Give yourself time to process what’s happened — be patient with yourself. Use the time to figure out what your unique way of dealing with the setback is. Don’t try to be somebody else.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nadya Carlson-Bowen.
Nadya Carlson-Bowen is a colon cancer advocate, teacher, and a coach. Nadya was born and adopted from St. Petersburg, Russia along with her twin sister Vera and moved here when they were only 5 years old, in 1995. She continues to be a young advocate for Colon Cancer and enjoys teaching PE to elementary and middle school students, as she also graduated, in 2021 with her BA in teaching.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
My name is Nadya and I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia along with my twin sister named Vera. In the orphanage, we grew up as best friends, not knowing we were sisters at the time. We were both adopted at the age of 5 years old, and we moved to the United States to live with our adoptive parents. My sister and I settled well in our new life, but of course has some challenges have come along the way (who doesn’t?). My twin sister and I grew up loving playing soccer and played every minute we could. We played for clubs, high school and even in college. I still play to this day and coach competitive teams as well as middle school soccer. My twin sister took a health turn in early April 2015, where we discovered she has Colon Cancer Stage 4, at only 25 years old. Through her journey (and mine as well) we fought as hard as we could, but sadly Vera passed at the age 26 years old, December 29th, 2015. Since her passing, I have become a young advocate to help spread awareness of her story, as well as mine as a caregiver. It took me some time, but I finally also graduated from San Jose State University where I graduated with my BA, in teaching. I then was able to get a job as a PE teacher at a private school, teaching pre-k through 8th grade. I carry on her story to help spread awareness to young people specifically.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Career: 4 careers: Soccer Coach, Caregiver, Colon Cancer Awareness Advocate and Teacher
I believe my most interesting story would have to be an interview with local news station (which happened twice!) My first interview started when I shared a video on Facebook that went viral, and a local news woman interviewed me. The second one was after I published my book and I sent in my book to the same station, and another local news person reached out to me asking to be interviewed again. However, this time it was really special. The new station didn’t realize that they asked me to do a live interview and come in at the station, on the angel-versary of 5 years after my twin sister passed (December 29th). I got the chills and was honored to talk with them about my book. This then led to sharing my story with others, and then becoming an author with Peter’s help. Peter is a friend of mine that I worked on my book with. I kept it from my parents until Christmas time, and then surprised my parents with my book.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Being a colon Cancer Awareness Advocate teaches younger people to recognize the symptoms of colon cancer and push for testing if they have symptoms. Some commonly experienced symptoms include changes in bowel movements, changes in stool consistency, blood in the stool, and abdominal discomfort. My book specifically helps caregivers — especially young caregivers relate to a cancer patient in a more up to date way. Vera didn’t want me to be with her sometimes in the hospital and see her when she was struggling, so we used texting, phone calls and other media to stay in touch.
My soccer career and my caregiver career overlapped — I was able to use my soccer contacts to arrange visits for my sister by a well known soccer star. I got the local soccer professional team to sign a soccer ball for her, for things to cheer her up through her journey. I also organized a fund-raiser at the local soccer hangout for colon cancer after she passed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
You don’t get there on your own… As I mentioned before, my twin and I were adopted. Through the process, I ended up with a mom who could deal with school and a dad who loved being their biggest fan, being there for us when we enjoyed the game of soccer.
In the soccer community, my sister and I met Brandi Chastain when we were 6 years old, and have had a great relationship. She was one, who helped us through sports and motivated us to do better. She was from our area.
Marlene Bjornsrud helped transform soccer by bringing the professional women’s soccer team the CyberRays to San Jose. She also is an advocate for women in sports and has been a great family friend. She spoke at Vera’s celebration — Brandi couldn’t come because she was at her friend’s wedding, so Marlene filled in.
You never know who will be influential in your life. My college counselor turned out to be a soccer mom I met when I was 7 — and I played with her daughter on the same team for years. That college counselor was so important in me getting through community college and into a four-year college. She is a dear family friend to this day.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience to me is about bouncing back from negative situations. Growing up in an orphanage, I wasn’t aware that I would be adopted — even though I had my sister and caregivers, I knew that I had to manage on my own. For some kids, a long stay in an orphanage impacts them negatively, and it did so for us as far as education. But it can also impact a child positively, in that they learn how to manage in a social group and develop really good social skills. Overcoming difficulties early in life, like we had to, gives you the skills to overcome them later. Even the smallest things, for example — in the orphanage, we had to compete to get shoes for that day, or play with a certain toy, or negotiate for a pair of shoes. Bouncing back from small setbacks helps you develop resiliency for overcoming bigger setbacks later.
Overcoming these little things can’t be compared to overcoming the loss of a sibling, and I didn’t bounce back right away. I needed to process through my grief. I didn’t play soccer for about three months — because my sister and I had been a ‘dynamic duo’ on a team, it was hard to imagine being on a field without her. I wasn’t ready to make new memories without her.
I also gained a lot of weight when I didn’t play, but I have always been someone who would do something about a situation if I didn’t like it. I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink, but missing physical activity didn’t help me. I reached a point I didn’t like, and then I did something about it.
When you ask me what are the characteristics of resilient people, there are a few that come to my mind. I think that being able to turn grief into helping others is an action that helps make people resilient. I feel like optimism is important — being open enough to look at a negative situation and turn it into a positive situation is important. Overall resilient people are positive at heart. Sometimes they discover their true positivity through difficult times. I always tell my soccer players, ‘when we’re winning, we’re happy and love each other — everyone’s having fun. But your true colors will come out when you’re losing. Who do you want to be then?’
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Being brave leads to being resilient. When you’re in a negative situation, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You have to be brave to act in the face of the unknown. But if you do, you’ll become resilient.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of resilience, it’s my mom who comes to mind. My Mom, because she had gone through negative situations and did what I was talking about, she acted to change the situation — after losing several pregnancies to miscarriage, she pursued adoption. And after adoption, she held workshops and spoke at conferences on the choice of adoption.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Impossible, but you did it? There was a head of the Resource Dept in High school that didn’t believe that I could go to college with my learning disability, but I did, with a 3.5 GPA.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I believe one of my greatest setbacks has to do with losing my twin. But I know I am a more open person on my own. Vera used to be an ‘icebreaker’ for me, helping introduce me to people, speaking and sharing stories. After she passed, I had to do this on my own, but I learned to do it, because I had a purpose of being an advocate. Being a twin, you have a unique connection that can never be broken, but when she passed, I was able to find myself through her, because when she passed, many of her characteristics blended into my personality.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I have had several experiences growing up that have cultivated resilience through my life. One being, being adopted and moving to the US when we were five years old. Adapting to a new life helped me build my resilience. Another one that contributed to me was losing my twin sister. The challenges that I had to face as a caregiver, made me a stronger person and made me realize how precious life is and to be valued everyday.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Five steps to become more resilient:
1.) Have difficulties (which is easy because everyone has them). Some of mine were adjusting to a new culture, a new language, learning education and a new life after being adopted. And, of course, losing my sister.
2.) Give yourself time to process what’s happened — be patient with yourself. Use the time to figure out what your unique way of dealing with the setback is. Don’t try to be somebody else.
3.) Figure out a way to take action to move you past the experience. My actions still continue to this day. It started with me doing a fundraiser for Cancer Carepoint. Then I was contacted to be a speaker at a Relay for Life event, because a friend of mine worked there. Then I posted a video on Facebook that today has over 64,000 views and counting. Then, a local reporter, who is also a twin, contacted me for a local TV interview, and so it goes.
4.) Keep it up. Even years later, I still advocate for colon cancer awareness, including writing a book for young caregivers. Once you start an action that helps others, you receive positive feedback that helps you keep going.
5.) Keep healthy boundaries — you can act for others, but you need to take care of yourself. For example, I didn’t sacrifice my studies, I returned to the soccer field, I maintained a healthy lifestyle, and I do things that I know my sister would appreciate.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’ve talked a lot about my advocacy, but an area of great influence I have is being a PE teacher in elementary school, as well as a middle school. If I could inspire other schools to employ PE in the early years, I think children would be more likely to establish healthy habits. And physical activity really helps kids become happier. And playing sports, with its wins and losses and lessons learned, helps them develop resilience without great risk.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I think if I were able to meet someone to have a private breakfast or lunch with, it would have to be the former United States National Women’s Soccer Coach (retired but not really, still coaches other teams) Jill Ellis — I would like to to learn how she developed players, how her life story went, her tips for coaching, and so on. She coached the Women’s National Team from 2014–2019 and won two FIFA award cups, two world cups in 2015 and 2019, making her the second coach to win two consecutive world cups.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am on facebook (Nadya Carlson-Bowen) and I also have an Instagram both for my personal page, as well as for my book. Personal IG @Nadyaa.cb07 and my book page is @ Finding Faith and Hope
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!