“ Don’t feel shy about speaking up for yourself, be your own advocate, and lastly let other people support you and show you love.
Christina Soto is a globe-trotting mAssKicker! After her two battles with stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma (and a pretty severe case of PTSD), Christina felt more inspired than ever to quit living small and really go for her dreams. Her involvement with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, both during and after her cancer battles had shown her the power of sharing our stories and how fulfilling it is to give back. After that realization she founded The Cancer GamePlan, a podcast that features the stories of inspiring cancer warriors that is dedicated to providing useful and encouraging information so that all cancer warriors can live their best lives everyday, no matter what situation they’re in. She currently resides in Japan, but she will be returning to San Diego later in the year. We look forward to welcoming her and her boyfriend back to San Diego later this year! We were fortunate to catch up with Christina and ask her a few questions.
mK: Thank for doing this Christina! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
CS: I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin Lymphoma in April 2012. I had first noticed a small lump in the side of my neck a few months prior, but while on vacation in Japan with my partner Andres, the little lump suddenly turned into a BIG lump. So as soon as I got home I went straight to a Head & Neck Surgeon, who immediately sent me for a CT scan, which confirmed a pretty large tumor. Initially my doctors suspected that the cancer was contained to just my neck area, but after I had a full body PET/CT scan it showed the cancer had spread from my neck to the mediastinum area and my liver. After we learned that it had metastasized it was a whole new ball game.
mK: Yikes! What were your symptoms?
CS: Aside from the small lump I had noticed above my right clavicle, I felt totally fine! I assumed it was just a swollen gland. I was a runner, a vegan and not much of a drinker, so cancer wasn’t even close to being on my radar. However looking back now, I realize I really wasn’t feeling all that great. I would get nauseous really easy and somedays I didn’t have enough air when I would go run. I just had an overall general sense of fatigue, which I think I just got used to and thought was normal.
mK: Why did you start The Cancer Game Plan? What is the goal of The Cancer Game Plan?
CS: During my cancer battle I didn’t really like the support group at my cancer center, it was a bit of a downer. All I wanted to hear was inspiring stories of cancer warriors who were living amazing lives. I wanted to know what they did, what their top tips were, what they learned from their experiences and what they would have done differently, so I decided to create a platform where inspiring cancer warriors could share their stories. I decided to make it a podcast because I wanted it to feel like a support group for those listening, so they could actually hear their fellow cancer warriors voices and know they weren’t alone. Another benefit is you can listen to these inspiring stories anytime – day or night – without having to leave your house or worry about taking time off of work or arranging child care. Not everyone has the situation to attend a cancer support group in the middle of the day. My goal is to provide useful and encouraging information to help cancer warriors live happy and fulfilling lives both during and after cancer treatments end.
mK: Who is your hero or heroes?
CS: Hmmmm, I don’t think I really have any heroes per se, but I definitely admire anyone who is living their life in a big way. People who follow their dreams, regardless of what life has thrown at them really inspire me. One of my favorite quotes always helps me readjust my thinking whenever I feel doubt or anxiety creeping in: “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” – Les Brown
mK: What motivates you?
CS: Ideas and freedom, because they really go hand-in-hand. If you have a great idea but are bound by your own self-limiting beliefs, the idea dies.
mK: Good advice. When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
CS: New Year’s Eve 2013 Kyoto, Japan. I had just finished my last rounds of radiation around the end of August 2013, and flew to Kyoto on New Year’s Eve to meet my partner (Andres) who was already there. Of course I arrived as sick as a dog (no immune system and a 12 hour flight?! not my best idea and had to go straight to bed. But at about 10 minutes before mid-night I awoke to the sounds of the monks ringing the temple bells all throughout Kyoto. Mind you, Kyoto has over 1,600 temples alone so it was quite dramatic. I remember thinking, I’m in Kyoto, it’s New Year’s Eve and I don’t have cancer (last New Year’s I was just learning my cancer had come back) I am NOT going to miss out on something this cool no matter how bad I feel. So I threw on some clothes, and ran through the backstreets of Old Kyoto and luckily found my boyfriend about a minute before mid-night. I felt like I was in a cheesy romantic comedy but that was the exact moment I knew I was going to live a bigger life than I had before.
mK: HAHAHA! What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
CS: My two sisters! No one can make me laugh as hard as them. For crying, these days I tend to cry more out of happiness and when I fell deeply grateful. I feel a lot more sensitive and emotionally connected with myself after my experiences with cancer. As for anger, nothing makes me more angry than injustice and corruption. Having spent the last year living and traveling in places like Mexico, Bali, Vietnam and Cambodia, and seeing the crippling devastation that corrupt governments have on the poor and disenfranchised makes my blood boil.
mK: Sounds like you’ve done some pretty cool stuff. What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
CS: After getting the all-clear in fall 2013 I completely changed my life. I was determined to really go for my dreams and fill my days with things that made me feel truly happy. So Andres and I quit our jobs, sold everything we owned (except for what we could fit in our suitcases), started a travel company (called Boutique Japan http://boutiquejapan.com/) and took off to go traveling. We’ve been on the road for a little over a year now and have seen and done some amazing things, we’ve also made a lot of new friends all over the world. It’s been an awesome experience and a great way to celebrate life!
mK: Very cool! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
CS: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress), hands down without a doubt!! I had a full-on emotional breakdown, with all the fear, panic, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, etc. – you name it, I had it! I had a really hard time getting any help for it. My nurse practitioner and social worker told me it was pretty normal and I should keep taking my meds and find a therapist. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a therapist who had personally gone through cancer and I was starting to develop an unhealthy dependence on my meds. So I came up with my own plan of how I would work through my feelings and emotions. Long story short, I knew I had to really feel all of these horrible feelings, acknowledge them, shift my thinking and then talk them out with the people I loved and trusted the most. I used writing to help me really understand what I was feeling and many, many, many heart-to-heart talks. And it worked! I was able to get off all my anti-anxiety and pain pills and just work on maintaining my emotional well-being. Survivorship is a complex, ever-evolving process.
mK: Changing gears to lighten the mood… What is your guilty pleasure?
CS: Making a giant bowl of stove-top popcorn and watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odessy with Neil Tyson-De Grasse. I think my boyfriend could of answered that one for me without any hesitation! I just love that show!
mK: OK, “nerd”… j/k. If you could ask your future self from the year 2030 one question, what would it be and why?
CS: Tell me how we have cured or are treating cancer now!? I especially want to know if and how we are using our own immune systems to fight of this horrible disease!
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
CS: Even though I LOVE traveling, at heart I’m really a homebody. I absolutely love DIY crafts and cooking! I like to experiment and tweak recipes to be healthier while still tasting delicious. Starting June 2015 I’ll be rolling out weekly video tutorials with all my top tips and best creations dedicated to healthy living for cancer warriors. If you want to check out the short videos you can sign-up here and you’ll be notified when they’re live!
mK: What are you up to now?
CS: I’m currently living/traveling in Japan for the next two months. Since my partner (Andres) and I own a travel company that specializes in bespoke Japan travel we spend about 4-5 months a year exploring the country. In a few days we’re embarking on a multi-day bike ride across the Seto Inland Sea and then hiking part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail, before staying in a traditional Buddhist monk temple. There’s just so much to experience here, I always love coming to Japan!
mK: Very cool! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
CS: I don’t believe in asking what your ‘odds’ are or about statistics, very rarely does anything good come from having that information. Usually it just contributes to fear, depression, anxiety and stress, and it makes us overly fixated on scary, negative things, or on a type of expiration date. I say focus on how you want to feel and what you can you do right now and everyday to help your body fight this disease. Don’t feel shy about speaking up for yourself, be your own advocate, and lastly let other people support you and show you love.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
CS: I’m a certified Neuro-linguistic Master Practitioner Life Coach and am currently going back to school to pursue a degree in nursing. I’m really passionate about helping my fellow cancer warriors move past their emotional and mental blocks so they too can live their best lives everyday, no matter what situation they’re in.
mK: Good luck! Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
CS: Just remember to stay strong, keep fighting and living life! I love connecting with fellow cancer warriors – I really feel we all need to support each other on our cancer journeys – so feel free to come by and say hi on Facebook or Twitter. And if you’re looking for a little inspiration, encouragement and support be sure to check out the inspiring stories of some really awesome cancer warriors at The Cancer GamePlan podcast!
Christina Soto: Certified Life Coach, Japan traveler, secret home body, galactic nerd, New Year’s Eve-romantic comedy scene re-creater, Hodgekin’s Lymphoma thriver, and all around sa-weet girl! Thanks for answering our questions Christina! We look forward to seeing what you do next! Check out The Cancer GamePlan when you get the chance.