Q&A with Kelley Skoloda, author of “A Way Back to Health: 12 Lessons from a Cancer Survivor”

1. What is “A Way Back to Health” about and why did you write it?

After a life changing diagnosis, I felt the need to let my friends and business network know what had happened. Through an article on Medium, and a Facebook post, I shared the story of my situation, diagnosis, and surgery. As a result of sharing my story, I was soon inundated with not only well wishes but also reactions like “I’ve been meaning to schedule my colonoscopy screening and now I’m doing it,” and “Your story has incentivized me to get my [husband/mother/father] scheduled for their next screening.” Dozens and dozens of people responded and were taking action because of a personal story. The book is based on the true story of my subsequent cancer journey, which reveals how surprising lessons paved the way for recovery, shares helpful action steps for those who find themselves in a similar situation, and illuminates how personal stories can powerfully motivate and heal.

2. Can you share any examples of some of the challenges or problems with the health care system you faced and/or others have faced?

There are amazing medical professionals and medical care out there. But, there are many challenges. Nutrition is one, big one. I see food as medicine, but the medical profession, for the most part, does not consider the role of food and nutrition. Prescription drugs are given routinely, but food as medicine is overlooked. I take issue with hospital food, in particular. What was brought to me post-surgery was shocking. Colon surgery dictates a liquid diet. My food tray consisted of a variety of sugar- and salt-laden liquids, including packaged iced tea, Jell-O, bouillon-cube broth, and other assorted liquid-sugar substances. Fortunately, I brought my own homemade soup and food to the hospital. The healthcare system must reevaluate its approach to food as medicine, too, and educate and serve healing, nutritious food as part of treatment. But until they do, consider it your responsibility as a patient to research and tend to your personal nutritional needs.

3. You also write about advocating for yourself. Can you share how you advocated for yourself and advice for others who are looking for ways to advocate for themselves?

Medical expertise is critical, but only YOU know you best. One month into my chemo regimen, I was in dire straits due to side effects, and I found it hard to speak up and advocate for myself. Self-doubt about my condition, a significant loss of energy, not getting much of a reaction from the medical team, and not wanting to be a pain, all contributed to my reticence. Don’t let yourself get to this point. If things don’t seem right to you, then they aren’t. Speak up for yourself.

Speaking up is important, critically important, and, in fact, encouraging patients to speak up about problems that occur during hospitalizations can improve patient experience and safety, research indicates. However, it is a universal challenge. While many people speak out about many things, speaking up for yourself is not nearly as common. It’s particularly difficult for women the world over, given how our society and culture trains both men and women to think and behave, and shapes how we all perceive assertiveness. Having spent decades in the marketing industry working with powerful women and men, I have seen the tendency firsthand for women to advocate strongly for others but neglect to speak up for themselves. Whether it’s a result of politeness or uncertainty, many women tend to not speak up, or not speak up loudly enough.

4. The healthcare system can be a bureaucratic nightmare for some people. Any suggestions on how to navigate it?

Here are my top tips for navigating the healthcare system:
Do Your Research. Knowledge is power.
Get A Second Opinion. Your doctor is one expert in a field of many.
Ask a Nurse. Nurses are an amazing combination of medical expertise and humanity. They are caring and helpful and willing to spend time to help you.
Prepare to Speak Up. If things don’t seem right to you, then they aren’t.
Trust Your Instincts and Take Action. Only you know you best.

5. You also write about not only surviving but also thriving with cancer…How can someone thrive with cancer?

Once you are diagnosed with cancer, cancer can take over your life. The doctors’ appointments are time-consuming and the healthcare system is maddening to navigate. The anxiety and mental anguish infiltrate daily life and impact everyone in the family. When I started to advocate for myself and take action, I felt less distracted and started to gain more mental control of my situation. For instance, In one chapter in particular, Fake it Til You Make It, I talk about how I got up, got dressed, put on make-up, combed my hair and worked almost every day, despite pain, fatigue and despair. Though my mind and body were not up to the task, I found that “faking it” helped me get through tough times. I refused to let cancer define or lessen me. I even dressed in “work clothes” for doctors appointments and chemo treatments.

6. How did having cancer affect your own faith and/or spirituality?

When I was being treated for cancer, so many routine things became miracles to me–the beauty of nature, a clean scan. After treatment, I came to appreciate and thank God for simple pleasures, like the taste of a good cup of coffee and being able to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Often overlooked actions, such as trusting your instincts, speaking up, getting a second opinion, and watching for miracles, can have a profound impact on recovery. Some people think of miracles as divine intervention. My version of miracles certainly includes the power of God to create healing, show us the beauty of nature, and provide clues to the path that best suits us. Quite a few people I have encountered say things like “I am putting everything in God’s hands,” sometimes with the idea that God will take care of everything and they don’t have to do anything. However, miracles, in my opinion, are usually the combination of divine intervention and human action working together. I asked God to show me the path to miracles, but I had to make it happen. I’ve always been a spiritual and faithful person, but cancer has sparked both my spirituality and gratitude.

7. Anything else?

Stories can be powerful motivators and, with cancer, can promote advocacy and action. By sharing my story, I hope that someone will find the help they need on their cancer journey. Thank you for sharing my story. Visit awaybacktohealth.com to learn more.


Kelley Skoloda is a wife, mom, daughter, sister, aunt, author, and MBA; the founder and CEO of KS Consulting & Capital; and, now, a cancer survivor. She is a recognized authority on consumer brand marketing whose business book, Too Busy to Shop: Marketing to Multi-Minding Women, was named a “must read” by Publisher’s Weekly. As co-chair of the investment committee of the Next Act Fund, she invests in female-led startup companies. She has been named one of the “most influential women in business” by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and serves on several boards of directors. She has been quoted in HuffPo, Time.com, TODAY.com, Fortune.com, Forbes, Adweek, BRANDWEEK, C-SPAN, and many other media outlets. Kelley’s family is the center of her life and she loves to golf, cook, travel, and enjoy cat humor with them. She is grateful every day for the love and support she received throughout her health challenges and hopes her story can be helpful to others navigating cancer.