Supermodel and Cancer Survivor Emme
‘Love Yourself Every Step of the Way’
by Laura Shipp
(Photo courtesy of Robert Ascroft/FOX)
As the first plus-size model to ever achieve supermodel status, Emme has been redefining beauty in America since the early 90s. Twice selected as one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” the 5’11” blue-eyed, blonde stunner is a member of that rare club of celebrities famous enough to be known by only one name. Most recently, she was the host of FOX’s More to Love, a reality dating competition much like The Bachelor, but with plus-sized contestants.
For almost two decades, Emme has been a role model for body confidence and an advocate for women’s health and wellness. But in 2003, she became a fervent advocate for her own health when she began experiencing puzzling symptoms – a persistent cough, uncontrollable itching, and unusual fatigue. For three years, she saw doctor after doctor – one diagnosed her with asthma, another prescribed medication for acid reflux, and yet another told her that her symptoms were due to hormonal changes, as she was now entering her forties.
But her symptoms continued to grow worse. “I was completely frustrated,” Emme tells Coping® magazine. “I had gone to five different doctors, and no one could tell me what was going on.”
A lifelong athlete (in college, she was a member of the Syracuse University crew team and was even invited to the U.S. Olympic Team trials), she knew her condition was serious when in 2007 she began having trouble breathing and could barely make it though her usual spin class because of coughing fits and extreme fatigue. Determined to get to the root of the problem, Emme made a bold appeal to one more doctor, demanding a full blood workup and chest X-ray. Her persistence may have saved her life.
“I had gone to five different doctors, and no one could tell me what was going on.”
In May of that year, after numerous doctors, inaccurate diagnoses, and unnecessary medication, Emme finally found the source of her troubling symptoms. She had Stage II Hodgkin lymphoma. With the correct diagnosis, Emme was able to get the right treatment. Forgoing the standard radiation, she opted for three months of chemotherapy. “I had Stage II, and I didn’t want to overdo the treatment,” she says.
A firm believer in a holistic approach to medicine, Emme says, “The other part of my treatment was what I did. I had massage therapy twice a month, and I juiced.” Emme had begun “juicing” – drinking 72 ounces of freshly juiced vegetables at least once a day – several years prior as part of her healthy lifestyle and as a way to help ease her mysterious symptoms. Emme, now cancer free, believes her daily juicing, while not a replacement for conventional treatment, helped her deal with the side effects of chemotherapy.
Though cancer and chemotherapy ravaged her body, Emme says they had the opposite effect on her body image. “I gave myself more credit than I have possibly ever given myself,” she says. “Here I was, not trying to lose weight, and I lost a lot of weight. I was not used to seeing myself so emaciated and without my hair. I had to accept that this is the best that I can be right now, and I decided not to compare myself to anything other than what I am and not to beat myself up.
“We as a nation spend so much time trying to change who we are and shrink ourselves into something that we’re not. But when you lose your health and you are battling for your life, you realize how important it is to love yourself every step of the way.”
Through this experience, Emme also discovered the value of supportive friendships. “I never thought that I would let others into my inner circle,” she says, “but when I found out I had cancer, I e-mailed several friends, saying I needed to have 12 chemo buddies to just sit with me while I was getting my treatments.” Fifteen women stepped up for the job.
“It was really, really wonderful and sweet and kind,” Emme says. “Finding the support in your life when you’re going through cancer treatment is so important. You have to really reach out and let people know that you’re going through a hard time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For more on Emme, to read her blog, or to check out her clothing collection, visit emmestyle.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2010.