You might recognize Samantha Harris from her days as the co-host of Dancing with the Stars and a correspondent on Entertainment Tonight, but what you might not know is that back in March, Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing numerous surgeries including a double mastectomy, she is now in remission and was recently honored as the Look Good Feel Better ‘DreamGirl’ at this year’s Dream Ball Gala in New York City. We nabbed a few minutes with the Russian beauty to talk about what she does when life gives her lemons plus her mental shift from wanting to be fit to wanting to be healthy.
How did you learn about the charity Look Good, Feel Better?
“I came to learn about Look Good, Feel Better because of this honor, but I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in March, and I’ve come to learn what tremendous work they do for men and women who are undergoing cancer treatment and are dealing with the appearance-related side effects of that. Beyond hair loss on top of your head, it’s also your eyebrows, your eyelashes, dark patches on your skin. I’ve undergone a double mastectomy myself, so for women who don’t have reconstruction right away, finding out how to wear prosthetics, how to find prosthetics, how to put on a wig, etc. So there are so many things as a cancer patient that you’re dealing with and you want to be able to focus on your health, but outwardly, when your appearance is affected, it’s really damaging to your self-esteem. If you can’t have confidence, it’s hard to stay positive through the process. Positivity is so essential. So for me, being involved with Look Good Feel Better has not only made me feel better, but it also has made me see that there is a place for men and women to not feel that they are alone, and that they can be in a supportive community of people who are going through that same process and come out the other side feeling incredibly confident and with a greater sense of wellbeing.”
How is your treatment going and how are you feeling?
“I measure everything by when I’m back in the gym and what classes I’m able to take as I’m sure you may have heard that I’m a little bit of a fitness freak! But fitness and health have been passions of mine for many, many years. So to me, I’m aggravated that I can’t do push-ups any more because the implants affect my pec muscles. But if that’s the worst of it, that’s not a bad thing. So I’m now officially past my final surgery and I’m back doing cardio and taking a lot of classes at Equinox. First I started walking, walking my daughter to school, taking family walks or with my friends in the neighborhood. Then I started back in the gym on the cardio machines, but when I get back to the intense classes, that’s what makes me happy! Being able to be physical makes me feel more alive than ever. And this has given me a newfound appreciation for that adrenaline rush.”
How has your journey with cancer changed your outlook on health and fitness?
“I used to work out specifically for being fit—to have the muscular definition, to feel like I’m strong. That hasn’t gone to the wayside, but it has taken a slight turn because now I want to continue to work out specifically for health—to make sure that my cardio vascular levels are where they should be and to make sure that I am strong on the inside and not just on the outside. I think that’s really important and it’s something I’ve been trying to teach my girls even though they’re very young. I think working out for health is much more important than working out for outward appearance. If you get that benefit then great, but to me, it’s more important to be healthy and that’s the change that’s been made.
How did you handle the emotional side of battling this disease?
“For me, I’ve always pegged myself as a positive person, but right after the diagnosis, I had what I would compare to as what an anxiety attack must feel like, but ongoing for days. I just really felt that my body was breaking down on me from the inside, the adrenaline was always speeding and it was a horrible high-stress feeling. It was something I had never felt in my life and never want to feel again. I finally sat down one day and said, ‘I need to change this feeling’ because this is going to be a long road ahead of me, and I can’t feel this way everyday. So I made a choice to change my perspective. I decided I was only going to look at the positive, at how early we detected it, at how small the cancer was, because I’m fit and healthy, that’s going to help my recovery that much more. It is scientifically proven that it helps. Being fit and healthy reduces your chance of recurrence, it increases your rate of recovery, and it reduces your risks in surgery. So there was a moment when I said ‘Well, why have I been bothering working out all this time? Why have I bothered eating kale and chia seed smoothies so much for God’s sake? I finally realized it’s because it’s going to help me in the long run and it’ll also help prevent all the other issues and diseases for someone who isn’t working out and isn’t staying healthy. So the positivity track was the new focus.
It’s hard to stay positive in moments like that.
“Yes and we are now launching a website called GottaMakeLemonade.com which is about inspiring positivity in the face of adversity. And it’s not just for people who’ve undergone illness, but also injuries, a career or relationship setback. It’s a place where people could share and swap stories and show how they have overcome the obstacles in their life and turned it into something even better. That, to me, after going through that process of creating the website, and all that we’re hoping to build with it, has been a cathartic experience to help me not only give back, and give my lemonade, but also for me to work through all that I am enduring.”
What’s your best advice for someone who is currently battling a similar situation or a personal struggle?
“I think there are two ways to deal with any problem or obstacle. You can let it get you down, or you can stand up and fight it. And obviously, some days it is easier to just lay down and pull the covers over your head, but that’s not going to get you anywhere and it’s going to be self-defeating. There’s always going to be a positive side to something. It might be small and covered in dirt, but you just brush that away and it’s there. If you can make that small positive shine brightly, and basically shine its light on everything else, it’ll help. It’ll help the recovery process; it’ll help getting through whatever obstacle is in your way, but look, it’s not a magic pill. But it’s a heck of a lot better to go through your day with a smile rather than a frown.”
Totally, I love that. So after all of this, what has been your motivation to stay fit?
“Well, I will say, in some ways, it’s been harder to actually do workouts. Things have changed because of my surgery and because lymph nodes have been removed. So I have to be careful of the amount of weight I lift and how I do repetitions. I can’t do Bikram yoga because I can’t have extreme temperature changes for my body anymore. So some of that is frustrating. But rather than getting upset by these changes, I’m trying to find new ways to work out. Because that’s what keeps me motivated—finding new workouts, finding new classes. I’m very class-focused so if I can find an instructor that motivates me or a new class that’s going to make it seem new and different, that has been motivating. For me, just knowing that I’ll get my workout in, everything falls into place that day. I’m more energetic, even if I was tired when I dragged myself into work that day. I become more patient with my kids, more productive at work, so if I remind myself of that, when I am considering not hitting the gym, that helps.”
What’s your best beauty tip for looking flawless even on a bad day?
“A good concealer is important, especially for me with Russian blood, I’ve got deep undereye circles! But also having a little bit of self-tanner. I believe when you have a little glow from self-tanner, you just feel a little healthier, and you don’t have to slap on as much makeup. It carries you through the day. So that’s definitely been my go to. Just make sure you exfoliate beforehand and wash your hands really well!”
Do you have any quick locker room moves that can get you freshened up and out the door fast?
“Dry shampoo is my best friend for when I want my hair to look good after a sweaty workout. I blast my hair with a blow dryer and then put in dry shampoo to give it some oomph. I use a good CC cream to get a dewy complexion with that after-workout glow but you’re also smoothing and covering any imperfections.”
What’s your favorite way to fuel up before or after a workout?
“J. Robb’s Vanilla Whey Protein is my go-to for shakes. Sometimes I’ll even mix it with milk for my cereal. So I really love that for a quick protein boost. Otherwise, I’ve also been doing a post workout, frozen banana, natural peanut butter and flax seed smoothie. It’s really good. It ends up tasting like a really naughty shake!”