We are so excited to highlight one of our frequent guests at weSPARK, actor, director and musician Justin Sandler! Justin and his wife Mary Lou Sandler have been guests of weSPARK since June 2017. After being diagnosed with a germ cell cancer tumor in May of 2017, Justin found weSPARK to help him and his wife deal with the emotional and physical side effects caused by his cancer diagnosis. Keep reading below to find out more about Justin and visit his YouTube Channel to learn more about his cancer journey.
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Tell us about yourself! How did you hear about weSPARK Cancer Support Center?
My name is Justin Sandler and I was diagnosed with a very large and aggressive germ cell cancer tumor on May 4, 2017. It was stuck to my heart and we would later find out that it was stuck to my right lung, two major veins, and a big nerve. I was immediately started on 24 hour, week-long chemotherapy while living at UCLA Hospital in Santa Monica. On August 4, 2017, I had a major open chest surgery to extract the remaining piece of the now dead tumor. The surgery was extreme as part of my lung and even a vein had to be removed along with several other fixes that included a new gore-tex heart wall and a superior vena cava made of bovine. Along with the titanium coil holding my chest bones together, I am kind of like a bionic man.
I am a director, actor, drummer, writer, and editor. My wife, Mary Lou Sandler (photographer/cinematographer) and I own 3 cubed studios LLC… a film and photography production company located in Valley Glen, CA. I am originally from Chicago and a graduate of Indiana University and I am blessed to have a career in the creative and performing arts where I do what I love while entertaining and inspiring others.
During my second round of chemo treatments, Mary Lou was hired to shoot some local interviews for a producer in the valley. When the woman heard our story, she shared the info for an amazing support center caller weSPARK. We set-up our intake interview right away and we have been blessed to have the organization and all it’s amazing staff and healers in our lives ever since.
You have been very vocal about your cancer journey on social media. How has this helped you navigate your diagnosis?
Somehow I just knew from Day 1 that I had to share my journey… all of it. Being that my professions include performing & filmmaking, I felt like I had an opportunity to use my art and passions to tell my story. This was especially important because I had to shut down all of my careers in order to go on my cancer journey. When I got my diagnosis, I went deep into chanting and meditation and saw a bigger purpose through all of it. I quickly discovered that my tumor was my greatest teacher and mentor and that it was my gift so that I could elevate my life and help so many others. I embraced my cancer journey with love. I never declared war on it or said I was kicking its ass. It was made from my cells, it was a part of my body. This tumor was formed because a few cells got left behind when I was a developing embryo and after laying dormant for my entire life, suddenly woke up and tried to complete their original mission… only they were in the wrong place at the very wrong time. So I gave gratitude to my tumor and let all of the cells know that they were appreciated and that they still fulfilled a very important mission. It was just now time for them to go. And go they did. The chemo was very successful and I stayed strong and inspired throughout.
I had so many friends and family members supporting me and communities rallying around me. Plus a huge online community all over the world that I have been getting to know over the years. I knew in my heart that I was loved and protected by so many. Sharing my journey through my live videos was a gift to everyone in my life and anyone in the world that needed the inspiration of seeing how I overcame my obstacles. I would be lying if I said they weren’t for me too. When I am going through something, I find it therapeutic to speak out my challenge and process it… all while being accountable to a live video audience. Once that camera is on, I can’t hide from my truth. So it is a give and take. And so far, I have had a large number of people reaching out to me publicly and privately to let me know how much my journey has meant to them. That feels so special for me… that my efforts are truly helping other individuals. Together we all heal and elevate.
How has weSPARK helped you deal with your cancer diagnosis? How has it benefited your loved ones?
First and foremost, weSPARK offered a community. Going through my journey, I had several different doctors, all in different places, plus I lived in and out of 2 different hospitals. While my team of medical professionals were a great benefit for my physical health, my weSPARK community were a great benefit to my mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Just having a place to go where you can feel totally open and safe to express yourself during your cancer journey has been a great help to me. The support groups and all of the healing services have been an amazing asset to me. And my caregiver… my wife Mary Lou, was welcomed with open arms and given the opportunity to participate in many of the same healing services. We consider weSPARK to be family.
As an active guest of weSPARK, which program or service has had the most impact on you and how has it affected your life?
wSPARK has so many wonderful services for cancer patients and caregivers that it’s actually quite hard to pick one program or service that has had the most impact on me. Some of the healing modalities that I have had the pleasure of using include: Qi Gong, acupuncture, reflexology, massage, and spiritual healing, I have also very much enjoyed the support groups. And as a drummer who had to stop playing for a while, participating in the drum circle was quite a spiritually healing experience for me as well. If I had to choose just one thing though, I would say that doing Qi Gong with Ed has been a big help to me. After my chemo, I had to prepare myself for a massive open-chest surgery. I did well up until that point, but the thought of such an extreme surgery had me very stressed and quite scared. Ed helped to put me at ease and give me some great concepts to implement that helped put my mind and soul in the right place for the surgery.
What’s one thing people might not know about you?
One thing that many people do not know, is that for the last 9+ years I have been running a merchant services business alongside of my entertainment career. It’s a great business to help balance the eb and flow of the entertainment industry. And I’m able to help a lot of businesses save money on their credit card processing, so I do rather enjoy it. Also now that I’m slowly getting back to work, I am reinventing my business model by partnering up with Chip In (www.chip-in.org). This allows me to donate a portion of my income to charities and it is my hope that I can generate some great ongoing donations for weSPARK. It’s the least I can do to start giving back.
How do you practice self-care?
A lot of it is how I start my day. I like to start with Buddhist chanting. It’s like a verbal, percussive, active meditation for me which is exactly what resonates with my inner drummer and flows with my ADHD mind. I like to then do a practice based on a book called “The Miracle Morning.” I do things like journaling, reading, and saying mantras. I eat a healthy vegan breakfast and then go the gym for my morning workout. I have also started doing yoga again. No two days are the same when you’re going through a cancer journey and sometimes I can’t, or simply don’t feel like doing the entire practice. But I do my best every day. I did it every day while living at the hospital as well and I’m still doing it now. I haven’t always given myself the self-care and self-love that I should have. But I’m learning more and more the importance and need for it in everyone’s lives. I am usually in “go” mode all the time as I am seeking to accomplish many big things in life. But from my journey, I have learned that I need to slow down sometimes and find balance. I need to make quality time to spend with my wife and with myself. The universe is all about balance and I understand now the importance of taking the time to recharge my physical and spiritual energy.
What inspires you?
My wife, Mary Lou inspires me. She’s a warrior, a true visionary, and she lives in a world of infinite possibilities. She believes in me even when I don’t and has always seen the greatest potential in me.
I am inspired by inspiration itself. The pure beauty that evolves from a situation to lend itself to an inspirational moment is the essence of the universe. Experiences both good and bad can lead to inspiration. Often the greater the obstacle, the greater the benefit. And that benefit may be the inspiration for change within and growth. It could even manifest into a poem, a film, a business, a movement, or just a grand adventure. Going through an intense cancer journey was an inspiration for both Mary Lou and I on so many levels. We have grown as humans, strengthened our relationship, reinforced our missions, and are now turning our new found inspiration into art. We’ve actually developed two documentary films that we are shooting side by side. We we hope to take our inspiration and in turn, create something that could inspire so many others. Please check out our projects…“Caregiving Cancer: The Silent Heroes” and “MANtimacy.”
weSPARK Cancer Support Center is located in Los Angeles and offers completely FREE programs, workshops, classes and individual therapies to cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones. Remember to take a look at our monthly program schedule for more information about the services we offer.
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