The story of the month for July 2010 comes from Gail Konop Baker of GailKonopBaker.com.

I was first introduced to Gail when I read an interview with her that another online writer featured about her heroic and transformational journey with cancer. I was moved by Gail’s life story, and personal accomplishments. I was definitely excited to have Gail’s story featured here as well, so that many more readers, like yourself perhaps, can find inspiration, motivation and healing through Gail’s experience.

Gail has faced something that all too many men and women face in our world today – cancer. This event in Gail’s life, however grim it may appear, thankfully turned into a new way of life – an opportunity – a type of healing. Gail is now cancer free and loving the nutritional, fitness and wellness journey she is on.

Part of her journey resulted in the writing of a book called Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis). Today, Gail is an author, speaker, health and patient advocate.

Please welcome Gail, as she shares her story with us:

Area(s) of My Health and Wellness that Needed Change

I was raised health conscious. My mother was one of the early advocates of “health food” back in the 70′s. She rarely bought junk food and was big on fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains (when everyone else was eating Wonder Bread).

That said, I loved going to my friend’s houses and eating Pop Tarts and Ring Dings (it felt so naughty!) and in high school every day for lunch I ate a bag of Fritos and a carton of chocolate milk! Over the years, though, I reverted back to many of the healthy food habits my mother taught me and learned and adopted new ones as I read more about health and nutrition.The one area that lagged was regular exercise.

I did gymnastics and dance when I was younger and aerobics in the 80′s (embarrassing but true!). But I didn’t start seriously exercising until after the birth of my third child when I was 36 and started running. When I started running I became even more aware of what I was eating because running made me ever more aware of how my body felt. I added yoga a few years later and that upped my body awareness another notch. Then when I was hit with my health scare – being diagnosed with cancer, 4 and a half years ago, I upped my health and fitness game yet again.

So my health and wellness awareness and habits have evolved over time. I’m always tweaking them as I learn more. For instance, currently I am trying to keep all sugar out of my diet. That’s a hard one but I feel better without it.

Strategies I Implemented & Their Results

As I said, I try to avoid all processed foods including sugar and white flour and just about anything white that isn’t a whole food (like onions). It isn’t a diet so much as a way of being very conscious about what I put in my mouth and making healthy choices.

When I’m hungry I think, whole fresh fruit and veggies first, then protein, then whole grain. Or another way to say it is I look at my plate and think most of it should be filled with veggies with smaller portions of protein and whole grains. Fruit in the morning and for snacking.

As for exercise, I believe the body needs a really good sweat every day. That’s my goal whether it’s running or yoga or biking or sex. Or a combination of all four! I just know when I haven’t had my good sweat I feel more sluggish.

I also try to incprporate movement into my day whenever possible, walking or biking errands. Stretching when I’ve been at the computer too long. I also stand on my head at least once a day. I think inversions are important for getting the blood to the head and reversing gravity and challenging your assumptions (the world looks and feels different upside down!).

However, I also try not to be so strict with myself that I feel I can’t have or do something I am craving. So if a desert is super tempting, I will eat it (or some of it). And if I’m feeling super lazy, I have been known to skip a workout. The interesting thing is, once your body gets used to healthy habits, when you break them it doesn’t feel good. So adopting the healthy habits actually self-fuels maintaining them.

How My Changes Benefitted Me

I am in the best shape I have ever been! Seriously, I look back at pictures of myself 10 or 15 years ago, before I started exercising regularly and I don’t look as good as I do now. Not that it’s about how you look, but I think looking good is about how you treat your body. It shows in your complexion and hair, the vitality in your eyes and smile, the way you hold your body and walk.

I also feel very confident that I can take on new physical challenges (and I enjoy doing that!). Last October, I ran my first marathon and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I love having built up endurance through running and vigorous yoga. It helps in all areas of my life, making things that used to seem difficult, feel easier. When I’m in a tough situation, I tell myself, this isn’t as hard as running for 4 hours straight. That puts everything in perspective.

Next Steps on My Health and Wellness Journey

I want to continue racing. I have a half marathon coming up in September and will likely do another full one next spring.

I also plan to get my 200 hour teacher training certification in the coming year. I have gone to numerous teacher training and yoga workshops over the ten years I have been practicing but have yet to become certified. I want to teach yoga because I feel it has taught me deep lifelong lessons about strength, balance, flexibility, stillness, self-acceptance and endurance and I want to share those lessons with others.

I also might want to try a triathlon, although that would require me getting much better at swimming. And maybe that’s why I want to do one, to force myself to take on a new physical challenge.

Wisdom & Inspiration for Others

Baby steps. For everything!

Make one change today. Then add another one in a week or two.

This could be cutting out the candy bar in the afternoon and replacing it with an apple or parking your car further away from the entrance to the mall. These small steps add up. That’s how I started running. Half a block, then a full block, then two blocks. I got both of my daughters running the same way. With exercise, I think often it’s just a matter of putting your shoes on. Seriously. Just put them on, stand up, walk out the door, one foot in front of the other. It’s that simple. The beautiful thing is that soon the good habits feed on themselves.

And above all else. Love yourself and your body. It deserves to be treated royally!

Pay attention to it. Listen to it. Give it what it needs.

If you tune in to it, it will tell you exactly what to do, to make it feel good. That is not an indulgence, it is a necessity. You only get one body and if you love others, you will take care of it, so you can be there to love them.