Have You Met?

With five books under her “petite” size belt – and many other accomplishments, Author, Stephanie DeGraff Bender, MA, is understated, low-key and modest when it comes to “beating her own drum,” so we feel the need to do it for her!

A former nurse who holds a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology, Stephanie has been active in women's health education for many years.  She describes herself as a "women's hormonal health educator."  As a pioneer in her industry in the 80’s, she established the PMS Clinic in Boulder (now known as the Full Circle Women’s Health Clinic). The Clinic serves the needs of women dealing with PMS, and sponsors workshops/seminars to aid women in the areas of postpartum depression, perimenopause, and menopause.  Many women have benefitted with renewed energy, better moods, and all around body strength – in just 10 days.

Stephanie says: “PMS was primarily the butt of bad jokes on sitcoms or in greeting cards.  However, as they say, “timing is everything!”  I combined my nursing background with my clinical psychology degree to start the PMS Clinic.  In the course of working with women (who were feeling like Jekyll/Hyde…just like I had!), I realized that a book addressing PMS needed to be written. So, I wrote “PMS: A Positive Program to Gain Control.”  They say even a blind chipmunk finds an acorn once in a while…and I happened to be one of those blind chipmunks! I went on seeing clients, writing books; and the rest is history.”

As a prolific writer and public educator, Stephanie has appeared on numerous national TV shows including: The TODAY Show, Oprah, CBS Morning News, Donahue, as well as other national (and local) television and radio shows. 

With her unique style of sensitivity and sensibility, Stephanie continues to be in-demand as a speaker/lecturer and expert health educator. Examples of venues for Stephanie’s talks around the country are events marking the opening of a new mammography or women’s health clinic in a community.  Speaking of “community” Stephanie DeGraff Bender is seen out often attending charitable events, and she has made a commitment to be a contributor to several of her favorite causes.  Now this is a sincere, remarkable woman worthy of recognition!  

(Stephanie’s 5 books: 1) "PMS: A Positive Program to Gain Control (with Kathleen Kelleher)”; 
2)  "PMS: Questions and Answers";  3) PMS/Women Tell Women How to Control Premenstrual Syndrome (with Kathlee Kelleher)";  4) "The Power of Perimenopause";  5)  "End Your Menopause Misery (with Treacy Colbert).


Since you have faced the same issues as the women in your audiences, what have you learned from the many women you have talked with?  As much as my professional role centers on helping women who need support and information about their hormonal health, the continual learning and growth I take from their examples brings a rich reciprocity to my experiences. A personal bond has linked us together. Again and again, I see women on their very individual journeys through physical, emotional and spiritual changes.  I hear about the value of our life experiences, the grace that comes with a deepening understanding of our own wisdom and power, and the need to let go of parts of our past, no matter how difficult, in order to move on.

Stephanie, when I called you the other day, you were gardening…. My guess is you are a “multi-tasker”.  Tell us about some of your other hobbies?  
Gardening is a hobby I learned from my grandfather (my mentor), who was a Michigan farmer.  It serves a dual purpose; enjoyment and therapy.  Skiing and scuba diving were and continue to be hobbies which often include my children and grandchildren.  Again, pleasure and family time = wonderful!

You have attended many charitable events in the last several years, what have been some of your favorites?  The Carousel Ball is near and dear to my heart!  My 16 year old grandson (Cade) was diagnosed at the age of 5 with juvenile diabetes and has been a patient at the Barbara Davis Center ever since.  I will be forever grateful that my grandson, as well as countless others, has such a fabulous resource.  Another charity I love is Bessie’s Hope.  The concept of bringing children and elderly individuals together is something we, as a society, have unwisely and unfortunately overlooked.  Bessie’s Hope brings the “hope” that we as a culture can and must change in recognizing the value of blending these two groups.  CNI (Colorado Neurological Institute) is also a favorite of mine.  My mother suffered a stroke which, although it wasn’t fatal, was life-changing.  CNI does amazing (and much needed) work in so many significant areas, including stroke.  Currently, I am a CNI board member.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Raising two wonderful, loving sons is at the top of my list!  Both of them would tell you that I blended strictness with abundant love… A tough balance, which frequently tipped in the direction of “abundant love!”   

With all the hype and influence of the media these days, how do you define beauty? Media images notwithstanding, I see women who demonstrate the true definition of beauty in their happiness and their strength.

What is your most irreplaceable treasured possession?  Two are of great significance.  When my Grandmother died, she gifted me her “journals.”  She wrote in leather-bound books, some large some smaller, with different-colored covers, from the time she married in her teens until shortly before she died at age 86.  These hundreds of pages in her lovely handwriting describe everything from what the crops were like in a given season, whose birth was being celebrated and also whose death was being mourned; I treasure every page! 

The other “irreplaceable treasure,” is an authentic Native American arrowhead that my father and I found in Northern Michigan.  If the truth be told, Dad spotted it first, as he gently dug into the soil while we shared a father / daughter adventure.  It still has its own place on my dresser.

How does one take the “hard knocks” of life and turn them into positives? 
Life is a journey filled with “highs” and “lows.”  Without sugar-coating the “lows,” we all have the option to reframe what we perceive to be obstacles and view them as opportunities to stretch and grow.  When we rename challenges (hard knocks) as opportunities, those challenges enhance us…It’s all a matter of personal choice.

What is the best way to handle stress these days?  The short answer (if there is one) is to temporarily “disconnect” from the hustle and bustle of life.  With cell phones ringing, work piling up, family and friends clamoring for attention and the computer screen blinking we can become mired in something that resembles quick-sand.  Most of us have too many items on our “to do” lists!  And, too many of us find ourselves last on our own “to do” list.  I suggest protecting/scheduling at least 5 minutes every day (longer if you can) to think of nothing… That’s right, clearing your mind of the chatter and noise.  It sounds simple, but it’s not (at least not for me!).  However, the rewards are tremendous!  For me those sacred minutes might be spent remembering a lovely experience, listening to one or two songs or simply taking a long, luxurious shower.  It’s a way to balance all of the demands of life with time for me.  Try it, you’ll like it…

How do you advise someone who is filled with regrets about the choices they made in their life and wish they had done things differently? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t like a few “do overs” in life.  However, living our lives with regret / also known as a “could have / should have” mindset robs us of our joy.  Taken to its extreme, this type of mindset can become punitive and feel like an albatross around our neck.  It also impedes any forward progress in life.  Reality dictates that we all make mistakes, it’s part of the human condition.  Learning from those mistakes transforms them into valuable tools, and takes the word “regret” out of our lexicon.

What one book with advice on “how to live your best life” would you recommend everyone read?  Tony Schwartz’s book, “What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America,” was a game changer for me.  He interviewed twenty-five American consciousness luminaries in his search regarding what really does matter as we travel along this journey called life.

What advice do you have for women out there wanting to still be vital and relevant – let’s say…. after age 60?  Stay engaged with life…whether it’s with friends, family, work, or all of the above!  Be mindful of everything; from what you eat, how you relax, and with whom you interact.

Our generation is different than the generations who lived before us. We have been “agents of change.” We have expected and insisted on more from ourselves.  We are living longer and choosing to stay more physically fit, mentally alert and ENGAGED in life.  Our lives embrace so much... Wisdom, which only comes from years lived in a mindful way; Determination, which was a core part of what we have done and continue to do; Finding our Voices, which was necessary to insist upon change and validation. 

All of these and more are parts of the bigger whole.  We are passing the torch, if you will, to the women who will follow us and benefit from the trail we have blazed.  It is the true essence of women, the keepers of the flame.  It is with this spirit / the true spirit of women that I encourage each and every one of you to continue to believe in yourself and what you know to be true for you.

Advice for the younger set:  How does one hold on to their “true-self” and still “play the game” in the business world?  Be authentic!  Knowing yourself is essential and involves discovering your passion in life. Trying to fit square pegs into round holes simply doesn’t work.  If you love working with your hands, I don’t suggest that you sit behind a microscope peering at medical slides.  In other words, when you are doing what you enjoy (maybe even “love”), work stops being work.  Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  When we fit this concept into the business world, everyone benefits. Rolling in life with the qualities of authenticity, a strong work ethic and integrity make “business world” challenges doable.

What was that special “aha” moment when you knew the direction you wanted to go in with your career?  I’m not sure that it was as dramatic as an “aha” moment.  However, when I realized that I could combine my nursing background with clinical psychology in the field of women’s hormonal health; it came close to an “aha” moment!  Woven into this “almost aha” moment was the experience of signing my first book contract. When I realized that I could “get the word out,” to thousands of women regarding women’s hormonal health, it was remarkable!

Who is the most interesting person you have ever met, and what did you learn from them?  My Grandfather was my mentor and left an indelible mark on my life.  He taught me about life… Everything from how to play checkers, drive a car (actually, a tractor on his farm) as well as what constitutes an interesting conversation…about anything!  He also taught me that dying was a part of life.  He left this world with grace and acceptance.  And, his last words to me were, “Remember, nothing in life matters but love.”  Better said:  he taught me how to live and how to die.  He was a gift!

Is there a saying, motto or "words to live by" that is your favorite?  Once again, I have more than one: “We move into our strength when we move into our vulnerability,” is one of my favorites.  It is very different from the way most of us see life.  Most definitions of vulnerability include the concept of danger to an individual.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines vulnerability as “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” Perhaps it is paradoxical that I see vulnerability as the essence of an authentic person.  When we become transparent and “vulnerable,” we become genuine.  Of course this concept in some settings would be considered naïve, immature and ill-advised; such as a business environment. However, I am addressing vulnerability in our personal lives with people we can trust.  When it is applied in that arena, it is priceless.

“You can’t turn back the clock but you can wind it up again!”  is another great quote.  It came from Bonnie Prudden, a rock climber and fitness expert who lived a vigorous and exciting life until she died at the age of 97!

What would you still like to learn how to do?  Anything I haven’t already done, except cooking; I’m not on board with that! 

What do you still hope to accomplish in your lifetime?  To dive the Great Barrier Reef.  Although I have been an avid diver for 30+ years, and have had the privilege of diving in some of the greatest places in the world, I haven’t been there.  Diving with the sharks (which I love!) on the Great Barrier Reef is on my bucket list.  I’m not sure everyone would view this as an “accomplishment,” but in my world it is!  I also aspire to know myself better.  Although I have spent a great deal of time engaged in self-examination and introspective thought, I am keenly aware that I have more work to do. 

Tell us about some of the projects you are working on now?  Before my fifth book was accepted for publication, I wanted to write a book regarding men’s hormonal health.  It has been an interesting prospect for a long time, with many fits and starts…  Men, who eagerly volunteered to be interviewed, don’t seem to be nearly as transparent and forthcoming as women in this area.  Perhaps it’s a cultural thing…I’m not sure.  However, I am currently still entertaining the possibility and find myself writing…even without fruitful, male interviews!

What are you most grateful for at this time in your life? I have been blessed with a strong work ethic (thank you Dad!) in addition to having the honor and privilege of working with women who have entrusted their most intimate concerns with me over 35 years.... I am grateful!

How do you want to be remembered? As a loving mother and grandmother…and a compassionate person.  I want my legacy to be, “She touched a few lives and made a positive difference.”