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I remember this time last year…just 2 weeks after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was inundated with OCTOBER: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yep, I was definitely aware of it! Cancer was EVERYWHERE. Since I decided to “go public” with my diagnosis, many of my sweet-intentioned friends would send any article my way that had the word “cancer” in it. The message would be the same: women are victims of this horrible disease <insert horror story that would give anyone with a diagnosis a panic attack> and we need to fight, fight, fight it!!!
Well, that’s not my story of cancer.
I experienced a different kind of breast cancer awareness…what if it’s not bad? What if it makes our lives better? What if there are fun parts of treatment? What if the reality of cancer is better than the scary stories in my head? What if cancer is a friend, a gift, a wise teacher?
Byron Katie would often ask, “do you think your body has a better chance of healing when you are at war or at peace?”
I choose to see the blessings. This is why I have been so inspired to share a new story of cancer. One that I wish I heard when I was first diagnosed. I wrote the following article for Reset Retreat ~ I hope you enjoy it!
My greatest yoga teacher: Cancer.
What kind of qualities do you imagine when you think of the BEST yoga teacher? Someone who embodies compassion, awareness, and presence? Someone who challenges your mind and body to bend and move in new and creative ways? Someone who teaches the art of self-love, non-judgment, and how to tap into your inner wisdom?
We all come to yoga for different reasons; we have our favorite classes and teachers. We’ve experienced the side effects of the “yoga buzz” after class…we’re stronger, more open, and gosh darnit – everything on the inside and out just feels awwwwwwesome!
And then BOOM. Life happens.
I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years and am blessed to call it my career for the past 10. I’ve explored various styles of yoga from Vinyasa to Yoga Therapy to Somatic Movement to Iyengar to Yoga Nidra to Kundalini to Power to Viniyoga…I’ve studied with incredible teachers and felt huge shifts in my life as a result of my practice.
And then one year ago, life threw me a big surprise right after my 34th birthday: an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Lucky for me, I had cultivated quite the healing “toolbox” for handling stress. In fact, it felt like I had unknowingly been preparing for this moment all of my life.
The most effective tool is The Work of Byron Katie ~ also known as “yoga for the mind.” It’s a way of identifying and questioning thoughts that create stress…ANY kind of stress…relationships, romance, jobs, parenting, fears of the future, health, physical & emotional pain…by exploring these stressful thoughts, I came to discover that when my mind is open, inner peace is possible in any situation.
A different perspective on “illness” was revealed. What if illness happens for our enlightenment? What if it makes my life even better? The inspiration I experienced while contemplating these questions filled me joy and purpose.
Cancer became my greatest yoga teacher, my guru. I made a conscious decision not to “fight” cancer. Instead, I made friends with it, listened to its wisdom, and used it to grow myself in ways I never thought possible. Here are a few of the many lessons…
Cancer teaches me to be present.
I noticed how quickly my mind would jump into the future…and not just any future…a crazy, scary, painful, horror film of a future. And then I’d notice…wait, is this real? Or just a movie? Each and every time I felt fear and stress, my mind had left the present moment. Cancer gave me this continued practice of noticing what is real now: I’m here, healthy, breathing, the sky is blue, the chair is holding me, the medicine is doing its job, the doctors are kind. Reality was always better than the stories in my head. I just get to be present and follow the simple instructions. Whew.
Cancer teaches me to slow down and listen to my body.
As I walked the path of cancer treatment, I created space in my schedule to be present for anything to arise. Living a fast-paced life simply wasn’t possible ~ I was forced to slow down and be. My yoga practice deepened as I would show up to the mat each day ~ I’d breathe with the various sensations that appeared ~ and I’d be led into different stretches and poses. Some days were more active than others. When my body needed to sleep, I let it. When it was hungry, I fed it nourishing food. When it wanted to binge out of Netflix, I let it. When it needed help from others, I asked for it. And I was pretty impressed to watch it continue to teach yoga classes!
Cancer teaches me self-love and acceptance.
My physical appearance changed very quickly ~ my long, mermaid hair disappeared. I lost my curves and my body resembled a skeleton. After surgery, my natural breasts were replaced with tissue expanders. It gave me an opportunity to look at my own beliefs around beauty, body image, and what is “feminine,” and I found that these concepts are just BS. Although it was challenging at times, I learned to be gentle and love myself regardless of my appearance – I even began to embrace the changes. I jokingly referred to myself as my husband’s “little man wife.” I loved the ease and freedom of being bald and am now fascinated with my new anti-gravity boobs! This body will continue to change throughout its lifetime – that’s just what bodies do – and cancer has shown me how to see the blessings. I know that I am so much more than this body.
Cancer teaches me how to open my heart.
For the first time in my life, I was filled with inspiration to share my experience in a big way – in real time – through a blog on my web site. Writing became an incredible form of healing. The unconditional love & support I have received has cracked my heart wide open. People. Are. So. Kind. My relationships have deepened, new connections have been made, and I continue to authentically share my heart. Cancer has given me a new, passionate direction in my career, and it has instilled a strong sense of trust that we live in a friendly universe. I have never been a victim in this process; I am an eternally grateful student.
And the blessings continue.
On September 16th, while leading my first Reset Retreat in the Texas Hill Country – I celebrated the anniversary of my diagnosis with an amazing group of women. Now cancer-free, I affectionately call this day – New Direction Day – the day my life took a beautiful, new direction. We all raised a glass of wine at dinner and cheered! I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate.
So here’s my invitation to you.
Look at the challenges you are facing in life ~ whether it be low back pain, a disability, death of a loved one, an illness, car accident, relationship challenges, a big career change, money issues…how could it be possible that this is the best possible thing for you? What is it teaching you? Patience? Kindness? Slowing down? Speaking up? Asking for help? What are you learning about yourself? What new doors has it opened?
I’m not trying to negate that there are tough times and struggles…this Earth School thing can feel REALLY challenging! I’m inviting you to notice what else may also be going on…open your mind to the gifts that are all around us.
Perhaps you already have the greatest yoga teacher at your feet. Just waiting to be discovered.