Photo by Jacob Smith
Ladies, grab a tissue. Lauren Chiarello is one of the most inspiring women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She reached out to Lisa via the OKREAL Mastermind Group wanting to contribute as a sponsor to our Holiday Jingle Belles Pop-Up with a gift certificate for a private in-home pilates session. After weeks of scheduling conflicts, she finally got Team TST into a class at FLEX Studios bright and early on a freezing January morning (if you can get me out of bed and to SoHo before 8am, you are definitely special). She kicked our butts, but made Lisa and I feel so empowered and great about ourselves, we left with a newfound energy…. and soreness. She’s a gorgeous, kind, fit goddess- but on top of that she’s a cancer survivor.
“You have cancer.”
I heard those words at the age of 23. They’re both the best and worst words I’ve heard in my life. Worst because I wasn’t sure if I would get to live this beautiful life; Best because beating Hodgkin Lymphoma twice ignited my life’s mission of helping others. Let me explain.
Photo by Tatiana Katkova
I graduated from Villanova University with a degree in Accounting and Marketing. After interning at one of the major accounting firms in Financial Services Auditing, I quickly realized that was not my path. I looked at how I spent my time outside the classroom — it was being of service. Through my fundraising and event planning experience in college, I learned that you can actually do that for a career and get paid. Giddyup! It’s called working for a nonprofit in the development department. Off I went, living at home with my parents and taking a $20,000 paycut to start as a Special Events Coordinator at a small social service agency on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was just 1.5 years into my shiny new career when I got sick for the first time.
Photo by Jason Roman
For 6 months, I would go to chemo every other Thursday then head to work. Keeping a sense of normalcy was so vital to me so I worked full-time during my treatments. Losing my hair was difficult and I recall going to pick out my wig with my mom. I found one that looked like my old hair – highlighted blonde and straightened via a flatiron. A far cry from my curl bob that I currently sport. Step by step, I moved through treatment and was declared in remission. My last chemo was on my sister’s 28th birthday + it was such a celebratory moment for us both. Friends rallied around me + ran their first marathon in my honor – raising money for lymphoma. Their motivation inspired me to do the same.
Six months post-treatment, I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon in Disney World. That weekend, I felt the lump above my collarbone (an enlarged lymph node) return. Damn. A PET scan revealed my cancer had returned. Round 2.
By this time I was working at one of the best cancer hospitals in the world, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I am so fortunate to have had the best care for my treatments — chemo, stem cell collection, radiation, high dose chemo and stem cell transplant. I had to leave work because treatment was way more intense the second time around. I also froze my eggs because the treatment could potentially damage my fertility. Not easy information to digest.
During my transplant, I was in isolation for nearly 6 weeks and celebrated my 25th birthday. Hair and nails gone again.
But I kept my inner strength + positive spirit.
I deeply believed I would live. There wasn’t any other option. I fought because I knew I had a message to share. One of resiliency + courage — no matter what challenge someone is facing.
Since then, I’ve ran several half and full marathons. I ran the NYC Marathon with Fred’s Team raising crucial funds for lymphoma research and the Survivorship program. I got to run past the place that saved my life.
I continued my work in fundraising and event planning. A friend introduced me to Barre at exhale — and my body, mind and life were changed. As an avid student for 5 years, I fell in love with the method. My teachers inspired me so much. They helped me discover strength I didn’t know I had. I wanted to do the same so I started my barre training. I had no idea if I would be good (hint, at the beginning – I wasn’t) and I had no idea if I would like it (hint, though I had to push past my fear of leading others, I felt compelled to teach).
In January 2015, I took a leap of faith to finish my teacher training and Chi Chi Life was born.
Chi Chi Life is my personal business that merges my love of fitness, fundraising, event planning, community and cancer advocacy. Over the past 3 years, I have completed several other fitness trainings including Pilates Mat, TRX and Pilates machine at Flex Studios – where I regularly teach now. I am also a Corporate Wellness Consultant. I bring movement and health / wellness workshops into the workplace — and work with food and beverage partners to educate my clients.
From April through September, I host monthly fitness fundraisers in Central Park. I partner with fellow fitness instructors + we teach a combo workout followed by a potluck picnic. Each month, I ask my teachers to choose a charity that is meaningful to them. If you’re in NYC + would like to join, sign up for my monthly newsletter, Chi Chi Pulse. It’s all about fitness, events, food, books, people + music.
If you’re thinking of starting your own business, consider the why. Your passion and energy will carry you through the high’s and low’s of being an entrepreneur. I lead my life with love and a full heart. I believe in things developing organically and always listen to my gut.
Through beating cancer + starting my own business, here are a few nuggets of life wisdom I’d love to share:
Gratitude is powerful. Write it down. Be intentional about your actions. Seek the abundance in your life. If something is missing, take active steps to go after it.
Be sure to surround yourself with people who lift you up, who challenge you, who are your cheerleaders. Find your fellow lovers of life.
“It’s a Beautiful Day to Be Alive” I say this at the start of each of my classes because it’s very simple + true. No day but today. I ask my students to bring their mind into the space and connect with their body and breath.
Learn new things. Ask questions. Make new friends.
Be of Service.
How can you help others? What are you most passionate about? Give back to the organizations / institutions that gave you a foundation.
I send Chi Chi Pulse every monthly without fail. My community anticipates it and I love to hear feedback!
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Show up for yourself and others.
To me, fitness is about community and connection. Building authentic relationships. I believe people can change to live their best life.
My motto is Yes. You. Can.