to that level of fatigue. And ultimately what happened in a nutshell is that after those four years of being on antibiotics, I developed hypothyroidism. The Lyme disease just causes a cascade of inflammatory response in your body. I'd seen every naturopath; I had just done everything I could to heal. And ultimately I came to this point where I wondered if the antibiotics were potentially making me more sick. So I made the choice to go off the antibiotics. And that being like stage two of healing from the Lyme disease, I had the flare- ups. I saw doctors, we did the testing and it didn't appear that I had active Lyme disease anymore, but rather just this flare-up phenomenon. I suffered from a slew of bacterial infections because my immune system was shot. So I had chronic strep, chronic ear infections. I’d see doctors and say, “Oh, you must have had chronic infections as a child,” and I'd explain, “No, it's just these four years of antibiotics. And so the healing journey … I went off antibiotics after four years and it was an additional five years or so to reclaim my health. And I'm happy to say that I've been symptom-free ever since then. 

Lauren: So how did you actually manage that? Was it using supplements and various treatments through these holistic practitioners?

Gena: Yeah, I think it was a combination … it was a couple of things. It was a mindset change, where I had gone through some serious struggles around feeling like my body had betrayed me, feeling completely out of control, feeling hopeless. I remember going through phases wishing I had some horrible illness that was well known … because I went to school in Chicago, and nobody had heard of Lyme disease. And the doctors would send me to a therapist who would say I was just depressed. It just felt like this hopeless, sometimes downward spiral. And I remember thinking, after I'd been sick for so long, reflecting back on my memories of who I was pre-illness, and I thought I was this vivacious, bubbly, happy-go-lucky kid and maybe that wasn’t true, maybe this is who I am — and I'm just no longer remembering it correctly. And I feared so much that I would never become that person that I remembered I had been. And so one of the shifts was in no longer seeing my body as the enemy, and kind of taking control and empowering myself and trying to love myself as much as I despised the illness. Just recognizing that I was not the illness, and that I was so much more than what this illness was doing to my body. When I was in high school and college, I wasn't taking care of myself, I was drinking a lot — even though you're not supposed to drink on antibiotics. I just was reckless and wanting to live this ordinary experience as a college student. And so I think part of the real healing came when I accepted that I wasn't normal, and that I didn't have the luxury or privilege of leading a carefree, health existence. And so I started to really take it seriously and eat healthy and work out and just follow all the protocols. You and I have talked about this concept of surrendering and resistance.

Lauren: Yeah. This one’s come up for me a lot, that’s for sure!

Gena: ...

I think a big part of my healing journey was stopping the resistance and the struggle.

I was expending so much energy and angst and stress around trying to conquer this thing and cure it and fix it and make it better. So kind of just on a maybe subconscious level even, not even conscious, but just surrendering to the fact that this was a really serious illness. I had friends and family who were stricken with it. And it wasn't going to go away overnight. And just hunkering down to a more longer-term perspective, being grateful for every day that I woke up and I felt like I had a shred of energy to do things, feeling grateful for more positive test results. Just starting to honor the path of a slow journey back to health made a difference I think.

Lauren: That’s amazing. It's rare that we hear a story now about Lyme disease, where someone's lived with chronic Lyme and actually been cured. So it's very exciting to know. You're now the second person we've had on the show who's been cured. And to know that there is that on the other side of all this, that it takes maybe 10 years — but that it's possible. So much of healing has to do with mindset shift. Because there's a grieving process. But there's also an acceptance process and changing the way you see yourself can be very powerful if you embrace it.

Gena: Yeah. And stress is linked with impairing your immune system. I think when you're in the throes of an illness, and just wracked with stress and hopelessness and feeling miserable, and then not honoring your working out and eating healthy, it's kind of a slippery slope into the condition potentially worsening. Although I went through phases where I tried to be an expert on Lyme disease, it’s been a long time since those days of immersing myself in medical research! So I am no expert. But what I do understand of it is that because it's so tricky, the spirochete can be dormant, it can divide testing; it can be dormant and then reactivated. I don't know definitively if there really is any way to have a quick light switch sense of cured. But I know in myself that I haven't had any symptoms for over a decade now. And I feel healthy, I feel alive. I feel better than I've ever felt in maybe my entire life. And so I guess my message is partly that — that there is hope at the end of the dirt tunnel!

Lauren:  Do you think that also there is something in living your life now with the knowledge that you could have a flare-up, so you take better care of yourself and you sort of treat yourself with the idea that you're going to prevent a recurrence of chronic illness. That's the kind of level of self-care we're in now?

Gena: Yeah, you know, it's an interesting question. Lyme disease, for me, I really feel at peace with that chapter. I have forgiven and moved on. It's crazy to say it, because at one point in my life, I must have thought about it a million times a day. But I don't think about it much anymore. Except when I'm in nature, when I'm in situations where I know there's a chance of infection … I take every precaution possible. For me, I think that the intersection of the line, chapter and where I am today is just in this deep sense that mind, body, heart, soul — the all four quadrants — need to be honored. And the body piece is in eating healthy and exercising and loving my body. And trusting that even though I felt failed by it in the past, I'm so grateful for the resilience and the changes I've seen as I've gotten older, that I feel strong in my body. And the mind part is in, like I said, just coming to a sense of peace and loving compassion with myself, and being able to navigate the tough days and then celebrating the days when I feel good. The heart part was huge. I started therapy when I was struggling with Lyme disease, and it was just so helpful to honor the full spectrum of the emotions I was experiencing. On the one hand, feeling like this is the end of the world. And on the other hand, feeling like, who am I to complain, because fortunately, this isn't terminal. And just coming to a better emotional awareness about the impacts. And the soul piece is the spiritual piece. I see it as honoring the deeper truths of who we are.

And for me, my deepest truth is that I'm a fighter, and I'm resilient. And I've known struggle, and I've gotten through it.

I lost that narrative a little bit in the darkest days with the Lyme disease, and I played the victim and I kind of attached to hopelessness. But coming back into owning my true sense of identity was a big piece of the healing process, too.

Lauren: I think that's so beautifully said. What about the word advocacy? What does that mean to you in this journey? Did you have to become your own advocate? Did you have family members that you were able to lean on? Or friends? That also leads to this change in who we are, doesn't it. Tell us a little bit about your experience of learning to be your person?

Gena: Yeah, thank you. It's such an important question. So like I said, in Westchester, I was so fortunate and privileged to be connected with one of the leading experts on Lyme disease at the time, and he’s subsequently become one of the leading experts on this concept of a more chronic longer-term, type of Lyme disease — which has been and remains quite controversial. And in seeing him, I got the support I needed. But what happened was that when I went to college in Chicago, and I was suffering through different variations of the illness, I couldn't find a doctor there who could help me. And I was told to go see a therapist, that it was just depression. I was told it's in my head. I started to doubt.

Lauren: (Laughs) Love it when you're told those things when you’re a woman in the medical system. What a surprise!

Gena: Yeah, and I did go through phases, where unfortunately, I felt like what if I made this whole thing up. Even though I had positive test results, maybe I don't have it anymore. I mean, the chronic piece is confusing, because your test results might be inconclusive, and it may not seem active, but you're suffering through all the symptoms. So I did become my own advocate when I left home and went to Chicago and tried to find a hodgepodge of different specialists, because there was no Lyme disease specialist at the time that I could find. I saw someone for the fatigue, I saw someone for the thyroid issues, I saw someone to manage my antibiotics. 

Lauren: So you really created a team around yourself. 

Gena: I created a team and you know, the tragedy, I think, of our health care system … and I get the sense it's gotten a little bit better … but it's not that holistic. And it can feel like a needle in a haystack in getting that diagnosis. If I hadn't been fortunate to get diagnosed through this expert in New York and I went off to school in Chicago, I may have not have ever been diagnosed with it. I might not have known to ask. I had to constantly be researching the most effective tests, reading up on what the CDC criteria was. In that way, as I'm sure so many of your listeners and I know you are, you become your own best advocate, and I literally was reading medical literature, with no medical background!

Lauren: It’s so funny. Everyone who I interview on the show, we all sort of joke that when you get diagnosed with chronic illness, you become a detective. You research so much that in a sense, you could probably sit for the MCAT, and pass!

Gena: Yes, you’re more knowledgeable sometimes than doctors! I will say that out of the darkness comes light. And I'm grateful that I had that awareness and awakening around our healthcare system. I have suffered through some other conditions since, unrelated, and I feel so much better prepared to navigate the healthcare system to seek the diverse diagnoses from different specialists.

The bottom line, and one of the most significant silver linings of the experience, was trusting my intuition.

My intuition was so spot-on, from the beginning of this. I knew something was deeply wrong with me, I didn't agree with some of the doctors in Chicago. I was young, and I was seeking external validation, and I didn't trust myself in certain moments. But every part of the journey of seeing the different specialists; of going to some naturopaths, who unfortunately, I didn't have a good vibe with and I felt like they were suggesting I spend thousands of dollars on supplements when it didn't feel right in me. And I went ahead and I spent a fortune on those. The dangerous place is people who maybe have good intentions, but when you are absolutely hopeless, and all you want is a silver bullet, you will spend a lot of money on this silver bullet. And so one of the other lessons for me was, there is no silver bullet. There’s no one pill that's going to cure this thing. And for so many of these chronic illnesses, it is just a more holistic approach to finding health out of it.

Lauren: So what does a typical day look like for you now, now that you're on the other side of it? And yet, living a healthy lifestyle, trying to avoid the recurrence of chronic illness. What does a day in the life of Gena look like? 

Gena: Yeah, thank you for that question. So first of all, as you and I'm sure so many of your viewers feel, I never take my health for granted. I am so grateful. Every day I feel good in my body and I'm healthy is such a gift. And that is something that I'll never lose from this experience. So I have that kind of in the back of my mind often. I typically work out, which is something I gravitated towards later in life; I used to see working out as such a chore. I played soccer year-round and it was one of my greatest passions in life. But I tore my ACL and I got sick with Lyme disease and unfortunately, I kind of just gave up and walked away from it. And I never played again after that. But aside from soccer, I never really found a passion in physical activity. And then SoulCycle was my gateway! I hated the first class, I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. And I didn’t like the noise and the seeming competitiveness. But I very quickly grew to love it, and it got me through a very difficult personal chapter. And it got me into such good shape, I was actually able to just go running; I was able to run 10 miles without even training for it. That journey to growing to love working out started about three years ago. So that's a big part of my daily life. I love to journal and meditate to try to access those deeper parts of me that can get lost beneath the churn in the day-to-day. I find my work extremely fulfilling, and it lights me up and activates me in a way that I didn't have a sense of purpose perhaps in school. When I was in college and I was sick, I was very external validation-focused and I’d strive for those As and those positive marks. But I don't know if I had a true sense of purpose, aligned with my authentic self when I was in school. And the interesting thing, too, and one of the analogies … like many high-performing women, I suffer from imposter syndrome. And so it's like a whole other element.

Lauren: It’s a whole ‘nother layer! 

Gena: A whole ‘nother layer. I was sick in school, and I managed to graduate with honors from Northwestern, which is a very competitive school. But the times that I didn't do well, I never told my teachers that I was sick with a chronic illness. I didn't ask for any accommodations. I just trudged through it. I thought it was a weight that I was meant to bear alone. I didn't seek support, because I felt that it was so isolating. And I think in many ways it is extremely isolating to be young, to be seemingly healthy on the surface and to be suffering one of these invisible illnesses. I was a psych major undergrad, so I could never escape from it. But I know there's a known phenomenon that when you’re seen as down and sick, people tend to push you away — because it's not necessarily a conscious thing, but they just they don't want it, they feel like they'll get brought down, too. So what I have in me today is such an incredibly supportive community of friends and family and peers, and I just trust in not hiding away any parts of me. The shame that I felt around this illness, the inadequacy, the feeling like something was deeply wrong with me … yes, there was something deeply wrong with my health, but it didn't mean that there was something wrong with who I am as a person. 

Lauren: And it didn’t mean it was your fault. 

Gena: And it didn't mean it was my fault. Yeah, of course.

I went through that. I think we all want to have a sense of control and so we beat ourselves up.

But I guess for me, in a way, I didn't succumb too much to blaming myself, because I was a kid and, again, there just wasn't a huge awareness around this.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. So you've mentioned that you did have those experiences where people told you it was all in your head, and didn't believe you. Can you walk us through any of those particular memories that perhaps are more prevalent for you now? Where you were confronted and forced to justify the fact that you were living with an illness that you knew very well to be true, but nobody else could see?

Gena: One really powerful experience was that I did see a therapist and I was very defensive and feeling wounded and feeling victim mode and just saying, “I have this awful illness, and I'm so tired all the time.” I saw a doctor and the doctor wasn't familiar with it. And he suggested I see a therapist. And maybe it is all in my head, maybe this is something I'm creating, maybe I just want out. Just give me a ticket out, whatever it is. If it's therapy, I'll do it. If it's a drug, I'll take it. I just was so desperate. And I remember she said to me, “This isn't depression. Anyone who has experienced a chronic illness and these trials and tribulations that you've been going through, yes, would be depressed. But from what I can tell, you're not suffering from clinical depression. This isn't depression causing symptoms; your symptoms of Lyme disease are causing you to feel depressed.” And I think that, again, I didn't have a strong enough sense of myself. I think I needed that external validation for her to say, okay, it isn't just in my head. I'm not crazy.

Lauren: Yeah, but it's such a gift, as well, when a practitioner gives us the gift of validation. There is something in, do we ever need validation, because we probably have to seek to find it within ourselves. However, I think in situations like this, where they're multifactorial, and systemic issues as well, getting someone to actually be on your side can be a revelation.

Gena: Yes. And what happens is, when you get that external validation, you feel … it’s like the movie Inside Out where you have a panel of emotions or a panel of peeps, my inner peeps. We’re, like, hell yeah! I knew all along! It kind of just emboldened, and activated and empowered those deeper truths in me that I knew all along that this is a serious illness. It was kind of a fascinating time to be, in my early 20s, like 19, 20, navigating the healthcare system and seeing these doctors and having a kind of falling from grace — where I had seen doctors like gods and smarter than me, and I just came to understand that a lot of them don't know what they're talking about. A lot of times when doctors don't know, instead of saying, “I don't know," they tell you, “Oh, it's in your head,” or "Oh, this is just who you are,” or, “Oh, you had acute Lyme disease. But now it's over, get over it.” And so it was kind of this fascinating awakening that's really served me well since then, that authority figures don't necessarily know what's best for you. They don't always have the answers. And it's hard, but sometimes you have to do your best to find the answers for yourself. And to keep going through the health care system until you find that person who resonates for you; where you feel like you can be your honest, authentic, vulnerable self. And they see you and they listen to you, and they validate you, and they help you heal and they help you on your path.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. And that team of people that you manage to ring around yourself that can make all the difference when you're really looking for help and looking for answers, having the right people on your team. Absolutely. 

Gena: One more thing, too, is, obviously resources are a big part of this. It’s extremely expensive to navigate these types of illnesses. A lot of it isn't covered. I spent a fortune on Lyme disease treatments and seeing doctors. But to the extent you're able to pay a little extra, if it means seeing a top expert, if it means going out of network for one appointment, whatever it might be … if you're able to afford it, don't ever hesitate to do it because you think you don't deserve it, or because you think it's too much, or because of, oh who am I, I have this medium level condition and there are people who are way worse than me who should be seeing these top experts.

Don't hold back, seek the best that you can afford, and don't doubt it for a second that you deserve it.

Lauren: Yeah, that's such solid advice for everyone tuning in. So what about these experiences in the medical system … I'm wondering whether you were aware at any point of an experience of perhaps privilege, with being able to go to some of these appointments and afford them and have access to them. Or even prejudice — being a woman and being told it's all in your head. Can you see maybe your circumstances having been different if you presented otherwise? Like, maybe if you had been a woman of color, you would have been less likely to be believed? Or, if you'd been a white man, if everyone would have been, like, “We believe you!” in every office you went into. How has that influenced your experience in terms of understanding the experience of others?

Gena: Yeah, it's such a good question. All of the above for certain. I feel so grateful and fortunate for the accident of birth that I was able to see doctors, that people saw me and they didn't question that I could have contracted Lyme disease. I could imagine if the circumstances were different and maybe I was a person of color, or came from a different community, that they might not even go to Lyme disease, thinking, well, does this person spend time outside? The thing that's unfortunate about our healthcare system, is that humans are flawed, and humans carry prejudices and unconscious biases, and it plays out in their everyday life. As much training as they might get, I think there are ways that you can really be pigeon-holed and not served in the healthcare experience. And yeah, as a woman, I suspect that men or boys or teenagers aren't told it's in your head, you’re just depressed. I haven't seen statistics on that. But I imagine it's significantly disproportionately affecting girls and women. And it stems from that history, which I'm sure you're familiar with … there was a time when women were diagnosed with quote, hysteria. 

Lauren: Thanks for bringing that one up. My favorite!

Gena: Which is that any of us growing up during those times would have probably been suffering from hysteria! But you know, I think that's a legacy of our healthcare system. That a lot of these seemingly outrageous, antiquated processes, you know, using leeches, just insane things today that we look back on, it was kind of relatively recent history. And I love it that you're asking this question and that you and your community are so attuned to it, because I think that’s, too, where the advocate piece comes in. If you see a doctor, and you're sensing any of this, educating them about ways that they might have blinders on, or maybe even active prejudices that are impacting them from serving their clients.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm hearing a lot of how your experience has influenced your work, just because I know you; you and I have had such rich conversations. For those who are unfamiliar with working with you, how have these experiences informed your practice in coaching and the influence that something like life coaching has had on your life as someone who survived as a chronic illness patient?

Gena: Yeah, it's a great question. I think one of the biggest things that came out of this was … out of darkness comes light. My coaching Instagram account is Moonlight_Musings_ from the haiku, “Barn’s burned down. Now I see the moon.” It's pretty common that out of crises when everything burns to the ground, your health, your relationships, your job, your money, when you lose these things that you thought were so integral to who you are and what you need to survive … when you lose it all, you're left standing with yourself. And it's this inflection point where whether consciously or not, really, the only option is to love yourself.

And just step into your truth and to start treating yourself with the compassion that you maybe have been lacking from others.

And that experience from Lyme disease was formative for me, as were other challenges that I went through, post-Lyme disease. And it really has impacted my passion and purpose in coaching, in that the goal of coaching is to hold a mirror to individuals' truths, and strengths and gifts and unique geniuses and wisdom, to help them shed all these layers that haven't been serving them, all these layers that we internalize that society tells us … we’re too this, we’re too that, or too emotional or, you know, all these ways that we mistrust ourselves. Coaching is about peeling away those layers, helping bolster a sense of trust. And I think that it is so purposeful for me because I’ve personally been so impacted by this concept of stepping into your authentic self, and then I see how it impacts clients. The last thing I will say is, there's an exercise that's very powerful that I love to do with clients, and I did apply it with myself. And that is to imagine the suffering, ill version of you … if it's the present-day version of you, if it's a child version of you, however old you were, and have her sit next to you and visualize holding her hand, and visualize, or say to her or journal, what you feel about her and what she's been through, and how strong she is, and resilient, and the pain and the grief and the anger and frustration and feeling like an outcast. Whatever surfaces, just to have that space to honor that part of you can be really powerful.

Lauren: So, not to deny it.

Gena: Not to deny it. Denial is like a toddler on the verge of a tantrum. If you deny or ignore that toddler, they are going to have a massive meltdown. So honor the emotions, invite them all in. It feels scary at first, but you always feel a sense of lightness once you've allowed it to flow through you. 

Lauren: I love that. So we're sort of flying into the end of the interview here. I like to wrap up my interviews with a couple of Top Three lists, and I hope you will participate with me. I'm wondering what, given the experience you've had and the healing that you've experienced, what your Top Three Tips would be for someone who is in this chronic illness world, living with invisible chronic illness? What would you recommend to them? Aside from this wonderful journaling and visualization practice? What are your top three nuggets of advice?

Gena: One is, trust your instincts. And if you aren't clear on what your inner voice, your intuition, your instincts are, take some time, if possible, to do self-guided meditation, to journal. We all have it within us. It might feel like a whisper. It might be hard to hear. But it's there and it won't lead you astray. And if someone's speaking against your instincts in your truth, you might feel inside of you almost like a mutiny, an outrage. And that's another clue that something's not right. So one is, trust your instincts. Two is, be your own best advocate. Do not trust the medical experts or anyone else to figure out what's best for you.

These illnesses are often not one-size-fits-all, and what works for one person might not work for you.

And the third thing I'd say is, never lose sight of hope. That this, too, shall pass. And maybe it just means you'll have some good days interspersed with the bad; maybe you'll come out on the other side like me and feel like you've been cured. Whatever it looks like for you, just know that nothing ever lasts forever. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us.

Lauren: I love that. Well, it very much ties into the haiku that you turn to … ‘Barn’s burned down. Now I can see the moon.’ That  something may have to burn down, but there's something positive on the other side of that, too.

Gena: Yes. And there's also that quote about finding within me in the midst of winter that I have an invincible summer. I'm butchering it a little bit … but that out of these challenges, we are able to see our strengths and resilience, and it's totally badass, and it's something to celebrate for certain.

Lauren: I love that. All right, last Top Three List … top three things that give you unbridled joy. You may have made lifestyle adjustments since your diagnosis, but things that you're absolutely unwilling to give up. So this could be guilty pleasures, secret indulgences, comfort activities … just things that give you joy, make you happy. What are the top three for you?

Gena: One is getting moving and working out — running, yoga, spinning … whatever it is, it's such an important part of who I am, and I'm shocked when I think back on all those years that I didn't work out at all. I don't know how I survived. Because it's just this boost of energy for me that I carry throughout my day. Two, are connections. I am what's known as a super-connector. I feel like I cultivate this garden of beautiful friends and family and colleagues, and just love being able to see life through their filters and gain perspective and wisdom from those relationships. And three, is travel — although it is, of course, somewhat limited these days with this quarantine. I had the good fortune of traveling around the world in college, and I took a travel sabbatical for several months. And I find there's nothing like travel; it just activates all my senses. It exposes me to different ways of living. I love food. So there's that element, too. So that's one of my greatest joys, travel. And I'm now focusing on doing a fantasy trip for 2021, so I can keep that part of me activated. 

Lauren: Oh, I love that. That’s such a great use of energies right now, too. Oh, yeah, that’s yummy. Can you tell everyone where they can find you and your work?

Gena: Yes, thank you. I am at GenaChieco.com. My Instagram account is moonlight_musings_. And I'm on LinkedIn as well. And I welcome any questions, any outreach; I’d love to talk to anyone who's a member of this incredible community.

Lauren: Yay! Gena, thank you so much for being on the show. It's been such an honor to give you a platform to share your story. And I'm just so grateful to have you in my life!

Gena: It’s mutual! It’s an honor and a privilege, a joy. I have a massive smile on my face.

Lauren: Thank you so much.

Gena: All right. Have a great day. And thank you for everything you're doing and shining a light on these important issues.

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Download Hacking Healthcare: A Resource Guide

From messages of empowerment to maximizing time during your doctor’s visit, this is an invaluable guide intended to make healthcare more accessible.

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