"The lightning that ignited my desire to write the book was my cancer": Samantha Harris on her new book 'Your Healthiest Healthy'
Samantha Harris talks about her life on the sets, her post-cancer lifestyle, new book and the support she received from her family.
Samantha Harris is an Emmy-winning television host. She hosted Dancing With the Stars for eight seasons straight and grabbed two Emmy nominations and served as both correspondent and a weekend host for Entertainment Tonight. Harris has also hosted Gordon Ramsay’s 'Culinary Genius', 'E! News', 'Extra', 'The Insider' and 'Stars Earn Stripes'. She along with Regis Philbin co-hosted the official red carpet show for the 80th Academy Awards.
Apart from her presence on the small screen, Samantha Harris is a fitness expert and has appeared on covers of various health and fitness magazines. She is a courageous survivor of breast cancer and a double mastectomy. She runs several social media campaigns on health awareness and fitness among people. Her new book 'Your Healthiest Healthy' is going to be out in September, and in an interview with Meaww she frankly talks about her life after surgery, work, family, health, and fitness.
Your new book Your Healthiest Healthy is going to be out this September. Tell us about it?
Yes, I am so excited to finally be able to share it with you all. It is a comprehensive action plan for taking small, manageable steps to living your best, healthiest and most energetic life possible. The subtitle really sums it up: 8 Easy Ways to Take Control, Help Prevent and Fight Cancer, and Live a Longer, Cleaner, Happier Life.
I reveal many personal (hopefully humorous and certainly sometimes harrowing) stories from my life and cancer journey as segues to research-backed advice, insights from doctors and scientists, and my "healthy hacks" tips of what I have found very effective for achieving my healthiest self and believe that these things will help you attain it, too.
All these concepts make for an easy-to-follow, eight-step guide. I try to keep the advice very practical. My goal for the book is to empower you to eat better, work out smarter, reduce toxins around you, master your medical awareness, handle health crises, strengthen your relationships, boost positivity, and build resiliency. It’s a lot but totally doable.
What inspired you to write the book and bare all about your life?
When I was first diagnosed at age 40, a working mom with two little girls ages three and six, I had enough on my plate. I didn’t have the time to research and sift through tons of info from multiple resources on getting healthier, but I did because I couldn’t find a book with all the answers I was seeking. Not one book could do that, but I decided to write about all my findings to come as close to that as possible for others who want to make their lives the best possible. To live a long life while maintaining good health avoiding cancer, diabetes, heart disease another chronic disease.
I lost my dad at age 50 to colon cancer. I wish someone had given him a book like this before he ever got diagnosed so that he could have made more healthful changes in his life.
The lightning that ignited my desire to write this was my cancer, but the motivation to keep me going to discover the best health possible and share it with others is my kids. So, if I can help even one other person out there who is searching for those answers, then all the challenges will have been well worth it.
You have been very vocal about your journey through breast cancer. How does it feel to have come out of such a difficult time and use that experience to become an inspiration to so many people?
When you have a major challenge in your life, be it a health diagnosis, a divorce, or loss of a loved one, you want to make sense of it. Make the pain mean something valuable. The lemon that was dealt needs to be turned into lemonade, which is why my hubby and I founded gottamakelemonade.com to inspire positivity in the face of adversity. It’s an online community of shared stories of overcoming something terrible and making it to the “other side” while finding a purpose and light in it…the "lemonade".
I went public with my diagnosis for a very similar reason to why I wrote Your Healthiest Healthy: If I could help save even just one woman who may be walking around with a lump she was told was “nothing”. By sharing my story of how two doctors told me the lump I found just 11 days after a clear mammogram was “nothing” and how I finally listened to my gut to push for yet a third opinion (thus ending up with the truth: invasive ductal carcinoma), I hope to compel other women to actively participate in their own health care. I did, and it saved my life. We have to be our own best health advocates. We know our bodies better than anyone, but we need to take the time to listen to it and create body awareness. It may, one day, save your own life.
What is an average day in your post-surgery life like? What kind of adjustments in your day-to-day life, if any, have you had to make since then?
Thank goodness my life is normal again. A new normal, but truly glorious. There are some minor annoyances and discomforts due to the surgeries and cancer medication side effects, but may that be the worst of it. It all seems trivial by comparison.
The biggest adjustments are actually the things that allowed me to find my healthiest healthy. Changing up how and what I eat daily, what products I use to clean my home and what’s in my beauty bag.
I now take moments to breathe. To stop. To appreciate.
You have talked about “knowing one’s body very well”. How does one go about doing that? What are the other tidbits of information you can pass on to other women have gone through this life-changing experience?
There are so many ways to know your body. From the “shhhh-we-won’t-talk-about-it-in-public", peeking at your poo and doing some doo doo detective work on a daily basis or taking a pH strip to test your urine — you can develop an understanding of what’s regular for you.
With moles — okay, yes, we can call them beauty marks! — understanding the ABCDs of changes in them (asymmetry, border changes, color differences, diameter) will help keep you skin cancer-free. I like to map my moles by taking snaps of them on my cell then filing the photos away in an app, like Evernote, along with noting the location on my bod and date. That way, if there are indeed changes, I can track them and easily share that info with my dermo.
It’s also essential to know what is normal for you when it comes to your blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and waist circumference (if you can pinch more than an inch or your waist is more than 35 inches around, for women, you need to be careful because that excess fat can be a predictor for certain chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease).
Lastly, know your girls. No, not just your besties, I mean your boobies. Feel them, touch them, examine them monthly. A self-breast exam can be a lifesaver. Know how to do it the correct way. One tip is to soap up in the shower and feel around with the pads of your first three fingers on the opposite hand from the breast you are examining. The slippery nature allows your fingers to glide in a way that makes it a little easier to feel even a small nodule.
You’ve been part of the social media campaigns against cancer. How can we support and seek help from these campaigns online as a community?
There are so many wonderfully helpful sites, most which are linked to a charity. Donating is always easy and helpful. We need to find a cure. We need to provide support. We need to be educated. These sites do just that.
Cancer.org from the American Cancer Society is ground zero for anyone facing any kind of cancer diagnosis or those looking to help a loved one.
Komen.org is the Susan G. Komen site that does so much for research, aiding underinsured women and raising awareness for early detection. They have set a “bold goal” to reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. by 2026.
For support, I think imermanangels.org does an amazing job of matching those who are newly diagnosed with someone in that person’s city who has gone through the same diagnosis. Finding a positive support squad is essential for anyone going through cancer, or any health issue.
What is your philosophy for maintaining a happy lifestyle?
Fine-tuning your, what I call, gratitude. It’s all about an attitude of gratefulness. Acknowledging each day what was good, what put (even a momentary) smile on your face. We play a game at the dinner table with our girls called Rose, Bud, Thorn (my hubby read about it in a child psych book). We each have to share from our day something we were grateful for (rose), a good deed we did or witnessed someone doing (bud), and a mistake we made or someone else did then what we learned from it (thorn). Just imagine the things we have been hearing nightly from our kids! We love it.
Also, to keep a happy home and life, it’s helpful for us to share with each other our appreciation for one another. It’s so easy for days to take over with work, carpool, hassles of daily life then forget to appreciate those in your life. So, one easy thing to do is have an appreciation journal at the bedside. Each time you think of something you appreciate in your partner (or child), write it down in their journal. I have lots more to share on this, too, so I hope people will follow me on Instagram (@SamanthaHarrisTV) or Twitter (@SamanthaHarris) to keep up with other fun ideas and share their own
You have managed to host shows, a strict workout regime, and a family. What is your mantra for managing multiple tasks?
Throw the balls up in the air and hope they don’t hit ya on the head. Kidding! It takes a village. I always think of my husband, Michael, and me as a team. We ebb and flow making sure we always have each other’s backs.
For fitness, it has to be a priority, or it won’t get done. Even three ten-minute workouts spaced throughout your day add up. I would run stairs in the parking ramp on the studio lot on my lunch break. Now that I have a puppy, I build in his time to exercise with my own some days. Balance is tricky but when you aren’t afraid to ask for help, it can all get done.
You have had acting experience and you also did theatre on Broadway, “Chicago”. What was that experience like?
Hands down, Broadway was the ultimate career experience. A pinnacle. I grew up in a musical theater family, so this was a dream come true. It was equally challenging as it was awesome. My eldest was just 21 months, and I worked 7 days a week because, in addition to eight performances a week, I was working full time as a host of the TV show, The Insider. Needless to say, I was busy. Happily.
You have worked with Gordon Ramsay. What was the experience like? Is he the same abrasive guy off-camera too?
Haha, it would seem that way, right? But no, Gordon is a teddy bear. He may not like that I am saying that. I do love his on-camera persona and he definitely takes cooking very seriously. Thankfully, since I am not a chef, I don’t have to take the brunt of any of his tirades. On Culinary Genius, he was more of an advisor for our contestants and chef Edward Lee was the taskmaster.
The best part of the experience, besides learning some terrific techniques like how to get all the meat out of a fresh lobster, was that we shot in London. The days were light until about 10 pm, so when I wrapped on set at 7:30 pm, I would just hit the streets and walk for a few hours to explore and absorb the city. I love to travel and explore.
Your most memorable gig was hosting 'Dancing with the Stars' What was that experience like? Do you miss being on the sets?
I got to live in fantasyland two nights a week! What’s not to like about getting all dolled up in couture gowns, having your makeup and hair done, then bejeweled with precious gemstones? But it was very Cinderella-like as well because the moment we went off the air, everything came off me and got packed up to be returned to the designer. There were, at times, security guards to watch the jewels and be sure I was careful before returning them safely (and promptly).
As for the show itself, I couldn’t have been chosen for a more befitting show for me. That musical theater family of mine that I already mentioned was also a dance family. Not ballroom, but my mom was in a dance company when I was a kid, and my sister and I always took classes. She was always much more skilled than I. I never made it to pointe like she did, but I sure did love dancing and the ability of trained dancers. When attending a performance, my family always liked to sit up close, so we could see their muscle definition and their sweat!
Of course, since my background has always been in celebrity entertainment news and interviews, it was a perfect pairing for me as a job. A job that never felt like a job!
Have you been following the current season? Are there any athletes who will definitely get your vote?
It just premiered and with two kids, a book about to be released, shoots and a new puppy, I am lucky if I can catch up once a week on a binge show with my hubby, but I always try to tune in for a few dances here and there. Guess I will have to get back to you on that one!
Keep an eye on the App Store for Witney's new one-of-a-kind dance instructional app, Witney XO, releasing later this month!