Nine years after her breast cancer diagnosis, the former DWTS cohost tells PEOPLE how being a survivor taught her to take control of her health and inspire others to do the same
Samantha Harris was changing for a workout in October 2013 when she felt a lump on her breast.
"I immediately saw my OB-GYN, she told me it was nothing. A month later I saw my internist, he told me it was nothing," the former Dancing With the Stars cohost recalls in this week's issue of PEOPLE.
Despite getting no answers, Harris couldn't shake the feeling that something was seriously wrong, and in March 2014 a visit to a surgical oncologist led to a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer. "Not being afraid to get a second or third opinion is what saved my life," she admits.
The hardest part was really just worrying about the potential of leaving my family behind," Harris adds of her husband Michael Hess, 53, and their two daughters Hillary, 12, and Josselyn, 15. "I had plans for a very long life together and then I was blindsided by this wake up call."
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The following May, Harris underwent a double mastectomy — where doctors discovered the cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes — and later had breast reconstruction in August.
"The recovery was challenging, but the double mastectomy allowed me to feel like I could move ahead with my life," Harris explains, noting that she celebrates nine years cancer-free this year.
Today, the Your Healthiest Healthy author has dedicated her "second chance at life" to being healthier and more active. She did so by doing her own research and making "systematic changes" to her lifestyle, including switching to a more plant-based diet and adding yoga to her daily fitness routine to help manage stress.
"My motivation in my 20s and early 30s was to look good on camera," the Emmy-winning TV host says. "Whereas now, post-cancer, my goal is to be fit, healthy, and strong."
Inspired by what she has learned, Harris has also become a certified health coach and trainer — hosting wellness retreats, yoga classes (she helped develop YogaWorks Pink, a restorative program for the breast cancer community) and live weekly sessions on social media to encourage women to take charge of their well-being.
"We need to really make sure we're making an effort for preventative care for ourselves so that we can have that longevity," she explains. "I can help people understand that we can take even better control of our wellbeing in small, manageable steps that aren't overwhelming."
"At 49, I'm healthier than I've ever been," says Harris. "We're able to take control of our health more than we realize."
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Read the original article on People.