In September 2014, Alex walked into the office I was working out of and we sat down to discuss his vision and dreams for CureWear. His smile was infectious. Within minutes of being in his presence I felt more than comfortable with him.
He shared his life and health journey with me and his ideas and strategy for CureWear as we discussed how we could help him spread the word and get more people wearing and learning about CureWear.
I was immediately hooked.
I knew I would start reaching out to everyone and anyone I knew that could help me get this goodness out into the world. I shared a bit of my health journey with him and acknowledged how smart CureWear was for the growing population of us that get regular medical treatments. I told him how uncomfortable I was when I was recovering post-surgery in 2012, how there was no bra that accommodated the eight-and-a-half inch scar on my back that really couldn't receive any pressure or have anything laying on it.
I remember thinking, did I just share with a random guy that I couldn't find a bra that worked for me? I immediately pulled myself out of the TMI thought that I had and remembered how Alex was creating a solution to help make patients feel more at ease while going through really uncomfortable situations.
I expressed my feelings on getting this product into the hands of those facing chronic illness, not just cancer, and he was very into it. He was into everything. He didn't say NO to anything! He would copy me on tons of emails where he gave absolutely everyone that approached him the benefit of the doubt. He believed that everyone had something to offer or gain. More than anything, he always had something to offer - support, resources, and inspiration. I was constantly reminding Alex not to spread himself too thin, not to take on too much, and to say NO when necessary. Saying NO was definitely not something he liked doing.
I'll never forget the day that he spoke on The Huffington Post Live about the psychological pain of chronic illness. I was sitting on my couch in my apartment proudly listening to my client share his story. There were four other women on the program speaking about their own experiences with chronic illness. I listened in awe, taking notes, live Tweeting, letting all of the content sink in. It was a moment that made me think that as I grow my coaching business, working with people with chronic illness (as I have) is something that I want to do. I had always considered it but had this preconceived idea that I had to go back to school to learn about every single medical condition in order to work with people with chronic illness. What I realized in this 30-minute talk was that people had their doctors to talk to them about their medical condition and they had therapists and coaches (such as myself) to talk to about their emotional state and how they were going to live their lives without letting their diagnoses own them.
Needless to say, that conversation really shifted my thoughts on my business and my goals. There's a need to support people living with chronic illness, and when I look back I wish I was receptive to support as a child and teenager. I wish I saw a therapist, a coach, engaged with other people my age that were living with a chronic illness. My parents offered and I always declined. I looked at seeking help as shouting to the world that something was wrong with me. I wasn't willing to do that. I was all about pretending my health problems didn’t exist.
It took almost 30 years for me to get to the point where I understood that having support outside of your immediate friends and family can be extremely helpful with coping, healing, and managing whatever it is that you're facing. When handling my health concerns I came from a place of judgment instead of acknowledgement and, for a long time, dismissed support that could have actually benefitted me. In those moments I wasn't ready to take care of myself. I wasn't ready to own the fact that outside support could help me. My parents were always my safety blanket and continue to be, and while my friends have always been supportive it took me 27 years and a major surgery to share with them what I'd been through.
What I loved about Alex is how much he didn’t let his diagnosis define him. It empowered him. He was the total opposite of who I once was. He was someone I immediately said I wanted to be more like.
On April 8, 2015, Alex passed away after a 19-month battle with gastric cancer at the young age of 32.
I was devastated. And still am.
Before CureWear’s launch party in February I knew he wasn't doing so well, but I had hope. He was such an optimistic, motivated, and passionate person that I was sure he was determined to beat this. He had no fear, only warmth and excitement for what was to come.
On Sunday afternoon, I Google mapped my way to Queens, got on the E train and was on my way blasting the #MyCureWear Spotify playlist I had made for the CureWear launch party. Halfway through the ride, I switched out of my comfortable J.Crew flats into my slightly uncomfortable but better looking black wedges. I observed two other girls do the same one stop before I was getting off and felt a sense of camaraderie. It was clear we were all heading to the same place. As I attended Alex’s memorial service I was surrounded by over 150 people, most in their early 30s.
It's something I've never experienced before.
I've unfortunately attended many funerals but never for someone so young. His best friend shared many incredible moments in time with Alex and recapped his life in a brilliant manner. He shared how Alex was cooking kale and quinoa before kale and quinoa were kale and quinoa. Such an amazing tidbit knowing how he became vegan when he received his diagnosis, spending much of his time drinking juices from Juice Press, sipping on Essentia alkaline water, and meditating via Headspace to round out his complete healing and mindfulness practices.
But it was emotional. The whole week was emotional. Alex was one of those really special people that left us far too soon.
After spending the afternoon mourning the loss of Alex, I tried to take in the sunshine, sought balance at a restorative yoga class (something I know Alex loved) at Sacred Sounds Yoga, and sat to eat my favorite dishes at Momofuku Noodle bar.
It's moments in time like this that remind me to take care of me. For you to take care of you. However that looks and works best for you. Work with a coach, hire a therapist, join a group, write, practice yoga, meditate, become vegan -- whatever form of "help" is healing and provides you comfort.
Spend more time with the people you love. Make sure they know you love them. Surround yourself with people that inspire, motivate, and drive you towards being the best version of yourself. Don't do anything you hate, whether it’s your job, a fitness class, or attending a group dinner. Do more of what you love because you never know what tomorrow brings.
And while I may not know what tomorrow will bring I know I’ll carry the lessons Alex provided me with.
In loving memory of Alex Niles. January 18, 1983 – April 8, 2015.