I was so depressed through my recovery from surgery and radiation treatment. On the last day of radiation, the hospital social worker finally asked to meet with me. She apologized for it having taken so long. I remembered sitting there thinking, I’ve been here every day for 5 weeks. Every day. And I’ve been struggling and you’re JUST getting to me?
The hard truth is that having cancer and going through testing, diagnosis, surgery, treatment: can be really lonely. Your family and your friends want and need you to be OK. So it’s hard to be OK with not being OK. People tell you that you’re so strong, you’ll beat it, you’ve got this…all wonderful and beautiful things. But when you feel sad and angry and scared, it’s hard to face up to not feeling any of those things. And it’s even harder to talk about.
I think our yoga practice, specifically asana and meditation, can teach us how to show up even when it’s hard. To hold the space for allowing what is to just be what it is…even when it isn’t pretty. And especially when it’s difficult and scary. And I think that’s true for so many things, not just someone facing cancer.
I remember the moment I found hope.
I was at the hospital for my first mastectomy that would kick off the next 18 months of cancer treatment. I had a lot of anger, but no hope.
A nurse had just sent me into the bathroom to change into a hospital gown. I was instructed to remove all of my clothes and put the gown on with the opening in the front. Upon entering the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I didn’t recognize the person I was staring back at me? How could this happen to me? How did I become so broken? I burst into tears. I spent the next few minutes crying, I couldn’t stop. When I finally became aware that I had been in the bathroom for a while and the nurse was waiting for me, I changed, dried my tears and re-entered the hospital room. The nurse, who patiently waited out my emotional break down smiled an understanding smile and said, “I am a breast cancer survivor. I survived and I know you will too.”
I believed her. My tears had emptied me out. The words that nurse spoke filled me up with something I didn’t at first recognize. But as I laid there waiting for this journey to begin, I realized what it was. That nurse provided something that no one else could. As a survivor of the same battle I was about to fight, she gave me my first glimpse of hope. It was like a small sliver of light at the end of a long tunnel. Every day along my journey, that light became a little bigger, a little brighter and, most importantly, a little closer.
And it all started with a sliver.
Hope is such an interesting word from my point of view when facing something like cancer. I don’t know that the word actually crossed my mind as I was diagnosed and in the middle of treatment. Everything was about survival, never giving up, and hope wasn’t an option because there was no chance that cancer was going to get the best of me. Yet, once all the treatments finished my tribe of people quickly turned from being so incredibly supportive to thinking well, she is fine now. That is when my “not fine” started. Suddenly the brevity of the situation began to sink in and what I could see was that people wanted to see me as being fine and I had become an expert in saying and masquerading that I was fine. Hope all of a sudden became a word that I related to as I wanted to be hopeful that the emotional and mental side of cancer would be short lived; that I had the tools, or found the tools to heal that side of me; that there would be a way to feel like me again and not this half shell of a person; and the support that I wanted was not something easy for me to ask for but would be available to me.
All of this led me down many paths seeking console for the fear of cancer returning, the anxiety of not being the old me and was that enough, and process of accepting all the changes that I needed to confront.
Outside of my journey through yoga with a different lens in finding more meditation and a slower practice to meet my current capabilities and being OK with that, I started to be more open with what I was going through and found the communities around me that could understand and allow me to not feel so alone. This translated to my mission in bringing yoga as a way to find peace to cancer survivors along with how touch, showing up, sharing kindness, exuding love is what a cancer survivor or patient needs most from their co-survivors – family, friends, community.
Sometimes just showing up and giving a hug gives so much more support than a text message – are you OK today? Taking the time to allow the fear, the struggle, the joy, the relief, the emotional rollercoaster that we are on to be present is so critical to the healing process. Put your hand on their shoulder, give them a real hug, take their hand, and take talking support to feeling supported.
My yoga, especially Kundalini yoga has made the biggest difference in my personal journey to healing. I have such admiration for my teachers Gurmukh, Guru Dharam, and Siri Sat Kaur and of course my greatest teacher, my daughter Jade. This is why I teach, to humbly share what has truly been a guiding light in my life. For your healing is my healing, as we are all apart of this beautiful collective. Why not raise the vibration? Sat Nam!
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