Olena Heu is an accomplished television personality, entrepreneur, photographer, journalist and writer with a Master’s Degree in Speech Communication from Hawaii Pacific University. As an award-winning reporter and news anchor, she received the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, numerous Society of Professional Journalist Awards and her recent work as a freelance writer has garnered a Telly and an Emmy nomination. In 2004 the Kauai native represented the Aloha State as Miss Hawaii at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City (cheeehoo represent!). Now the owner of a successful marketing and communications firm, Olena also produces and stars in a weekly TV show called “Da Best Hawaii” (she's a fellow foodie!!) broadcast on Hawaiian TelCom and available in-flight on Hawaiian Airlines. During her spare time, she enjoys serving the community on the HPU Communications Advisory Council, American Heart Association Leaders Board and was named Volunteer of the Year by the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.
Due to strong family history and the results of genetic testing, in the spring of 2019 Olena opted to undergo a preventative double mastectomy without reconstruction. This decision was made a few months after her mother lost her three-year fight with metastatic breast cancer (her aunt and grandmother also battled the disease on her maternal side). Genetic testing revealed a RAD50 genetic mutation increasing her predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer; Olena chose to lower her risk by over 90% by having this preventative surgical procedure. Since then, Olena has become an advocate and public speaker related to breast cancer prevention and awareness.
I had the opportunity to hop onto a Zoom call with Olena to talk about the work she’s been doing in the community and how she has fostered growth throughout her journey. Our conversation made me reflect on how prioritizing yourself doesn’t mean neglecting work, it means changing your course and being content to do so. Olena shared with me her passion for broadcasting and communications since she was in high school. Being a news personnel, she was given the outlet which eventually became overshadowed by media. With a switch in her life, Olena is now a business owner (hell yes!) and her own boss (fuck yes!). As a soon to be graduated college student, I realize how uncertain life really is. So far I’ve been prioritizing my degree and getting a job, which right now doesn’t seem like the best thing that makes me happy. Olena finds passion in journalism and writing about her experiences. Although she has a new career path, she is still directing the same lens just with a different outlook. The idea of “quality of life” is something to consider when pointing your passions towards what you want to do.
We bonded over being women in the workforce. Olena highlighted the fact that throughout her experience, there have been times where the workplace became toxic, especially caused by women bringing each other down. It’s always been a struggle to somehow “fight for your seat at the table”, especially in a system created and catered towards men. As women, it may feel like fighting for one seat before realizing that everyone already has their own space. Working together to bring each other up can promote new change and voices that actually work towards uplifting other women. As a collective, we should work on creating a space that fosters a safe space in the workplace where women can excel and not feel threatened by someone on the same team.
‘Quality of life’ is the idea that left me brewing in self reflection. Thinking about how I’ve been crafting a toolset of skills over a lifetime - it’s about using it to build something that makes me happy. Taking a step back, this conversation with Olena shed light on a new scale of ‘quality of living’ and how this is affected by the environment you choose to surround yourself with. From the people you work with, to the industry you choose to weld through. Olena realized that her skill set and passions are key contributors to her quality of life, creating a shift in her lifestyle that she doesn’t regret. Moving forward, we can all learn something on a personal and community-based scale. Let’s work to uplift ourselves and one another.