Feb. 28 is Rare Disease Day — a subject Lauren Chiarello knows something about firsthand.
The 32-year-old Upper East Side resident is a two-time Hodgkin lymphoma survivor. The trainer, who can be found teaching barre at Exhale and TRX at Flex Studios, was first diagnosed with cancer at 23, and again six months later. She’s been in remission for 7½ years.
“My stem cell transplant birthday is on April 24,” Chiarello said. “It’s the day I received a second chance at life.”
Cancer prevention and leading a healthy lifestyle are of the utmost importance to Chiarello, who has completed six half-marathons and two full marathons while raising more than $75,000 for various cancer charities.
The fundraising and events guru is the founder of Chi Chi Life, a brand that fuses her passions of fitness, fundraising, events and wellness.
We spoke with Chiarello in advance of her latest fundraiser, a barre class at Exhale on Feb. 26.
You were diagnosed with cancer at 23. What was that like?
Initially, I was both surprised and devastated. I was a young person who ate well and exercised, so I was baffled by how I could have cancer. I tried to take each appointment and treatment as it came. It was hard not to look ahead and dream of crossing the “end-of-treatment” finish line. Staying in the present moment was one of my greatest lessons learned.
After beating it, when were you re-diagnosed?
Six months later. One week after completing my first half-marathon, I learned I had relapsed. This meant more chemotherapy, radiation, high-dose chemotherapy and, finally, a stem cell transplant. I celebrated my 25th birthday in the hospital.
These days, what does staying healthy entail?
For diet, I have been a vegetarian since I was 14. I eat as “clean” as possible: fresh veggies, whole grains. I am in the Breast Surveillance Program at MSKCC [Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center] to receive screenings, MRIs and mammograms. I am also a patient in the Survivorship Clinic, which monitors my long-term aftereffects of treatment.
How did you become a fitness trainer?
About one year after my transplant, a friend introduced me to Core Fusion Barre at Exhale. I fell in love with the method, taking class two to three times each week. I was a student at Exhale for five years before I started teaching. My teachers inspired me to become a teacher. They helped me discover strength I didn’t know I had within me.
How did cancer change your life for the better?
I was always a lover of life, but my experience with cancer elevated my passion to live each day to its fullest. It gave me the courage to take risks. We only have this day — this one day. Even when life’s challenges are upon us, we must rise together and shine bright to enjoy each moment. Additionally, I lead a healthier lifestyle than before — specifically, diet and exercise is critical to my daily routines. I want to ensure I am doing everything within my power to lead the best life possible both in mind and body.