No one knows how much time they have left, and yet, time remains to be of the essence. In this episode, bestselling author, Andrea Wilson Woods, joins Rodney Flowers to share her and her sister’s story battling cancer and how her sister squeezed a lifetime for dreams in 147 days. Get to know the incredible resiliency and strength that Adrienne possessed even after being diagnosed with cancer and how she actively chose to live her life to the fullest by embracing fear. Andrea speaks of her sister’s character and how she measures her life through those qualities. She then talks about her drive to raise awareness to change cancer care and to embrace telemedicine.
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Time Is Of The Essence: Living A Remarkable Life In 147 Days With Andrea Wilson Woods
I have a very interesting guest in the studio with me, Andrea Wilson Woods. She has completed six marathons and 1/2 marathon but she hates running. She has 500 hours of certified yoga training but she’s not a yoga instructor. One of the most interesting things about her is she can curl her tongue into a flower. I’m sure that requires some level of game-changer mentality. She’s the Amazon number one bestselling author of Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days. Welcome to the show, Andrea.
Thanks for having me.
How are you doing with everything that’s going on in the world?
I’m doing okay. I was already working from home and I’ve been a customer of Zoom for years. That part of my life hasn’t changed. What’s frustrating for me is that I advocate for cancer patients and caregivers, and cancer patients during this time got the short end of the stick. Treatments are being delayed and diagnoses are not being made. It’s been hard to watch for me personally but we are turning a corner. Where I live in Birmingham, Alabama, some businesses are starting to open again and some are not. It depends on the business.
The same thing is going on here and I’m doing okay. Like you, not too much changed. I was also a Zoom customer and I did a lot on Zoom. I did spend more time working from home, fortunately. I enjoy that as a matter of fact. Things are starting to open up here. There is some sense of normalcy returning but there’s still a lot of uncertainty and frustration around what’s going on.
Something that has changed for me and maybe for you too is I speak at a lot of conferences. The last thing I attended was at the very end of February and that was it. I was supposed to speak at a conference in Paris. This is supposed to be my last day in Paris and my stepmother was going to join me. We were going to make it a girl’s trip.
I too was supposed to go to Italy. It was around February or March and that didn’t happen. A lot of other engagements were canceled but it’s okay. We switched things. There’s a lot of virtual activity going on. You’ve completed six marathons and 1/2 marathon but you hate running. I have to ask, if you don’t like running, what were you running away from completing those marathons?
I did the marathons to raise money for my charity when I first started. We modeled the marathon after the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. That’s a huge part of their business model in terms of raising money. I had already been training for a marathon and I’m more of a walker/jogger. I’m a terrible runner. I was doing it to raise money for charity. I ended up over the course of about four years doing six marathons. I did the LA marathon four times. I did the Vancouver Marathon, which was beautiful. I did the Vegas Marathon and then the Vegas half marathon when I had not trained one year. I’m not a runner but it was worth it to raise money for charity, for sure.Don't waste time pursuing things that are not important to you. Click To Tweet
Tell us your story. You’ve got this wonderful bestselling book on Amazon called Better Off Bald, which is an interesting title. Give us an idea of what your book is about and why did you write it?
When I was 22 years old, I was living in Los Angeles. That’s where I went to college and stayed after I graduated from USC. I ended up getting custody of my then eight-year-old sister, Adrienne. I was her legal guardian and her only parent. We have the same mother, different fathers. Her father died before she was born in a car accident. I raised Adrienne all through my twenties until one month after her fifteenth birthday, as she was finishing high school, she was diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer and it was shocking. The day before she was fine, very athletic kid, always on the move, and the next day an ER doctor tells us that this pain that came on very suddenly that day was the result of tumors in her liver and lungs.
That was day one of her very short 147-day cancer journey. It was brutal. She died a couple of months after my 29th birthday and that ended up changing the whole course of my life. The book is about her journey and also the seven years of my life when I was raising her. The book is written like a journal because when Adrienne was diagnosed, she had already been keeping a journal online for many months and she kept it up. I also kept a medical journal. You see both my point of view as a caregiver but also her point of view as a patient throughout the entire book. That’s why I structured it that way. It took me a long time to get the book published. This happened when she was diagnosed in May of 2001.
What made you wrote this? What made you want to share not only her story and how things were for her during that time, but your experienced as well?
I always wanted to write our story. I didn’t know how unique it was but I knew it was unique that I got custody of her at such a young age and the things that had happened to us. I never thought this was the story I was going to write though. I never ever thought this would be what it was. When Adrienne was diagnosed, it was important to her to talk about it. There’s a lot of misconception about liver cancer. She was very vocal about it and wanted to educate people. That was part of it too. I wanted people to know her, know her story, and to create this legacy for her. Because she is not the typical liver cancer patient, it’s a way for people to understand liver cancer without stigmatizing her.
First of all, I want to say I’m deeply sorry for your loss. As I was reading about this, it appears that she was quite the character before her diagnosis. I wanted to learn more about her. There were some things that you had mentioned and you wrote up about her, and then how things changed dramatically after her diagnosis. Could you give us a little bit about that side of things?
When Adrienne was twelve, I discovered she was suicidal. She was in middle school. I knew she was having a hard time, not academically but socially. I saw her trying hard to fit in with her peers. I always joke that seventh-grade was the worst year of my childhood and it was horrible. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back and repeat it. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I found a suicide note and it was serious. I ended up getting her into counseling. That counselor stayed a permanent fixture in our lives. She was amazing. I credit her with saving Adrienne’s life. Adrienne was starting to come out of what was an incredibly deep depression. She got to high school and she was starting to embrace who she was and worry a lot less about what other people thought.
It was when she was diagnosed with cancer that she wanted to live. There’s this complete shift of no more moping every day. It was like, “Now, I want to live.” It’s almost as if she knew she wasn’t going to and she created this bucket list. She didn’t say it like that. She didn’t tell me that but in retrospect, I could see that’s exactly what she did. She wanted to do all of these things she had never done. Small things like going to a certain restaurant we’d never gone to going to, going to a Medieval Times, which was something that was very expensive for us to do but we did it anyway during this time, to big things like meeting her favorite musician, Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction. She met him twice and that was all her.
People seem to think I had something to do with it and I did not. That was 100% her. She did all these things. The only thing she didn’t get a chance to do was go on The Montel Williams Show. She loved Montel. She loved how honest he was with teenagers and she saw it as an opportunity to go on his show and educate people about her cancer. Unfortunately, by the time they called and I felt that she was too sick to travel. They were one of the very few talk shows at the time that filmed in New York and we lived in Los Angeles. I didn’t feel good about putting her on a plane and I turned it down.
I find it interesting that you mentioned that she was depressed and suicidal until the day of her diagnosis. Something switched and she’s facing the fight of her life, but yet she wants to live. What changed mentally from your perspective?
It’s interesting because Adrienne felt like she caused her cancer and nothing I said changed her mind about that. In Chinese medicine, certain organs in our body are connected to certain emotions and our liver is connected directly to anger. She felt like the anger, which is what caused her depression as well, was what caused her tumors. She was angry at our mother for abandoning her and being a terrible mother. She was angry at her father for dying and she never got to meet him. I didn’t see the anger so much as the depression, but I didn’t realize how much anger she had pent up. She had decided once she got cancer that she had to release the anger and I did see all of that happen. The other thing that was amazing to me is she never said, “Why me?” When in my mind, I was like, “Why her? Anyone but her.” She never felt sorry for herself. She did have moments of anger, frustration, sadness and fear but she never pitied herself. That’s why many people have been inspired by her story.
In addition, in your write-up, you mentioned Adrienne’s courageous spirit shines through as she squeezes more life into 147 days than most people do in a lifetime. What was going through your mind when you made that statement?
She had this bucket list and every time she had to go into the hospital for a round of chemo, she would say, “I got to be out because I’ve got X, Y and Z planned.” The first time she met Dave Navarro was at The Tonight Show when it is still filmed in Burbank. It was right down the street from our house. We knew going in that she had a round of chemo and we had to cross our fingers that everything would go well and she would get out in time. When we checked in on a Friday, she’s talking to her oncologist and other doctors. She said, “I have to be out of here by Monday. I have to be done. Everything has to go well because I’m meeting Dave Navarro on Tuesday.” That’s end of the conversation.
That was how she handled things. It was, “I’m doing this. Get on the same page with me. This is what’s happening.” There was a time where she went to the emergency room overnight and the next day, she said, “I need to be discharged tomorrow morning because we have tickets to the ballet and we have front row orchestra seats and I’m going. You have to discharge me tomorrow morning.” I admired her. I always did because she was such a cool kid. She did yoga before yoga was a thing to do. A lot of people can learn from her and how she handled herself during that time.
What are some of those things you think people can take away? If you had to give a couple of things, what would they be?
She had so much courage but also grace, dignity and humor. That’s how I measure my life every day. “Do I have those things? Am I living my life that way?” Joy is one of my core values. I like to think I am part of that on Adrienne. Joy, for me, includes having fun and having a sense of humor. She had a great sense of humor. There’s a movie called A League of Their Own. It’s about female baseball players and in it, Tom Hanks said, “There’s no crying in baseball.” That was a joke in our house long before cancer, “There’s no crying in blank” because I hated crying. I hated whining. There’s no crying in homework. That carried over even when she got cancer. We didn’t say it around other people.People need to take a look at their lives and figure out what's important to them. Click To Tweet
It was a joke between me and her. It would be like, “There’s no crying during chemo.” That’s how she was. A perfect example is we go the ER and she’s about to be wheeled in for the CAT scan. They don’t know what’s going on. They know she has pain. As she’s being wheeled in, she says, “Why should it be cancer.” I start laughing and I’m like, “Bite your tongue.” She’s giggling and then she comes out few hours later. The ER doctor comes in and does not look at her. I knew it was bad. That’s when he tells her she has tumors in her liver and lungs. He walks out, we burst into tears, and then she stops crying. She says, “I was just joking when I said, ‘Why should it be cancer?’” Even though we didn’t have a diagnosis of cancer yet, we both knew it was, but we still had a sense of humor about it.
How has that impacted you? Do you live your life differently as a result of what you’re sharing with us?
I do. I’m not saying I’m great at it every single day, but there is a lot of small stuff that people stress about and it’s not that important. People get mad at me that I don’t check my email ten times a day. I have a certain amount of time that I block off for me so I can do my work. I find email to be very distracting. I have a window of time when I typically check email and people give me a hard time. I’m like, “One, I remember life before email, life went on and business flourished. Two, is the world going to end if I don’t check my email?” No, it’s not. Don’t sweat that small stuff. That’s very hard for people to understand until they go through something that’s life changing and traumatic. It’s very difficult for people to understand.
What would you like readers to take away from your book, Better Off Bald?
I would like them to have a better understanding of cancer for sure. I wrote it in a very honest and raw way to quote several of the critics. There’s no doubt that you will have a deep understanding of what cancers genuinely like. Also, to appreciate what you have, to value it and to value your time. We don’t know how much time we have. It could be 5 or 10 years. For my sister, it turned out to be 147 days. She never even got to finish high school. She never learned how to drive a car. She never got to go to college, which was a goal of hers. Since she was six years old, she wanted to go to college. I hope that people will take a look at their lives and figure out what’s important to them and what’s not so important. Don’t waste time pursuing things that are not important to you.
You have a nonprofit that you named in memory of your sister and the community with that. Can you give us a little information about that?
Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. It’s a nonprofit. Our mission is to prevent, treat and cure primary liver cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma, which is what Adrienne had, through research, education and advocacy. The nonprofit is still based out of Los Angeles. The satellite office is here in Birmingham, but we are based out of LA, technically. We do a lot of education and a lot of advocacy. We have an annual research award that we give out on my sister’s birthday. I’m happy to say that when someone gets diagnosed with primary liver cancer, even in advanced stages, there are far more drugs available. People are living longer. It’s completely different than it was when my sister was diagnosed. While it is one of the only cancers in the US on the rise, I’m happy to say that things are improving and patients are having better outcomes.
I want to thank you for coming on the show and sharing your story with us. If people wanted to get the book, which I highly recommend that they do because it’s a very inspirational story, where could they find it?
The best place to go is the website for the book, which is BetterOffBald.com. You can buy it from any retailer. If you don’t like Amazon, there are plenty of other retailers that sell the book and also, you can reach me on social media. All of my channels are there as well. In addition to my nonprofit, I cofounded a health tech startup called Cancer University. We would like to give your readers a lifetime membership to Cancer U. It’s ideal for newly diagnosed cancer patients and caregivers. It’s not specific to liver cancer. If they go to Cancer.University and they click, “Apply Now,” fill out the application, when they get to the bottom, they don’t pay. I have a coupon code and it is all one word, Gamechanger, and then they will have a free lifetime membership to Cancer U.
Thank you so much for doing that. Tell us a little bit about what Cancer U is? Is it courses, product, services?
It’s an online membership platform. It’s for both patients and caregivers to educate and empower them to become advocates for their cancer care, to improve outcomes and also reduce cost. The end users of the platform are patients and caregivers, but our business model is B2B2C. Our customers are payers, providers, and pharmaceutical companies. It’s still a fairly new company. We’re a true startup and we’re raising a seed round of $1 million. We’ve bootstrapped the company. It’s exciting and we’ve gotten a lot of positive response.Courage is having fear and just moving forward anyway. Click To Tweet
Thank you for doing this in the community. You truly are a game-changer. We have organizations like this that are willing to step forward, create a movement and cause a positive impact for diseases such as cancer. It is very beneficial. Raising that awareness is key because you don’t know what you don’t know sometimes. When you can have a centralized location where you can go and get information, it’s always helpful. Especially when situations like cancer, where it can seem so daunting and defeating. It’s good when you can have a place to go to get information that could make the situation better.
I’m glad you used the word movement because that’s what I want to do with cancer. I want to create this powerful sustained movement that changes cancer care in America. I truly believe it can be done. I think COVID-19 has helped because more people are embracing telehealth and telemedicine and that’s a component of it too.
I would have people on the show and they would say, “Oh my God, it’s COVID.” They were frantic and negatively impacted by COVID. I always knew deep inside of me that there was a lot of positive things to come out of this seemingly challenging situation. It’s not because I have insight, it’s just that anytime there’s some type of adversity in my mind, it always comes with a seed of opportunity. It’s just the way things. Even talking about your situation with your sister and it’s bad. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I’m very sorry that that happened to you. At the same time, there’s this insight that you’ve gained.
You’re able to come on the show, share your experiences, the things that you’ve learned and give us some tips on how we can live better. We don’t have 147 days. We don’t know how many days. We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow. We have to live moment to moment, day to day. We have to live it as powerfully as we can and understanding the mindset from someone who knows they only have a certain amount of time left and how they’re going to live their life. There’s so much we can pull from that. That’s why your book is so timely and needed for us because we learned from these situations.
They may seem bad, awful, and they may be even painful at times, but there’s always something that we can gain. I believe in having the right perception and I love the way you talk about your sister, because she had a certain mindset. She could have easily given up on life and not wanting to do anything and said, “Woe unto me. I’m going to lay here and die” and maybe not even make it 147 days. It was her perception of life and perception of the challenge that drove her into action. That’s something we can take away for because we deal with challenges to some degree every day, all of us in different ways. It’s how we deal with those things. It’s our perception about those things. That’s what makes the difference. That’s the game-changer mentality, if you asked me.
She could have wallowed and she didn’t. She even started school her sophomore year at home. She couldn’t go to school and being contact around people, but she started at home. I was one of her teachers. We got her some other teachers and she did homeschool, even though it was incredibly hard for her to do it. She genuinely loves school. She was an honor student with a 4.0 GPA. She went back to school.
She didn’t have to do that. It’s difficult, I would imagine given her circumstances, but she did it anyway. That’s a lesson right there for us to take away. That’s so inspirational. People have every reason to live, a lot of things going for them and yet they won’t decide to do. One question that we love to ask all of our guests before we end the show is the game-changer mentality message of the day. You’ve already shared so many things with this. If you could muster the main thing, and if it’s repetitive, it’s okay. We want to know the game-changer mentality we need to have.
The mentality is to embrace fear because too many people think that to have courage means not to have fear and that’s not what courage is. Courage is having fear and moving forward anyway. That’s applicable to anyone over any circumstances, whether it’s my sister fighting cancer. I left Los Angeles many years ago with no plan, no clue, and no idea where I was going to go. I was unhappy in LA and had been for a long time and I decided to do it anyway. I see many people that let fear hold them back and they’re waiting for the day that they’re no longer fearful. That’s not going to happen. The fear is going to be there every single time. It’s about taking the steps and moving through it and doing it. If I had known how much my life was going to change after leaving LA, I would’ve driven so much faster. I drove all the way across the country with my cat. It was quite the experience, but my life changed when I decided to embrace my fear. Fear holds many people back.
There’s this definition about what fear means that I like. It’s false evidence appearing real.
People make up stories in their heads.
We believe those stories and it dictates our behavior, and our behavior outline our results. It becomes a domino effect. We have to embrace that fear. It’s beautiful. Thank you again for coming on the show, Andrea. I appreciate you.
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Embrace your fear. I don’t know what type of fear you may have. Maybe a lot of fear considering what’s going on with COVID, the racial protest and all of those things that are happening. It’s a crazy world out there, but yet we don’t have to be afraid. Even if we are, we have to embrace it and think the universe is calling a lot of us now to step up, be leaders, be our authentic selves and take a stand. Perhaps fear is what’s holding you back. Maybe you feel that urge. Let’s be reminded of Adrienne and the story that Andrea shared with us and how courageous she was during her 147 days. You have to ask yourself, how courageous are you going to be today because tomorrow is not promised. That’s something to think about. Until next time, peace and love.
- Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association
- Is Life Knocking You Down? Read Rodney’s inspiring story – Get Up! I Can’t. I Will. I Did… Here’s How! https://rodneyflowers.com/get-up-book/
- Recognize Your Positive Potential – Essential Assertions by Rodney Flowers https://rodneyflowers.com/essential-assertions-book/
- Get Access to Rodney’s Daily Inspiration in your Inbox Today https://rodneyflowers.us9.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=01f76a038256f77a6fbc93590&id=307d726734
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