In this technological age of social media and the internet, it is common to see people living a crazy perfect life. These three words has more meaningful for Dara Kurtz after surviving breast cancer. Her diagnosis of the lethal disease came at 2014 when she had two young daughters who had to process what the entire family was about to go through. Dara was able to defeat and crush cancer head on, but not without losing herself and not knowing where to go and what to do next. Dara shares her story of survival to inspire people and tell them that amidst all the chaos, they are still breathing and they are still alive, and that is a special gift.
We’ve got a spectacular guest on, Dara Kurtz. Dara is the number one best-seller of the book, Crush Cancer. She took on this awful disease just like she does everything else in life, and that is head on. Back in 2014, she found out she had this awful disease and decided to do something about it. She decided to go full throttle with this thing. It was awful. She basically poisoned her body like everybody has to do when they have this awful disease. She overcame and she’s 100% cancer-free. Out of that came a clarity, and with that clarity came the Crazy Perfect Life. We go through that. We go through her struggle. We go through when she overcame that and how she has turned this into a business for her and helping others that are going through the same thing. As always, rate, review, go to iTunes and give us the love. It really helps us out. With that, let’s get on to Dara.
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Dara Kurtz: Crush Cancer Head On And Live A Crazy Perfect Life
I’ve got Dara Kurtz who is a cancer survivor and a total stud at. I’m so excited to talk to her because of what she has overcome and the very positive things she’s doing today. Dara, how are you doing?
Thanks for having me.
You are the number one best-seller on Amazon with a book called Crush Cancer. I love that title. Getting after it, being very aggressive and just like, “I’m going to go out and kick ass and take names,” and that’s what you’ve done.
When a cancer diagnosis comes knocking at your door, it makes you hit the pause button on everything. It gave me a lot of time to think about where I wanted to go with the rest of my life after I was finished with my journey.
Let’s get into your background because I know there was a big life shift for you like you would imagine if that happened to anybody. You grew up on the East Coast, right?
I did. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia.
You went on to become a financial advisor. What was that like for you? It sounded like you had a fairly long career.
I was working in the financial industry and I did that for over twenty years and I loved it. It was great. I had wonderful clients. It was very challenging. It was a great career that I could grow with. I did a lot of different things within that industry. After I went through everything that I went through with the big C, I got to the end of my treatment and thought, “Thinking about money all the time isn’t really where I want to be spending my time,” so I quit my job. That’s when I started my blog, Crazy Perfect Life, with the intent to start writing, find my voice and just try to help people. I didn’t really know what would happen.
Let’s back-paddle a little bit. I want to break this down a little bit. You’re working for a long time in the financial services arena then in 2014, what happened? Where is it where you sit down and the doctor calls you? Was this a routine visit or was there something going on? How did that all come together?
I have two daughters and at the time, they were eleven and fourteen and I was working in the financial industry. Everyone in my family got a cold and everyone seemed to be getting better, but I wasn’t getting better. I thought, “I need an antibiotic. I’m going to go to the doctor and get an antibiotic.” Back in the day, I didn’t take medicine. It took a lot to even get me to take an Advil. I’m not like that anymore. I finally went to the doctor and while there, I happened to mention a strange lump that I had. I thought the doctor would just shake it off, give me my prescription and I’d be out the door. The doctor didn’t do that. The doctor was really concerned and that led to a mammogram and an ultrasound and a biopsy and the rest of that story.
Way back in the ‘70s, there was a movie that I identified with and I loved called Brian’s Song. It’s the tale of two guys who were football stars. They were drafted by the Chicago Bears, Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. In the story, Brian Piccolo after his first season, he gets cancer and goes down this whole path and a tragic ending. A lot came out of it in terms of the beauty that relationship had between a black guy and a white guy. For me as a football player, I’ve thought from time to time that that story really moved me in a lot of different ways. I can’t imagine going to the doctor and Brian Piccolo thinking, “I’m just going in for a routine check-up,” and all of a sudden the doctor says, “We found something.” Then that something turns into something big. It did not turn out a happy ending for him. For you, what was that moment like when you went from, “I’m just going in to solve this cough,” to something completely different?
The landscape of my whole entire life changed in that one second when the doctor said, “You have cancer.” I didn’t really realize exactly how much everything was going to change when I was hearing those words. Life is forever broken down into two different categories, BC and AC, which stands for Before Cancer and After Cancer. I don’t think you can prepare yourself for hearing any kind of news that you’re not expecting that isn’t favorable or that will bring the outcome that you are hoping to have in any place in your life. It was incredibly challenging and difficult and you’re in shock.
I’ve got two daughters too. I’ve got a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old now and I can’t imagine the first part of that, BC and AC. Number one, you’re trying to process it for yourself then you have to go and talk to your loved ones and deliver that information. That’s not fun.
The hardest part for me was telling my kids. I obviously did not expect anything to happen because I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to get this mammogram or ultrasound. I just didn’t even tell my husband. I was just so nonchalant about the whole thing. I thought, “I’m going to be fine. These things happen all the time.” I was in great health. I did P90X every day. I watched everything I ate. I’ve never had a weight issue. I’ve always just been really very health-focused, so I didn’t expect to have any problem. Telling my daughters, that is something that I’ll never forget. That was one of the hardest days of my whole entire life. At the time, my youngest was eleven. When we told her the news, she just sat there and started hyperventilating. We could literally watch her processing the news that basically her whole entire world was crashing down on her. They had never been through anything like this. That was incredibly challenging and I had a lot of guilt because of it.
It seems like a lot of times, and I’m guilty of this too, we always jump to the worst case scenario when you hear news like that. It doesn’t always have to be that way. The good news for you is you’re sitting on that side of it now. It’s solved. You’ve battled it. You went after it.
There’s actually a lot of luck in cancer. I didn’t know that before I went through everything. There’s a lot of luck in terms of the kind that you have and just even the kind within the kind that you have. Before I went through this I thought, “Breast cancer is breast cancer.” In fact, that is actually not true. There are a plethora of different kinds of breast cancers. There was luck even in that and in the research that’s been done. I had a lot going for me. From where I sat, I was the mom in a carpool line that everyone felt sorry for.
How much of your community did you bring in to this once you’ve got like, “I have this. I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and get after it?”
My friends were amazing. We sent out an email and just told a lot of people at one time. It’s strange. I didn’t want to write about my experience. I didn’t want to do CaringBridge or send out weekly emails. My close friends and family members, they were there constantly but it wasn’t something that I really wanted to put out there. I didn’t put anything on social media about it because I felt like I had failed. I know that sounds crazy. I felt like it was my fault and I had failed and the last thing I wanted to do was hear a bunch of people telling me they felt sorry for me.
You just mentioned two things. A lot of having cancer and especially to overcoming it is about luck. You’re probably on the other side of it going, “Why do I have the bad luck of getting that? Now that I’m in the bad luck, I’m going to hopefully get the good luck fortune,” which you did to find yourself out of it. All this went down in 2014?
It’s been actually almost four years since I was diagnosed.
To me, it’s still very impressive that you going through this whole thing for a year, and I’m sure you were going in for all the treatments and all the emotion that goes along with that, then ultimately they say, “You’re cured.” At the time, did you take a leave of absence?
I did. I was not one of those people that sailed through chemo at all. My treatment plan consisted of surgery and chemo. I actually did end up doing radiation and then I did reconstruction surgery. I wanted to be as aggressive as possible. From day one, we’re doing every possible thing we can do because that was the one way that I thought I would be able to get to the other side and try to make peace with what happened. I wasn’t one of those people that sailed through chemo. I was so sick. I was very nauseous. I took nausea medication every six hours for four months straight. There was really no way that I would have been able to work, so I was on a leave of absence. I really admire people who are able to work and go through this type of situation because it’s incredibly difficult.
Essentially, you have to poison your body in order to zap everything and reverse the process and get better. I can’t imagine under any circumstances going through that. I’m like you too. I’m very healthy and health-oriented and exercise everyday and eat the right things. I can’t imagine putting anything in my body that’s not healthy and you’re forced to do that. You talked about this was almost four years ago but at the same time, I still think this whole next thing is pretty impressive. Even if it’s four years ago, you came out of this on the other side and light bulb moment for you maybe where you really saw clarity in what you were supposed to do moving forward. At what point did you go back and say, “I want to impart my knowledge in helping others moving forward,” and shut the door on your financial services career?
I finished everything and the doctors basically said, “You’re done. You’ve finished everything. Congratulations. It’s time to go back to living your life.” I found myself in a space and I didn’t know how to go back and live my life because I had changed so much. I had seen a lot on my journey. It turns out, I was paying attention. I found myself in this place where I was scared. I had a lot of fear. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was just really, really lost. I recognized that I had a choice. I could focus on the fear and focus on what happened because I found it incredibly unsettling that at one point in my life, cancer was brewing inside of me. I found that very unsettling. I recognized that I could either focus on that, give into that or I could actively decide to help myself move past what had happened and make peace with it and get to the point where I could help other people. I had to do a lot of work.
I’ve been on this journey too where you’re on this wheel for a long time, then one day something happens and you’re talking about, “What’s my true purpose in life? What’s really important?” To do that, in my case I had to do a lot of soul searching on who I am and how could I improve and where I wanted to go. The whole clarity thing for me came in the mountains. In that particular space, there are no electronics and there are no employees yelling at you or asking you questions and your computer’s not blown up with emails and it’s just literally you’re there. You’re really forced to just your climbing and your thinking the whole time. You can think about whatever you want to think about, but in my case it just really helped me to laser-focus on going from being stuck maybe to being unstuck. For me, I tried a variety of different strategies which worked and helped me get through that. It sounds like with you too. Even though the light bulb may go off or on, you still need to really do the work to get yourself to the other side.
What strategies did you use? I talked to a lot of people every day. This is one of the hardest times for anyone who’s been through cancer or even just a really hard situation. It could be any type of disease or just struggle or challenge. What tools did you use to help yourself push through and get to the other side?
Everybody’s got their own way of processing information. My background, I played collegiate football at a D-I school, University of Washington, and went on and played in the NFL. My legendary head coach, his name is Don James, he came through the whole Bear Bryant system. With Coach James, he had taught us all about the Pyramid of Success. The Pyramid of Success was really this 22 brick-layered pyramid that if you followed these particular steps, it could help you get to the other side, the other side being your ultimate goal. Everything is specific. He had gotten that actually from John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach from back in the day. What I had done is I just had to reach back into other things in my life that got me to be successful. I had really condensed my pyramid from 22 down to 7. It really follows the word acronym, SUMMITS. You’ve got to have your idea, then you’ve got to unleash it, then you move it and measure it. You go through this certain cycle. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you’re trying to go trying to find that purpose, you still need to run through the same cycle. It’s a lot of those same things I had learned when I was in my twenties. I just had to really tap back into that of what brought me happiness and what brought me joy and what got me to the goal that I set out to achieve.
The other part, there are a lot of little mini components in there. For me, being in the mountains really help provide clarity in terms of there was no noise, so I could really get clear on exactly what those next steps were going to be. There’s a lot to it in there, but it really helped me get to a place I’m at today. Out of this are a lot of wonderful things like this podcast. Lucky me to be sitting on this side of the mic and talking to people like you. Finding your summit is all about overcoming adversity to finding success. It’s so much fun when I get to sit down and talk to people who have battled through things like this, in your case, cancer and now you’re on to doing these great things. One of the great things I want to talk to you about is your website, Crazy Perfect Life, because it sums up my life a little bit. It’s just a great title. Where did you come up with that? Certainly I understand because of the crazy thing that you went through, but how did you put those things together?
To me, life is full of ups and downs. It’s crazy. It’s hectic and chaotic. I have two teenage daughters. It’s also life and that’s the greatest prize of all. That’s how I came up with the name, Crazy Perfect Life. Even in the midst of all the chaos that we live with, it’s still life. I never want to forget how special that is. It just resonated with me.
I love what you’re doing and I want to get into that. Your Crazy Perfect Life, it looks to me like you’re providing a lot of content to people to inspire them, to give them strategies, to invite them in a community. Can you expand on that?
I do a lot of writing about how to make the most of every single day of your life, how to find meaning every day, maybe put the phone away and stop going through your life with your eyes closed but open them up, look and see what’s around you, how to connect with the people in our lives and build the relationships that are meaningful. I write a lot about parenting and just a plethora of different things that encompasses my crazy, perfect life.
I started with this and I want to come back to this, but you write this book. It’s funny because in all these things that I do, my social media blew up fairly big and these pods have gone very well. The one thing I’m still trying to squeeze in there is Mark’s book about Finding Your Summit and I haven’t been able to do that yet. You’ve got this book that mixed in with going through all the stuff. I don’t know if you journaled while you were going to this but Crush Cancer, great name, Personal Enlightenment.
I didn’t do any journaling at all. In fact, when I was about to start chemo, my husband brought me a new laptop and he was so excited because he knew that I loved to write and I really had never had a lot of time to focus on it. He said, “Here’s your new laptop. You can take it with you to the chemo room. You can start writing.” I did not even take it out of the package. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it the whole entire time just because I was so mentally not in a space where I wanted to write. Anything that I would have written at that time wouldn’t have been very good or inspirational. After I went through everything, I did have this story inside of me because I felt like I figured it out and I knew that a lot of people needed some direction. Unfortunately, thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer every day and you find yourself in a place that you didn’t expect to be in and it’s really hard to navigate and you don’t know what to do. I knew that I could help people. I knew that I could tell them what they needed to do to get through it because I had figured it out myself. This really is the book that I needed when I was diagnosed that wasn’t out there. That’s why I wrote it.
If it’s selling that well, a lot of people do identify with trying to find hope somewhere and you’ve given them a glimpse in strategies on how to do that. Are you a guest contributor with HuffPost or where are you a regular contributor?
I do contribute to Huffington often when I have time. I did have a monthly column that I was doing for a regional magazine, but I’m not going to be doing that in 2018. I’ve spent some time trying to really intentionally figure out where I want to put my time and what makes the most sense for Crazy Perfect Life and Crush Cancer and do what I love doing. One of the things that I love doing is speaking and meeting people and having that connection and helping them get through dealing with cancer or dealing with challenges. That’s something that I’ve started doing a lot of and hope to do a lot more in 2018.
When you talk about speaking, do you go into hospitals or where typically are people asking you to get up and tell your story?
Definitely hospitals, definitely fundraising events for cancer. I’ve been partnering with some non-profit organizations and working on some workshops for 2018 through non-profit organizations, also schools and women’s organizations. We can all benefit from hearing how to overcome adversity and focus on creating and have more joyful moments. I do a lot of speaking on those topics as well.
From all this, everything that you’ve learned, do you also have any coaching where you’re bringing people in?
I do have a team that I work with. They help me try to figure out what makes sense and where I should be putting my time. I’m not a computer person. I know my skills. I know enough to be dangerous, but if something happens to my blog, I’m not going to be the one to fix it. You have to be smart and know who you need in your corner and then go find those people.
You talked about planning for your financial future. For most people they say, “Duh,” but I don’t think a lot of people do. Something strikes you unexpectedly and you’re caught off-guard then you’re like, “Oh, no.” Did you always think like that in terms of when you have to veer? In my case, I call it through my summit and I call it traverse, something hits you where you’ve got to make a new plan. Had you always been responsible in that way?
Yeah, I always have been. I was the kid who was the banker in the game Monopoly. I was really organized and I like a plan. I recognize now that you can plan all you want, but life has other plans for you sometimes. You have to be flexible and you have to be willing to live off the grid. I don’t worry so much about my daily to-do list or all of the plans that I have for myself. I want to know where I’m headed, but I don’t want to miss any of the joyful moments that can come when you give up the plan. I try really hard to allow myself that grace.
Another benefit that’s come out of all this and it’s just happened and it’s part of your DNA too is your daughters now who are a little bit older. They’re fifteen and eighteen. You are such a great role model. I think that you’re out doing a couple of things. Number one, you’re out living your purpose. Number two, you’ve gone through this awful thing and come out of it the other side in great shape with a great attitude, not bitter, not hostile. You want to help change the world and help other people. That’s very endearing. To have somebody like that as your mother is going to benefit those kids in so many different ways and really look up to you. It’s been a wonderful gift for you.
Thank you. I appreciate you saying that. We are a very close family. We have a lot of fun, absolutely. I think our family life has changed a lot since we went through what we went through. There are just a lot of great takeaways because of it.
The other thing I saw too is that you just told me that you’re not a big computer person but at the same time your Facebook and Instagram and those other things have blown up. Is that something that you planned on or the next thing, there are so many people out there that really identify with your story that they’ve started following your path and your page?
When I started my blog, Crazy Perfect Life, I started a Facebook page at that exact same time. I did not know what would happen. I did not know what I was doing but I was having a lot of fun. It did just blow up but it’s also been something that I’ve worked at as well. I do post a lot and I do enjoy communicating and hearing from people from all over the world. It happened but there was a lot of work that went into it as well but all from my heart.
I’ve got a similar experience. Going back when we were talking about the Pyramid of Success and how I got through it, really step one is just to take a step. I was in Argentina climbing a mountain called Aconcagua. I was up at 19,500 feet and it all came to me in terms of the plan. There was the initial plan but there was a bigger picture to this whole thing. I got out and I essentially wrote my vision board of where I wanted to go. It’s been amazing, fourteen months later a lot of the same numbers that you have and just doing the same strategies. Those things don’t just grow by themselves. You put a lot of work into it and you post frequently and content is king. That’s really the magic. Where there’s really no magic, that is the magic. It’s just discipline and doing it on a regular consistency. Where can people find you? I know they can find you on your website, CrazyPerfectLife.com. Are there any other places that they can reach out to you? Where would that be?
I’m on Facebook, @CrazyPerfectLife and I’m on Twitter and Instagram as well, @CrazyPerfLife. I do spend the majority of my time on Facebook with regards to social media. I just started a closed private group. It’s free and open to anyone who has been through cancer. It’s called Crush Cancer. They can also buy my book and the easiest place to get that is on Amazon, it’s Crush Cancer.
I love that name. She is Dara Kurtz from the East Coast. She’s doing so many great things to help people in the world especially those who faced a tough battle with cancer. Dara, thank you so much. You’re such an inspiration. I just love talking to people like you. This is great.
Thank you for having me. I love talking to you also.
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