On Friday, April 13th, 2012, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
I survived the treatments for breast cancer.
The chemotherapy, the mastectomy, and the radiation treatments just about killed me. They call me a survivor. Did I survive breast cancer? I have no idea. No one ever knows if cancer is growing within them – that’s the scary part. The fear of cancer can be immobilizing. How we chose to deal with that fear is a personal choice, but some people don’t believe they have a choice at all. This makes me sad.
I have chosen to confront my fears about cancer and death. I do not want to cover up what happened to me with reconstructive surgery or by wearing a prosthesis. I do not want to forget the insights I had while under the influence of chemotherapy drugs.
Today there is growing interest in ayahuasca, an herb that grows in the Amazon and has strong hallucinogenic properties. It’s prepared as a tea infusion and is taken as part of a ceremony with a shaman. During the ceremony many people say they journey into experiences of death and release. Undergoing chemotherapy is like that. I felt like I was dying. In reality, I was. Trillions of cells are killed in the course of a few hours. It felt like death was just around the corner.
When we feel fear, a chemical cascade of drugs are released into our nervous systems. Unless we have the ability to override the fear program that is hardwired into our brains, we will desperately try to run away from the fear to avoid dealing with the terrible feeling we perceive in our bodies. Having done yoga for 35 years, I have trained myself to feel every little part of my body. There was no running away for me.
Yoga teaches us that our bodies are only temporary vessels that we inhabit for a short time. We become attached to having our bodies function and look a certain a way even though every day, when we look in the mirror, we can literally see ourselves getting old. Having a breast removed is a reminder of our impermanence, a reminder to live life today as if there were no tomorrow.
Why would I want to cover up with reconstructive surgery or a prosthesis with one of the most important lessons of my life? So in my everyday life I do not wear a prosthesis and I have no intention of having a fake breast installed. I am learning to love my new body, to take good care of the scar. I give myself daily massages with a lymph brush. I roll around on a big exercise ball to massage my body and keep the fluids flowing. I visualize new pathways emerging in my body that carry fluid and replace old vessels that scared over where my lymph nodes were removed.
The body’s magical healing capacity has been summoned into action.
I plan on teaching workshops for women who have had mastectomies. There are many highly effective self care techniques that prevent lymphedema, a common condition that can arise in the wake of surgery and be debilitating .
Having cancer gave me tremendous courage to confront my life and change what was no longer serving me. Life changing events such as serious illness or the loss of a loved one can catapult a person into radical aliveness.
I was co-founder and co-owner of the most poplar yoga studio in the country, Downward Dog Yoga Centre. Thankfully, my business partner bought my shares and set me free. The name of my new studio is 80 Gladstone Yoga and Movement Space. www.80gladstone.com It is a reflection of 35 years of a life dedicated to the practice of yoga and to the work on assisting others along their journey towards wellness.
I’m fascinated by the intense strength and courage I had while I was undergoing treatments. I wonder why some people can have their greatest revelations during times of distress and fear. Why are some people able to harness the energy of terror as a means of transformation?
There is an inherent power that comes when you confront your worst fear. Confronting death can be the most empowering experience of a lifetime.
In an attempt to help people access their strength during intense life events I am co teaching a workshop called “Life Altering Illness” along with Jane Clapp and Ruth Tamari. In the workshop we will explore the relationship between serious illness and the transformative potential that lies dormant, just below the surface, waiting to be ignited .
Join us on Friday, April 18th for a FREE workshop called Life Altering Illness.