“We are literally spending most of our waking hours at work. For what?’
Liya Shuster-Bier, 34, immigrated to New York with her parents in 1989. She attended Dartmouth on a scholarship and during her 20s worked at Goldman Sachs (a leading bank) multinational investment company in the United States) and a social impact startup in Boston, and also completed an MBA at Wharton.
“All that happened in my life was the next exam, the next internship, the next job” she said.
But in January 2018, six months after graduating from Wharton, she learned she had a rare form of lymphoma, a cancer that affects the body’s immune system.
“Suddenly, I don’t know if I can live to my 30th birthday…”
Her more than a year and a half battle with the disease finally completely changed her life priorities and attitude towards work and her mornings.
Life shouldn’t be just work
When she learned of her illness, Shuster-Bier was working at a charity fundraiser with Project Overton.
She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy to eliminate cancer and managed to maintain a normal life and work schedule even when doctors ordered her to stay in the hospital. “I actually had a period of catching the train to Soho with chemotherapy on” she says.
It was thought that Shuster-Bier’s life had returned to normal, but in October of that year, cancer returned. The treatment will require both radiation therapy and a stem cell transplant, which will force her to pause everything she’s doing.
A stem cell transplant is, “a procedure in which a patient receives healthy stem cells (hematopoietic cells) to replace their own stem cells that have been destroyed by radiation treatment or high-dose chemotherapy” according to the National Cancer Institute.
“The doctor made me sign a form promising that I would not work for 100 days after the transplant” Shuster-Bier said.
“I can’t even walk around the block”, respiratory function is so weak, everything, even just reading, becomes extremely difficult.
That period was not easy for her. Shuster-Bier has long been a work person, and when she’s not working, she’s always surrounded by thoughts like, “Who am I in this world?”. But it also made her start to have doubts about her thinking.
“We’re literally spending most of our waking hours at work. For what?” she thought.
Shuster-Bier realizes that her previous way of life, “is really just self-destructive” she says. “Ruined my health, ruined my mental state, pushed me to the brink.” As she regained her strength, she began to notice how long she slept, what she ate, and how much time she spent with her husband. She also checked her mental health.
Instead of continuing to “ruin” herself with her 100% work-focused lifestyle, she thinks about a new attitude towards life, “How to heal?”
Habits of Healing
Shuster-Bier’s mother’s breast cancer was in remission just a few months before Shuster-Bier was diagnosed with another cancer. Both experiences made her realize that beating disease is not just about treating cancer, but about managing symptoms after treatment.
In 2019, shortly after his illness went into remission, Shuster-Bier founded Alula, a marketplace for products that help cancer patients manage treatment symptoms such as nausea and headaches. Although life as an entrepreneur has traditionally been hectic and restless, Shuster-Bier maintains the attitude she developed after treatment, always prioritizing “daily healing”.
Here’s how this entrepreneur built his morning routine.
1. Wake up “when the sun wakes my body”
Shuster-Bier wakes up naturally every morning, between 5:30 and 7:45 a.m., depending on the season. “I wake up whenever the sun wakes my body” she says.
Shuster-Bier used to use an alarm clock, but she found it difficult to sleep during the pandemic. “I woke up but found myself constantly tired” she said. Finally, a sleep coach suggested she try waking up naturally without an alarm clock.
It was quite difficult at first. She gradually also formed the habit of going to bed early, around 10 pm, every night. And as a result, she finds herself much more alert during the day.
2. “I try to walk 50% of my daily steps in the morning”
Then, Shuster-Bier went out for a walk with her dog.
First, “it supports your circadian rhythm to take in sunlight as soon as you wake up” she says. Studies also support this theory.
And second, it makes sure she gets exercise and movement during the day. “I try to walk 50 percent of my daily steps in the morning” she says.
“There’s some research that shows rhythm can help focus people and calm them down” said Chanel Dokun, a New York City-based relationship and life planning expert. here told CNBC Make It. “So when you walk, you get rhythm and fresh air, which has a really good effect.”
3. “I try to call a friend every morning”
Shuster-Bier also takes advantage of the morning time to connect with the one she loves. “I try to call a friend every morning, usually between 8:30 and 9:15” she says. She also texts her parents and sister sometimes.
Shuster-Bier says “Intimacy, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of love” have been a priority since her cancer. Taking five minutes to text a loved one has been shown to increase your happiness.
Then Shuster-Bier makes breakfast, drinks coffee, updates the news, and records meetings throughout the day at 10 a.m.
After all that work was done, “I felt like I could start working with much-needed energy” she says.