March 8th marks International Women’s Day, when we celebrate the achievements of women across the globe. It’s a day to recognize and honor the advances women are making across the spectrum.

When it comes to women’s health, there’s an urgent need to improve access to medical care. Women everywhere need greater support so they can make informed decisions about their own health. There is also growing evidence that conditions specifically affecting women — such as gynecologic cancers — continue to be underfunded and under-researched.

We’re honoring four courageous and resilient women, all inspiring Thrive Challenge winners, who’ve been taking Microsteps to support them as they recover from serious health conditions. Along with demanding careers and family responsibilities, Debbie Jewell, Larasha Gray, Dorothy Cook, and Kathy Kappes are taking charge of their own well-being and making self-care a priority. 

1. Debbie Jewell, Walmart Supercenter #5487, Travelers Rest, SC

Debbie and her son, Kevin. 

Debbie Jewell had a double mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis two years ago.  “After the chemotherapy, my neck hurt so much, I couldn’t hold my head up,” Debbie tells us. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for one in three of all new cancer cases in women. Other than skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in women. For 57-year-old Debbie, the aggressive treatment took its toll. “I felt depressed, and it was like the depression was swallowing me up,” she says. 

Debbie, an asset protection host, is single and was supported by her 29-year-old son, Kevin. She started the Thrive Challenge with a simple Microstep: drinking water instead of Coke. “Kevin bought me a water bottle and said, ‘Mom, you have to drink a lot every day!’” She stopped eating fried food. “I bake everything now,” she says. “My favorite recipe is chicken marinated in lemon juice and honey.” 

Regular walks along “the lovely trails in our neighborhood” helped Debbie regain her strength. “I had less pain and I felt happier.” She also devoted time to self-care, listening to her favorite singers, Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard. “Music lifts my spirits.” Debbie’s connecting with her family. “I went on a trip to Myrtle Beach with my brother and his girlfriend, which was amazing. It’s been 15 years since I’ve had a vacation.” And to relax, she watches soothing Thrive Resets. “I love the videos with flowers coming into bloom, and the patterns on a leaf. Everything’s so alive and beautiful — and I feel alive too.” 

At Debbie’s last oncology appointment, she received good news. “My doctor said I’m cancer free,” she says. “And she was happy to see that I’m doing so much better physically and mentally.” That night, Debbie and Kevin celebrated by going out for dinner. “I just kept hugging him. I said, ‘I love you so much, and we could’ve lost each other.’ For a long time I didn’t know whether I was going to make it,” says Debbie, in tears. “My depression hasn’t come back and I’m feeling great. I think Kevin and his girlfriend, Sarah, will be getting married soon — and you know I’ll be there with bells on!” 

2. Larasha Gray, Sam’s Club #8221, Harvey, LA

Larasha feeling happy in the great outdoors.

“Two years ago, I went to the doctor and found out I was severely anemic,” says Larasha Gray, a 44-year-old single mom, with a 21-year-old daughter, Ky. “I had bad menstrual cramps every month. I was bleeding heavily, I was getting bad headaches, and I was always exhausted.” 

Anemia is more common in women, and studies show it’s often accompanied by fatigue and headaches. For Larasha, it became overwhelming. Along with her job as an optical manager, she helps take care of her elderly grandmother. “But I had no energy to do anything — I was eating fast food and candy, and drinking a lot of Sprite. My doctor wanted me to make some lifestyle changes,” Larasha says.

Like Debbie, Larasha’s first Microstep was to drink water instead of soda. She stopped eating fast food and began cooking. “I’ll bake salmon with a little olive oil and have it with steamed broccoli or salad. And instead of Snickers bars, I treat myself to blueberries and strawberries.” 

She began walking in the park. “It was hard at first, but the more I moved, the better I felt. Now I’m even jogging a little. I love being outdoors, looking up to the sky, and appreciating everything in nature that I used to take for granted. I find it peaceful. And I have a new hobby — gardening.”

Larasha’s energy has soared. “I’m assisting my grandma as soon as she needs my help, rather than putting it off until later. I go grocery shopping for her and take her to doctor’s appointments. And the best news: “I’m not anemic anymore, my headaches have completely gone, and I’m not getting any cramps. I feel like I did in my 20s — I’m invigorated. The Thrive app reminds me to stay on track. And every day I say to myself, ‘Yes, I can do this.’”

3. Dorothy Cook, Walmart Customer, San Jose, CA

Dorothy on the left with her wife, Rachel.

Dorothy Cook was feeling depleted. “I was only 41, but I felt like I was 70,” says the police records specialist, who has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a disorder of the endocrine system that affects 6 to 12  percent of women of reproductive age and is a leading cause of infertility. “I was eating processed food, and I had low energy and brain fog,” Dorothy says. 

With her demanding job, she had no energy for her wife Rachel, a team lead at Walmart. “I weighed 325 pounds and my joints hurt — it literally hurt to walk,” she says. “One evening, I started bleeding heavily and almost passed out. My family took me to the emergency room and the doctors stopped the bleeding. I had surgery to remove fibroids in my uterus. But it was a wake-up call; I knew I needed to change my lifestyle.”

Dorothy’s first Microstep was gradually cutting down on caffeine — she used to have several large coffees a day. “Now I have decaffeinated tea and feel much better. Because of my condition, I wanted to cut out dairy, but I really like cheese. Then I discovered non-dairy ‘cheese’ made from nuts. I added it to my favorite recipe, chicken parmesan, and it tasted great!” 

She started taking short walks with Rachel. “We’re up to three miles a few times a week. And I’m really enjoying boxing. I’m much more flexible now and I have less pain.” Dorothy and Rachel are taking the Thrive Challenge together. “Having the support is awesome. We’re so blessed — it feels like falling in love again.” 

As for her condition? “My PCOS is under control and I am managing it.” She’s lost 50 pounds and her gynecologist is delighted. “She said, ‘Wow, Dorothy, your whole demeanor is different — you have a glow!’” And Dorothy feels like a different person. “I honestly have the energy I had in my early 20s — this is what I’m supposed to feel like. I’m renewed, I’m hopeful, and I’m loving life.” 

4. Kathy Kappes, Supercenter #1547; Lafayette, IN

Kathy with her grandson Josh and her dog, Baby.

Here’s a story of strength and resilience that’s inspired us all. Optician Kathy Kappes was diagnosed with an aggressive and rare uterine cancer in 2020. “I went through surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation,” Kathy shares. “It was all exhausting. I had neuropathy, and I was in a lot of pain — I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I’d lost my mother to the same type of cancer. Then my husband, Larry, came down with COVID and lost his job. I’d give it all I’d got at work, then I’d come home and crash. I love to garden, but had no energy for my flowers,” says Kathy, who’s 62. “And I didn’t have the strength to play with my grandson, Joshua.” 

Kathy started her Thrive Challenge journey with light, 10-minute workouts. “My children bought me an elliptical bike to encourage me. I needed to build stamina, so I slowly increased my time on the bike and added stomach crunches. I did simple Microsteps, like laying out my exercise clothes in the evening.”

She also changed her diet. “I’ve learned on my cancer journey that sugar isn’t good for me, and for dinner we’re grilling chicken and having it with broccoli. Eating well is helping me build up my immune system,” she says.

What brings Kathy the most joy is the energy she now has to play with seven-year-old Josh. “When he comes over now, he knows that ‘Mawmaw’ (his name for me) will play croquet outside with him. We play with his Hot Wheels cars, racing them around the tracks. When I was sick, I couldn’t get down on the floor at all. Oh my goodness, I can actually pick him up and give him hugs!” 

Kathy — who describes herself as a “go-go-go” person — is finally finding time to relax. “I sit quietly, put on soft music, and meditate. I let my mind stop racing.” Faith is another key to her recovery. “I have conversations with God and write down what I hear, and I read my Bible. You can take care of your physical body,” she says, “but you have to take care of your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being too.”

Recently, Kathy was helping a friend paint her bathroom, fell off a ladder, and is currently recovering from three broken ribs and a broken leg. “My Microsteps continue to help,” she says, “and everything is healing well.”  

And the best news is that Kathy’s now in remission. “I’m cancer-free, and I never take anything for granted. I’m grateful to my friends and family, who are always here for me at the drop of a hat. My husband, Larry, and I have been married for 42 years and we’ve both learned to appreciate the little things,” Kathy says. “The other day, when Larry took me to physical therapy, it was cold, but the sun was out and the sky was blue, and it was beautiful — I’m just happy to be alive.”


  • Elaine Lipworth

    Senior Content Writer at Thrive Global

    Elaine Lipworth is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster who has reported for a variety of BBC shows  and other networks. She has written about film, lifestyle, psychology and health for newspapers and magazines around the globe. Publications she’s contributed to range from The Guardian, The Times and You Magazine, to The Four Seasons Hotel Magazine,  Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar,  Women’s Weekly and Sunday Life (Australia). She has also written regularly for film companies including Fox, Disney and Lionsgate. Recently, Elaine taught journalism as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. Born and raised in the UK, Elaine is married with two daughters and lives in Los Angeles.