Meet Cathy

MY MISSION

Serve as a reliable and inspiring nutrition, fitness and lifestyle resource. Reach every woman touched by breast cancer, especially at the time of diagnosis. Provide trustworthy, realistic guidance for building physical resilience in anticipation of treatment.

 

MY VISION

An end to diet, exercise and wellness confusion for women being treated for, healing from, or living with breast cancer.

 

 

MY STORY

The Breast Cancer Diagnosis That Never Should Have Happened

If ever there was a person who anticipated a breast cancer diagnosis less than me, I’d love to meet her/him. Even after my first mammogram at age 40 resulted in a biopsy – followed by several more in the ensuing years – breast cancer wasn’t on my radar. Call me naive, in denial, or stubborn, I was convinced my doctors were simply being cautious and thorough. As one after the other of those biopsies read negative for cancer, I went on with life, building my nutrition and fitness business and putting each experience behind me and out of my mind until the next scheduled mammogram demanded I pay attention. By November 2013 they’d read negative for so long, I graduated back to “screening” vs “diagnostic” mammograms. But I didn’t even make it to one screening mammogram. In October 2014, seven weeks after completing the Chicago Half-Marathon where I logged a PR (personal record) and felt like a million bucks – thank you very much – I was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). Breast cancer. To this day, I continue to marvel at how my body could harbor breast cancer – whose number one goal was to kill me – while at the same time be in peak physical condition.

The Insanity-Inducing Cycle of Disbelief. . .

Shortly after my diagnosis I was in the shower, once again in tears, pleading with the universe to tell me “why?” Not “why me?” “Why?” I had no family history, maintained a healthy weight, ate a vegan diet, got plenty of sleep, and worked out 6-7 days every week. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I, a ridiculously healthy woman, who prided herself on taking zero medication and visiting her doctor only for an annual wellness visit had been thrust into a near constant round of appointments with breast surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists. How was I even qualified to participate in conversations littered with references to pathology reports, clinical outcomes, and surgery requiring the skill of a plastic surgeon, conversations demanding that even as I reeled from this devastating news I make critical, don’t-get-no-second-chance decisions on a dizzying array of treatment options? Breast cancer was so far outside my reality that even as I paced the surgical pre-op room prior to my lumpectomy, I refused to believe it. There was simply no way that breast cancer was actually my life.

. . .and Rage

Although my disbelief was wickedly potent on its own, apparently it required a sidekick, and found it in the companion emotion of rage. Subtle but ruthless, rage wrapped itself tightly around my brain and nervous system, rendering me impatient with and angry at the world. Regardless of how many miles I ran or pounds of weight I lifted, I constantly battled the urge to break glass, punch walls and throw something. . . . ..anything. In time, I’d had enough. Riding the rage wave was exhausting. I realized how desperately I needed to harness that corrosive anger, turn it around and into something good. One year after my diagnosis, still struggling, seeking clarity and answers, I attended a women’s empowerment summit in NYC. While there were many inspiring speakers, the one I’m forever indebted to challenged us with this: “What pisses you off? Use THAT to fuel the change you want to see in the world.”

What pisses me off is this:
  • Every TWO MINUTES a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • 675 women PER DAY.
  • 246,660 women PER YEAR.
The changes I so desperately want to see are:
  • A worldwide reduction in the total number of breast cancer diagnoses.
  • A single, trusted resource on diet, exercise and living a health-supportive lifestyle for the breast cancer community to access at the time of diagnosis.

The “Why” Turned “What If?” Behind My Mission-Driven Business

Ever so slowly, instead of “why?”, I began to ask “what if?”

  • What if?. . .I could drive down the number of women diagnosed from 1:8 to 1:80 with prevention-focused nutrition and fitness habits.
  • What if?. . .I could help women who are diagnosed use nutrition and fitness to build physical resilience for improved outcomes and optimal healing.
  • What if?. . .I could end confusion, frustration and anxiety in the breast cancer community over what to eat, how and when to exercise, and what it takes to create and sustain a health-supportive lifestyle.

Ever so slowly, I began to get clarity. My 20 years of experience as a wellness and prevention-focused dietitian and nutrition therapist combined with my own breast cancer experience provided a rich opportunity to serve others. I saw how I could use my expertise, skills, voice and professional platform to bring about change for those facing (and living with) the most commonly diagnosed cancer for women worldwide. Although I had no idea what that would look like, I knew. . .

  • It had to be big, bold, broad and intentional
  • It had to be built on actionable behaviors versus passive awareness

And there was no way I couldn’t NOT do it. Finding my voice and the courage to share about my breast cancer – which I’d kept extremely private – channeling my anger into action, and shifting my focus to serving others became the fuel behind the creation of the “DAM. MAD. About Breast Cancer.”™ initiative. I’m a zealot for living a healthy lifestyle that blends plant-based nutrition with physical activity, and integrating the science and psychology of nutrition, fitness and self-care completely lights me up. I’m not a breast cancer researcher. I’m not an oncology dietitian. I’m not even a nutrition and fitness expert who claims to have all the answers. What I am, is DAM. MAD., and I’m on a mission to serve the breast cancer community through education and inspiration to “BITE Back” with nutrition, “MOVE Back” with fitness, and “STRIKE Back” with health-supportive lifestyle strategies – especially at the time of diagnosis. If you’re DAM. MAD. about breast cancer, join me. Yes, you CAN take charge of your health, even at this critical time. . .and it’s my honor to help you.

PROFESSIONAL BIO

Professional Biography

Cathy Leman has over 20 years of experience as a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist, certified personal trainer, speaker, writer, and most recently a breast cancer risk reduction strategist, educator, and inspirationist. Cathy is a “second-career” dietitian, trading ten years in the trenches of corporate America for a nutrition degree, RD credentials, and a dream of working in preventive and wellness nutrition. Her belief in the synergy of nutrition, fitness and psychology to support optimal health led her to become certified as a personal trainer and earn her master’s degree in health psychology. A five-time finisher of The Steamboat Classic “Illinois’ Toughest 15K”, Cathy has completed a duathlon, five half-marathons, and too many 5K-10K races to count. Fueling an active lifestyle requires nourishing and delicious food, and fortunately Cathy is an avid home-cook specializing in vegan and plant-based cooking and recipe creation. Through her own breast cancer experience, Cathy witnessed the positive impact  healthy lifestyle behaviors have on treatment and recovery. Vowing to use her professional expertise to inspire women everywhere to adopt a pro-active approach to breast health, she founded “DAM. MAD. About Breast Cancer.”™ BITE BACK | MOVE BACK | STRIKE BACK, a global initiative combining evidence-based nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle education and information with a healthy dose of inspiration to serve the breast cancer community, especially at the critical time of diagnosis. Cathy graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition and dietetics, completed her dietetic internship through the UIC coordinated undergraduate program, holds a master’s degree in health psychology from National Louis University, and is certified as a personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. She has completed extensive training in the implementation of nutritional treatment approaches to eating disorders and the principles of “Intuitive Eating.” Cathy is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Oncology Nutrition; a dietetic practice group (DPG) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a past board member of Nutrition Entrepreneurs; a dietetic practice group (DPG) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and has served in a variety of volunteer positions at the local and state level of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS

Cathy has worked with numerous corporations, associations and businesses such as Ernst and Young, John B. Sanfilippo & Son (Fisher Nuts) and Deloitte, conducting worksite wellness programming through “Lunch and Learn” lectures, group coaching, healthy cooking demonstrations, and weight loss/healthy habits projects. She has written for a variety of print and on-line publications, is the contributing writer for the “Good Carb, Better Carb” cookbook, and the author of the booklets “Nutrition at Work: 60 Simple Ways To Eat Healthy On The Road and At The Office,” and “Eat Healthy. Live Healthy. 114 Easy Ways To Make Good Nutrition A Habit.”

When Cathy shares her practical approach to nutrition and fitness with our group, she never fails to bring a fresh perspective that inspires and engages us all. There are diet and exercise speakers who can come off as “preachy” –  she isn’t one of them. Cathy connects with people through a unique blend of expertise and authenticity, is always extremely professional, and a pleasure to work with.

Debbie Gregorash

Chief Financial Officer, TC Wealth Partners | Trust Company of Illinois

Cathy has shared her wisdom and knowledge with our patient community in formal presentations and has written for our newsletter. Taking what can sometimes be a dry subject, making it dynamic, interesting and fun is a special talent Cathy brings to her audiences. I would encourage anyone looking for an inspiring speaker who knows her subject inside and out to engage her services.

Susan Thornton

CEO, Cutaneous Lymphoma Foundation

Cathy always seems to lift everyone up when she visits. I regularly have employees stop me to talk at great length about the information she shares, and how they plan to implement what they’ve learned. Cathy is able to make a positive impact on people, and I feel blessed that we were able to connect and add her as part of our team!

Joe Boyd

Former Site Manager, DOMTAR Paper Company

“Even before treatment starts, you can help the healing process begin.” – Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD

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