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Woman of the Week: Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin is a testament to perseverance. After facing a hostile takeover of her business and a serious health scare, she returned with force, rebuilding and rebranding her business with immense success.

“When you think your worst nightmare has hit you — it can sometimes prove to be a blessing in disguise,” she said.

Martin is the co-founder and CEO of Hear for Life, a healthcare network that provides diagnosis and preventative hearing services throughout Ontario, including hearing tests, evaluations, hearing aids, and rehabilitative counselling.

It all started with Martin’s sister, Rhonda, who is in the hearing healthcare field and decided to open up a clinic in 1988. As Martin puts it, her sister is the “heart and the hand” of Hear for Life. She takes care of the patients while Martin takes care of the business operations.

In 2013, the company had what Martin calls a near-death experience.  According to Martin, their business associate abruptly and without warning gave away their licence to a competitor, with the support of a supplier. Martin lost everything — their telephone numbers, their locations, their website, but most of all, their money.  They lost about $14 million overnight and were given three months to leave the premises.

“They just gave away my licence agreement [to a competitor] – which is everything. It is where we built our business, housed our clinics,” Martin said. “Lots of my suppliers turned their back on me. They weren’t sure if I was able to make it.”

The worst part of this transition was the confusion. Most of Martin’s patients were seniors in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and all of a sudden the clinic they visited was no longer the same.

“[Our employees] spent a year phoning people telling people we moved, sending letters with pictures of staff to remind patients who they are. That took, I would say, five to 10 different mail outs and thousands of phone calls to the patients. We even did robocalls to hit everyone, to remind them we have their file – because we owned all the patient files.”

It took Martin and her sister two years to stabilize the company in different locations. By the third year, they had managed to re-brand and recapture the values they held when they first opened the clinics.

“We managed working with our own brand and we were able to capture a whole bunch of new business. But, in the third year there was a little hiccup,” Martin said. That hiccup: she was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to undergo seven months of chemotherapy following a surgery.

Martin should have had a routine colonoscopy in 2013, but she waited three years until the turmoil with the company was over. During the transition, she was hardly sleeping and was plagued with anxiety. She didn’t want to bother with routine medical examinations.

“You can’t let your life get in the way of every of health issue and that means making sure you get screened when you need to get screened. Colon cancer — people don’t think they will get it.  If a girl like me — someone who eats organic, does world games championship-training, runs three times a week, can get it…I was fit, so how did this happen to me?”

“If you are 50, get a colonoscopy. No matter what — don’t miss it.”

But, with the help of her incredibly loyal employees, Martin was able to get better while still keeping her new business afloat.

Martin and her sister have now sold their new company, Hear for Life, and have retained their position and all their staff. “The company that acquired us is an amazing organization nation-wide. You get the same personalized boutique style care, but now we have the backing of a huge organization so people don’t have to worry about being here tomorrow. I get to continue in my role, and my sister continues to work. Nothing has changed except we were able to realize [the company’s] value and have our exit strategy.”

“The Hear for Life brand is here to stay,” she said proudly.

Martin hopes that once the new transition is done, she will be able to help the bigger company grow in the marketplace. She is considering writing a book about her plight with cancer, and she has been asked to do some public speaking events on business for women’s groups.

Martin continues to be active and is considering taking up hockey and running again for the first time since her chemotherapy.

 

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Celebrating Women: Amy Symington

There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle — whether its for ethical reasons or to inspire a healthy lifestyle — but avoiding meat and dairy may have other perks, including preventing chronic disease. Nutritionist, vegan chef, professor, and owner of Amelia Eats, Amy Symington, focuses on teaching individuals how dietary choices can actually impact overall health and contribute to saving lives.

Symington is a multi-faceted woman actively involved in the vegan health community. She is very warm and easy to approach and is intelligent in a non-assuming way. Symington started her career as a vegan chef seven years ago and now teaches nutrition and culinary classes at George Brown College. “There is a stigma to vegan food being not flavourful,” Symington says. “The other chefs try it and they are shocked at how good it is. I like to focus on converting people to a plant-based diet through food.”

Alongside teaching, Symington runs a business called Amelia Eats that does catering, nutritional consulting, and creates recipes for various publications and businesses. She provides vegan nutrition expertise through her website and will also provide deluxe vegan catering dinners at request.

Symington’s interests go beyond simple cooking. She is researching how plant-based fare can help people who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. “My mom had breast cancer. During her treatment, I focused on plant-based foods and nutrition,” Symington says. “During my mother’s treatment, I found there wasn’t an option for people with cancer to be provided with a nutritionist or dietician. It was more like an assembly line with pills. There is no tender love and care in our system when it comes to cancer. There are wonderful doctors and nurses, but when to nutrition there is a gap. Processed red meats in particular, sausage, and bacon is directly linked to an increased risk of cancer and also breast cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a statement that shook people last year.”

After learning more about these risks, Symington began a vegan supper club program on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, and provides social and emotional support to cancer survivors. The program involves preparing and cooking vegan fare for cancer patients and their families twice a week. “Gilda’s program focuses on cancer survivors. There are 50 different cancer care affiliates in North America and the vegan supper club programming is very popular,” Symington says. “People were very skeptical at first and would jokingly ask for steak instead, but they came around to the vegan meal and now they love it. It is all about winning people over with really flavourful food.” She focuses on a menu with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. “They are most nutrient dense foods out there with high fibre, healthy fats and high antioxidants. Antioxidants fight off ‘free radicals’, osteoporosis, and diabetes and help with chronic disease prevention in general.”

Symington’s mom focused more on a vegetarian diet when she was in treatment, and her doctor became concerned if this was the best choice for her health. This later inspired Symington to start a community guide about how plant-based diets can positively influence good nutrition if you have cancer. It is proven that fruits and vegetables are filled with phytochemicals, fibre, and health promoting nutrients and tend to be healthier than meat and dairy products. As an expert nutritionist, Symington is creating a plant-based guide to cancer nutrition for people who would like to prevent cancer, those going through treatment, and those who are in recovery from treatment. Symington received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) award to create the guide and this will help fund the project. “There will be three components, including a literature review on what to consume for cancer prevention, then large quantity recipes focusing on foods mentioned, and the third part will focus on how to run your own supper club programming,” Symington says. “The students at George Brown are helping create recipes and then we test the recipe at Gilda’s on Tuesdays.”

Along with her husband, Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the couple plan to raise their son as a vegan.  “Generally. babies are vegan. You exclusively breast feed them, which is recommended. The first things that are recommended are cereals and fruits and vegetables. From there, use calcium-fortified tofu, lentils, and whole grains to get your complete proteins,” Symington says. “As a parent, you need to be informed about specific nutrients including vitamin D, DHA, probiotics, B12, iron, and calcium.”

When Symington isn’t working, she enjoys cooking on her own time and making delicious vegan food. Her guilty pleasure sounds absolutely delicious: “My death row meal is a good burrito or taco equipped with avocado and sweet potato with tempeh, and turmeric or tempeh tacos, always with hot sauce.” When she isn’t working, She also loves running and soccer, and is currently reading “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford.

Symington is leading the way in disease prevention with a compassionate approach to food and health. She is inspiring and her knowledge about vegan health foods gives people vital information about living a healthier lifestyle. Check out Symington’s recipes through Amelia Eats and if you get a chance, enjoy one of her vegan meals.

My hysterectomy story — Part 4 in a 4 part blog series

I spent one week in a fog of depression. If anyone else has been through it, you’ll know that being alone after surgery can be defeating.

I had been venting to my ex, who had patiently listened to me whine about feeling alone and wondering why my friends didn’t dote on me as I had expected. There were no cards, no offerings of soup and not even cheap flowers from the corner store. Weren’t people supposed to bring you something when you are sick, I asked.

His answer was simple. “You’re not doing yourself any favours by thinking this. Just be glad that they visited.”

At first I was a little annoyed. Visiting was routine. We went out for lunch on a regular day. How could that make me feel special?

But as the words absorbed in my mind, their strength resonated.  Was I building up disappointment in my own mind?

I had truly expected to be pampered while I was sick. I was looking for acknowledgement that yes, I had lost a part of my body that is the key to all life. Wasn’t I supposed to expect attention?

But then I realized something – I don’t need attention. I never have.

I was losing sight of who I was – the strong, independent woman who relies on no one, but who is strong enough to lend a hand when others need support. And now I had allowed myself to become weak. A victim of a simple procedure that rendered me healthier and yet I was crying about a host of unmet expectations, built by myself. I was drifting through unhappiness created by me.

Suddenly, the fog lifted and I could see myself again. Was I still disappointed? Yes, I will always feel a little twang of sadness when I look back on this situation. A sappy card would have given me that little bit of bliss that I needed.

So now I know better. When someone is ill, or in a state of recovery,  I will show up with a token of thought on my way to visit. Because I have always chosen to live by these words: always treat others the way you want to be treated, even if they don’t.

I’m better now. Still strong and still independent. But wiser.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 3 in a 4 part blog series

I’m a fast healer. Two days after having a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy, I was driving. Walking was possible but I tired easily and I could only walk very slowly.

I had no pain to speak of. I took a prescribed anti-inflammatory but no pain killers. I had some cramping in my stomach and the tiny cuts were a little sore, but I was not in pain.

Four days after the procedure, I went shopping. I bought shoes and two belts that went around my slim waist and hips wonderfully. I felt great.

But I cried a lot. I was lonely. I had lots of well wishes before the surgery. Lots of emails and calls and offers to help if I needed help. And really, these emails and offers got me through the actual procedure so they were not in vain.

After the surgery, I waited. But truthfully, people are busy. Their lives go on and although the offers are given with sincerity, the actions don’t always follow suit.

I longed for a gaggle of girlfriends to come over on their own accord, make me tea and talk about the loss of my uterus. I wanted chat about what I was feeling and have some much needed girl bonding time.  But I suppose having a group of girlfriends show up with Entenmann’s lemon strudel  is simply just part of a script from an old Sex and The City episode and not reality.

I received text messages, and a couple of phone calls with more offers. But I wasn’t sure how I could really call someone and say, “Can you visit me today?”

Few visits eventually came, some sadly with a feeling of obligation in the air….and I played the good hostess. The cancellations were difficult. It made me realize that sometimes it’s better not to tell anyone in advance, so when they don’t make an effort, it’s because they didn’t know. And there are no let-downs.

Ironically, my ex came through for me.  It was a surprise since we hadn’t talked in a while, but he remembered the surgery. He offered the help and he visited, helped me, and fed me.

Tylenol 3 can help with the physical pain. Naproxen, which I actually took, helped with the physical inflammation. A smile from someone who makes you a cup of tea and sits with you while you are at your most vulnerable is the medicine that strengthens your heart…and once the main part of your body is strong, the rest can heal.

My theory is that my body heals itself quickly out of necessity. It knows that I’m an independent person who must rely on herself, so it supports me in that way.  Fast tracks my recovery so I can get up and start living again. And in many ways, this is good.

My ex, well, that was a bonus. Who knew? Why he’s my ex, you ask. Well that’s a story for another day.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 2 in a 4 part blog series

Surgery was a success. Dr. Grace Liu performed a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy at Sunnybrook last Tuesday.

I remember being in the operating room and Dr. Liu chatting with me as she held something over my mouth and nose. Then I vaguely remember waking up and asking, “Did she do it laparoscopically?” and touching my belly. The answer given from who I suspect was a nurse, was “Yes.”

The next memory was of being in bed with a nurse asking me a ton of questions and I finally got annoyed and gave up answering. I remember thinking, Why is she asking me so many questions? I can’t even speak…

Five residents came to visit me and asked me the same question asked by the nurses who looked after me for the 30 hours I was in the hospital. “How is your pain?” I was confused. “I have no pain,” I kept answering.

Truthfully, there was no pain. Discomfort in my stomach area when I moved and some cramping, but nothing I would call pain. Perhaps the years of dealing with extreme cramps that would be considered pain to the average person without my condition had made me immune.

When Dr. Liu came to see me the day after surgery, she looked stunned. “Look at you!” she said. “You have colour in your face!”

I thanked her and she shrugged it off. And I thought to myself – such a skilled surgeon who took out an enormous growth of fibroids from my uterus without having to cut me open. It was a procedure I was told was impossible from other medical sources. Her modesty and wonderful bedside manner made the entire experience almost welcoming – as much as surgery can be.

My recovery was not about physical pain but emotional pain. That’s my next blog.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

My hysterectomy story — Part 1 in a 4 part blog series

It’s been a while since I posted. I spent a year and a half working on myself and my career and then I was in a place where I could make a long awaited decision. I have decided to have a partial hysterectomy.

I’m blogging about it because it’s a women’s issue and I wanted to share my experiences with other women who may be in a similar situation.

Fifteen years ago, irregular periods, hot flashes (yes, at 30!) and unbearable cramps led me to a specialist where it was determined that I had fibroids. They’re common, I was told. Just leave them alone and if they grow too large, then I’d eventually have to remove the uterus.

I was young and decided I could live with the symptoms because I wanted to keep the chance of having a child.

But the years passed, and the fibroids grew. I dreaded the week every month. The cramps lessened but the flow increased and for three of the days, I was incoherent. I was exhausted and even the simplest tasks took longer than usual. Last year, I knew it was time to make the decision.

Although I don’t have children and after next week, the option to give birth will be gone forever, I haven’t given up the privilege of becoming a mother.

All of my lives I have believed that being a mother to a child doesn’t necessarily mean giving birth. It means loving and caring and mentoring, helping one to grow. There are many children without a home in this world, and if I’m meant to be a mother, I will adopt.

So next week, I will be in the hands of a skilled surgeon who specializes in non-evasive operations. She will go into my uterus through three tiny incisions in my abdomen where a morcellator will dice up the fibroids so they can be removed through the incisions. There is a 30% chance that this procedure may not work, and only then will she opt for a bikini cut.

Am I scared? Yes.

In about nine days I may be able to blog again and let you know how it goes.

Keep reading….

 

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4