“ After two brain surgeries and 24 months of chemotherapy I finished treatment wishing there was something else I could do to “fight” my cancer.
Liz Salmi is a one creative mAss Kicker! She works in Sacramento, CA doing marketing for Greenwise Joint Venture. She has translated her skills into the creation of The Liz Army, a blog about living with a brain tumor. She has become a strong advocate for the National Brain Tumor Society. She travels to Washington DC often to speak to Congressmen about brain tumor related issues. We experimented with a google hangout a few months ago. She also has started to get involved with TEDxSacramento. We were very lucky to find some more time in her busy schedule to chat!
mK: Hi Liz! Thanks for hanging out again! What/when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
LS: I was diagnosed with a grade 2 astrocytoma (brain cancer) right after my 29th birthday. I found out after having a major seizure.
mK: What were your symptoms?
LS: My first and only symptom was seizures. After my first seizure I was rushed to an emergency room while I was still unconscious. I had another seizure at the hospital, so they ran me through a scanner where they discovered a mass in my brain.
mK: Why did you get involved with advocacy? What exactly do you do for NBTS?
LS: After two brain surgeries and 24 months of chemotherapy I finished treatment wishing there was something else I could do to “fight” my cancer.
When I found out the National Brain Tumor Society was taking an innovative approach toward advocacy by focusing on public policy, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Many major cancer organizations focus on public policy—the American Cancer Society, Komen, etc. Historically the brain tumor community has been too small to go this route, but the NBTS team is slowly building a cohort of passionate volunteers and I am honored to be part of the team. (Psst—we are looking for more advocates!)
mK: Wow! A perfect fit for you… Who is your hero?
LS: My hero is my husband, Brett. We had been dating for a little more than a year when I was diagnosed. We weren’t even living together, and then all of a sudden I was having seizures, and surgery, and I couldn’t drive or get up and down stairs. He jumped right in and became my caregiver. I wouldn’t be here without him.
mK: What motivates you?
LS: I started blogging about my cancer experience soon after my first seizure. I am motivated every time someone leaves me a blog comment or sends me a tweet saying I have helped them in some way. That makes me feel really good.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
LS: I’ve felt like myself the whole time, but the diagnosis made me aware I was in a situation that would change my life forever in a way that would challenge my character.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
LS: I laugh about inappropriate things. I am a sap, and I can cry at anything. I’ve cried during episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have no tolerance for discrimination in any form, and when I see people being mistreated it makes me angry.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
LS: I’ve had brain surgery. Twice. That is pretty interesting. I have also given a TED Talk, and that was cool.
mK: What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
LS: For me, the toughest part in all of this is the first six months after finishing treatment. Throughout treatment I was like, “I can’t wait for this to be over and get back to being normal!”
But the truth is there is a new normal, one in which you don’t have a doctor calling you every week to check in. You are suddenly on your own for the first time. That’s the hardest part… but it gets better.
mK: Name your 3 favorite songs.
LS: “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen
“Say Anything” by the Bouncing Souls
“Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
LS: Books, movies and TV shows about politics and life in the White House.
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
LS: I’m trying to master all three Olympic lifts. And by “master” I mean, “learn how to do well” … I’m not trying to get into the Olympics.
I was not into Olympic lifting at all, pre-brain tumor. But after suffering some physical impairments from brain damage, I’ve worked hard at improving my balance and strength.
mK: It’s always cool finding a new “hobby.” What are you up to now?
LS: My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan. Before brain cancer, going to Japan was on my “bucket list,” and now that term carries a whole new meaning.
I no longer have a bucket list. It’s more like… a life list.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
LS: It gets better.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
LS: While I am creative and action-oriented, and I appear to be “off the cuff,” I am secretly quite strategic. I am a planner and I need to know the next steps in a plan. I hate being blindsided. This sounds like a good thing, but it sometimes it is a fault. I still need to learn how to roll with the punches.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
LS: Go forth and kick mass!
Liz Salmi: emotional “trekie”, TED TALKer, Olympic weight lifting jock, and strong brain tumor advocate. Thanks for spending some time with us! Check out the Liz Army when you get the chance.