09/14/2011 03:31 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2011

Cherie Meagher: Conscious Choices and Healthy Habits

I was intrigued by Cherie Meagher's perspective on the subject of choices and habits, so I asked her to share her story with my readers. At one time, she weighed 260 pounds and wore a size 24. Today she wears a sexy size 6.

"I make a choice every day whether to walk toward a size 24 or toward a size 6," Cherie told me. "When I come to a fork in the road (pun intended), I have a choice which path to follow. I am an obesity survivor. I lost over 100 pounds by developing the habit of making different choices.

"And the No. 1 choice I make again and again is choosing joy. I've made a habit of it. Whenever I am faced with a problem or a difficult situation, I choose to be joyful, no matter what. I've made choosing joy my habit."

"Can you give me an example of how this has worked in your life?" I asked.

"Yes," Cherie replied, "I can give you a very recent example, since I am just five weeks past a double mastectomy. When I got the cancer diagnosis six months ago, it was like a bomb hit my body, and a bomb hit my world. I was 53 years old, happy in my work, in love with my husband, and just going about my daily life. But when the 'Big C' shows up, it can turn your life upside down.

"My husband and I had a trip to Hawaii planned, so my doctor said to go ahead and go -- it would take a couple of weeks to schedule the surgery anyway. It was not the joyous trip we had originally planned, because we both knew what we'd be facing when we got back home. But the trip gave me time to reflect on what was ahead for me. How was I going to find joy in cancer? This voice in my head gently said, 'Accept the cancer as if I have chosen it.' That felt good and right. From there I asked myself, 'Okay, so if I accept I have and chose the cancer, then what did I want this cancer to bring to me?' What new habits of joy? Then I started to make a list.

"Here are a few things I came up with: I realized although I had lost a lot of weight, it did not mean I had developed the habit of loving my body completely. I wanted cancer to do that for me. I wanted to nurture myself. I wanted cancer to connect me more with my body even though parts of it were being taken away. I wanted to nurture my body more.

"For starters, there was much I needed and wanted to learn about nutrition. I wanted the cancer to show me how to close the gap between 'me' and 'me.' In other words, I wanted to expand my love of God in order to live in complete connection of my body, mind and spirit. I had read about this connection for years, and now I wanted it.

"Later, my husband and I decided to go for a walk. We were staying on the North Shore, and it was just beautiful. We wandered past some gift shops I'd been wanting to explore -- they'd been closed when we had come by on previous walks. This time they were open.

"I went into a jewelry story to browse. There was one other customer in the store -- a pretty woman in a strapless sundress. She had shining hair, a beautiful face and a cute figure. She was holding up two necklaces and turned to ask my opinion. 'Which one do you think looks best?' she asked. I picked one. 'Take that necklace -- it looks so pretty against your skin and it sets off your cleavage just right.' She beamed at me. 'You're right. That's the one. You know, I had breast cancer and I'm still getting used to wearing strapless dresses again.'

"That strong, gentle voice came back in my head. Tell her, the voice urged. Tell her what's going on with you. I started crying. 'I have breast cancer,' I told her. We fell into each other's arms and hugged.

"She asked me, 'Honey, where do you live?' I said, 'Studio City, California.' She replied, 'I live in North Hollywood (2 miles from my house!). Who's your doctor?' I told her. She said, 'That's my doctor, too.' It was clear to both of us that we were destined to meet that day.

"She asked the sales clerk where the dressing room was. The clerk replied, 'This is a jewelry store. We don't have dressing rooms.' So my new friend took me off into a private corner and pulled down the side of her sundress to show me her new look. 'Look, ask for the signature series,' she told me.

"Pure joy. I could choose to open up to people and tell them about my cancer and my feelings, or I could choose to stay closed up in my fear and pain. I chose to open up."

"It sounds like you chose well," I said to Cherie.

"I had had plenty of practice in conscious choosing when I was dealing with my weight and my eating," Cherie responded. "So I knew how to choose. Choosing consciously had become a habit to me. Especially when it came to dealing with feelings. Millions of people turn to food with their feelings -- emotional eating is pandemic in our country. But I learned that I had choices in how to handle my feelings, how to handle my life. So when cancer struck, my 'choosing muscles' were strong.

"Cancer has given me many, many opportunities to choose. There have been times when I've been terrified or sad or in pain. And I've met people along the way who have helped remind me to choose thriving over surviving, to choose joy over despair, to choose gratitude over depression.

"I think people are like diamonds -- we have these different facets. When the diamond's facets catch the sun, they reflect a brilliant shine. But sometimes, the diamond gets turned a different way, and it looks darker. All we have to do is pivot to a new position to catch the light again. That's what I mean by choosing. Sometimes I can pivot myself by choosing my attitude, and sometimes I need the support of other people to help me pivot back to the light."

"That's a good analogy," I said.

"My friends have helped me enormously," Cherie continued. "I chose to cherish my breasts for as long as I had them. Just like people hold celebrations for certain milestone events -- weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, promotions, retirements, funerals -- I decided to commemorate saying good-bye to my breasts. When I told my friends about it, they organized a wonderful party for me. The theme was: Thanks for the Memories, Mammaries."

I laughed. "What a great idea!"

"I thought so," Cherie agreed. "My friends gathered around and told me how much I had enriched their lives. We had a lovely evening of good food, good wine and much laughter. One friend gave me a leopard print bra hanging on a pink hanger with a note that said, 'The best is yet to come.' I planned to have reconstructive surgery and another friend congratulated me, telling me that I would have 'Barbie boobies' -- you know, the ones with no nipples. 'Remember. It's only temporary.' I will never forget the joy of that evening. Oh, and by the way, my new friend from the gift shop in Hawaii came to my party, too. It was an amazing gathering.

"I just soaked up their love. My friends had to keep reminding me at first, 'Let it in.' I am a person who has helped literally thousands of other women to lose weight. Accepting love in return is something I let the cancer teach me. At that party it felt like every cell in my body was plumped up by their love -- so much so that I just sailed through the surgery a few days later. That was just five weeks ago, and I'm doing great. The reconstructive process has started and I'm looking forward to have a rockin' rack!"

"I love your story," I said. "What advice would you give others, based on your experience?"

"I'd simply remind them that life is about making choices," Cherie replied. "As situations present themselves in your daily life, choose what will bring you joy. Go where the love is. Go where God is. If you choose something and find later that it didn't bring you the joy you thought it would, choose something different. Develop the habit of choosing. For if you don't choose for yourself, then the choice will get made without you. So, choose. Choose often. Choose well. And by all means, just choose."

For more information about Cherie Meagher, visit her web site