By Lauren Chiarello, Founder of Chi Chi Life (@ChiChiLifeNYC) and exhale Core Fusion Barre Teacher

I was 23, half bald and holding a clump of hair in my hand. Tears streamed down my face as I wondered if I would live to see my next birthday. When I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I collapsed into my mom’s arms and said, “But I don’t want to die.” I simply would not accept that cancer would be the thief of my life.

Fast forward 2 years and I celebrated my 25th birthday in complete isolation in a room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I was back in treatment for the second time after a relapse. This meant more chemo, radiation, a stem cell transplant and more than five weeks in the hospital. Whoooof.

Fast forward 7 years, I am still here – living a healthy life with purpose and passion.

Back then, I hadn’t yet heard the term, “mindfulness.” I wish I had, because it would have been super helpful during those times when I felt like I was going out of my mind. What mindfulness came to mean to me was developing more consistent routines that would help clarify my values, the WHY behind everything I was doing and everything I wanted to do.

This meant taking regular fitness classes – at exhale, which changed the entire trajectory of my life – and spending more time with my family and friends. The classes that I took focused my day around an important purpose – strengthening my body – and they also gave a big and important boost to my state of mind. Being in a fitness class means that you have to focus your full attention on the teacher and on the moves you are doing. So there’s no room for negative thoughts to enter. For me, it’s like a very active meditation session.

Now, all of my time is spent leading with my heart and I strive to be of service to others in order to make our world a better place. Nearly 2 years ago I started my company, Chi Chi Life, which melds my passions: fitness, events, fundraising and cancer advocacy. I teach Core Fusion Barre at exhale, I work with many clients on events and fundraising projects, and I serve as a Patient-to-Patient volunteer at the hospital. I also attend public speaking events to share my story.

I know how lucky I am. I have friends who were sick and are no longer here. I have friends who went into early menopause or who had lung transplants. I have beaten this illness twice, with minimal after-effects. It is a true honor that I have been given a second chance at life, and one that I never take that for granted.

Being mindful by crafting routines and really honing in on my values allows me to lead my best life possible while holding that same space for others – no matter what their challenges may be. I am a life-long cheerleader – Come to the exhale studio and let’s all shine bright together!

Plus catch Lauren in the studio! Sweat and tone with Lauren’s Core Fusion Barre class on Monday at 6:30p + 7:40p and Tuesday 4:15p + 5:20p at exhale Gramercy. Sign up here!