Cancer Diagnosis, the work of byron katie and cancer, yoga therapy and breast cancer

A Different Kind of Breast Cancer Awareness

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.

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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 c-lovetreeposeskeleton. 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.

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Cancer Diagnosis, Uncategorized

Part 1: Meeting with the Breast Surgeon right after Diagnosis

The following was written September 18th when I had my first consultation with the breast surgeon. Part 2 will describe my 2nd meeting with the surgeon on January 21st to discuss surgery options.

This morning, I woke up at 5:30am (not like me at all!) and spent a quiet morning in the dark with my mom drinking tea and doing some gentle yoga. In the midst of hamstring stretching and hip opening, I just felt the tears begin to pour out again. I welcomed them. The body just needs to do what it needs to do. She placed her hand on my back while I was in child’s pose and stroked my spine. I am so beyond happy she is here. I love her so much and feel so close to her. I love how intimate we are and that I can share this experience with her. I fell into her arms and we cried together.

I was actually really looking forward to the appointment with the breast surgeon, Dr. Ganaraj…I had my handy list of questions to ask. I was nervous yet also excited to see the doctor and learn more…get a game plan…My mom and I had a great morning walk and I got all dressed up. I decided to wear super sexy underwear to my appointment ~ if things got stressful, I could remind myself that I was wearing a secret, doctor-not-approved baby pink thong…intended to bring some comic relief to a potentially stressful situation.

While in the waiting room, I met my Health Navigator ~ I had no idea that role even existed and wow, what a brilliant idea. She handed me this phenomenal binder of information ~ everything from cancer education to treatment procedures to tips for health and wellness. I was so excited to see recommendations for writing, yoga, acupuncture, healthy diet, humor ~ this is my wheelhouse! The Health Navigator said she is here to support me through the entire process. Their team cares about my wellness as a whole and they want to hear from me anytime ~ I have everyone’s cell phone numbers and they will always return my call the same day. She looks like everyone’s favorite Grandma ~ one you could snuggle with for hours. It was a wonderful introduction and again, very impressed with conventional medicine ~ it’s not what I thought it would be. (Side note: to this day, I have never heard from my health navigator…hahahaha.)

I decided that me, my mom, and Travis should take a “cancer selfie” in the waiting room. My first cancer photo….but wait, Cancer SelfieI’ve been taking cancer photos for almost a year now and had no idea. I have to say, so far I do LOOK pretty damn good with cancer. And even more confusing (but hey – it’s good news), I FEEL really great with cancer. Aside from the whirlwind of believing stressful thoughts as if they were some kind of addictive candy…I’m kind of rocking it.

I met Dr. Ganaraj in the exam room with a big smile. She asked, “how are you doing?” My response was, “well, I’m extremely happy to see YOU!” She was surprised by my reaction and said that usually she is the last person patients want to see. She then did a manual breast exam and I pretended to ignore the extremely worried look on her face. She took measurements of the large lump in my breast and a 2nd lump that I also noticed the night before for the first time (and nearly had a panic attack). Then she measured the mass in my axilla.

I got dressed and we all met in her office. Going into this meeting, I assumed the treatment plan would be pretty simple: we would talk about surgery and then maybe a little chemo…I’d be cancer-free by the end of the year, no biggie. Apparently, I was very naive.

She said that the cancer is extremely aggressive, which is common in younger bodies.

Gulp. Think of the sexy underwear….think of the sexy underwear….NOT working.

She went on to say that there’s a large tumor in my breast and it has spread to my lymphatic system, which means it is definitely traveling throughout my body. The good news is that she doesn’t expect it has taken root anywhere else yet. She pulled up a screen to illustrate how the cancer cells form in the breast and then multiply & divide ~ it was one big blur to me. Aggressive? Really? She said that the masses are too big for surgery now ~ if she did surgery it would be mutilating to my body and could result in possible nerve damage. A series of diagnostic tests will be ordered for October 1st (the day insurance starts) to confirm if the cancer has spread anywhere else. She then recommended doing 5-6 months of chemo first with the goal of shrinking the tumors and mopping up the remaining cancer cells in my body. Surgery would come next and hopefully, the shrinkage could make me a candidate for a simple lumpectomy. Then radiation. Then 5 years of hormone therapy.

Shit. That was wayyyyy more than I was expecting.

It’s a very ODD sensation…to hear someone tell you things about your body and not be able to feel it AT ALL. Then again, would I want to feel this? Maybe reality is kind in this way. It makes it so surreal though. Is she really talking about MY body? I have cancer AND it’s this serious, really? She said the survival rate is pretty good with this type of cancer…Wait a minute…SURVIVAL rate? Is there really a chance of me dying? Could this really be how my story ends? Dying of cancer in my 30’s? My mind already started to picture Travis with his second wife since the first love of his life died of cancer. This thought is unbearable. She’s gorgeous, by the way ~ very exotic looking with long dark hair and deep green eyes…she’s a wonderful mother…and he’s happy with her. I become just a memory.

Yet, here I am. Alive. Healthy. Still married.

I told the doctor how confusing it was to hear this information, because I feel so healthy. It was a very “out of body” experience hearing her describe what’s supposedly going on in there. And geez, I’ve built a career out of being “in tune” with my body. I guess I’m not as intuitive as I thought. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “You feel healthy because you are healthy.” Ok, I think I like her.

I then asked in a shaky voice, “will I lose my hair?”

“Yes. Within the first few weeks of chemo.”

I literally felt a dagger in my heart. My hair. My boobs. My two favorite parts of my body. I was known for these things!!! Don’t you know the girl with the mermaid hair, double D boobs, and a size 2 yogini bod? That’s ME damnit and this “me” is being threatened on all levels. In high school I had the nickname of “PT” which stood for “Perfect Tits” ~ some guys at another school created a jingle for them…”Beth’s breasts are the best…”

Sigh.

The surgeon said she would set up an appointment with the oncologist right away and schedule the tests. As we said our goodbye’s, I started to feel my body tremble. I was barely holding it together. As we walked out of the office door, I completely fell apart. It was like my legs stopped working. Travis held me up as we walked through the lobby and then parking lot. My mom grabbed the keys and told us to sit in the back together. I collapsed into the car and began whaling.

There was no stopping the mind from going all over the place. Fear of death, pain, suffering consumed me. Anger, confusion, terror, shame, panic. This was a necessary vomiting of the mind and although it was one of the hardest moments, I still felt supported in the car, being held by Travis, mom driving.

I have been able to revisit this moment and identify numerous thoughts:

The cancer is spreading.

I will die young.

I won’t know what to do.

This shouldn’t be happening to me.

Chemo is poisonous to my body. Evolved people don’t choose chemo.

I created my cancer.

My body betrayed me.

Chemo will make me look sick and ugly.

I will be in unbearable pain.

I’m not intuitive/evolved. Evolved people don’t get cancer.

I’m a failure.

I should have gone to the doctor sooner.

I can’t handle this.

Cancer will prevent me from living a full life.

Cancer will ruin us financially.

And this is why I love The Work of Byron Katie. I am able to go back into a stressful experience, identify thoughts, and one-by-one, question them. As I meet each thought with understanding, I gather more and more proof that suffering only exists in my mind. It’s what I’m imagining might happen that creates my stress. It’s what I’m believing about cancer, about chemo, about my body that sends me down the rabbit hole. And what I’m believing isn’t real in the moment. I was in the car, being held, and driven home. Reality is always kinder than the movies playing in my head.

In the upcoming blogs, I will begin to share the full inquiries that have impacted me the most ~ you may be able to relate to them in your own life even without an illness, and it will give you an insight into the mind of a cancer patient.

So even though September 18th was one of the hardest days I have ever experienced, it was also a doorway into living a more fearless, present life. Thank you, Cancer.

 

 

Uncategorized

Getting the Call ~ “You Have Cancer”

The following are 2 journal entries written the day of and the day after I found out about my diagnosis.

September 16th, 2015

imagesIt’s hilariously insane how many times I checked my phone today. Today could be the day I get the call. I wasn’t experiencing fear ~ it was more like an excited/anxious anticipation. The feeling I use to get right before a big basketball game in high school or before starting one of my yoga retreats.

I taught a morning yoga class and the rest of the day was open. I thought about going to get my car washed and decided to stay at home instead and dive into some Netflix Therapy while I continued my Phone Stalking. I successfully distracted myself with a new series on Netflix called “Rectify” (highly recommended!) and then Travis came home.

I was on episode 4 when I got the call. “Holy shit! This is it!” It was in the afternoon and Travis was next to me on the couch. (Thank God I didn’t go for that car wash!). The home was quiet. I answered the phone & put it on speaker. The doctor said she just got the pathology report and wanted to call me as soon as possible.

“This is the part of my job that’s really difficult. I’m afraid I have bad news. They did find cancer in both the breast and lymph node.”

Time stopped ~ there was a quiet stillness that’s hard to describe. It was as if someone else’s life was being described to me. My hand grabbed Travis’ hand. “It’s called Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma, grade 3, and it’s the most common form of breast cancer.” Good, I thought ~ that means doctors will know how to deal with it. She shared how she recently had a patient who was 27 years old and diagnosed with the same cancer ~ she is now doing great and just had her 1st baby. “People make it through this and live very happy lives.” She said she would send the pathology report to the breast surgeon, and then find out if the surgeon recommends I wait until my insurance kicks in October 1st to have a consultation or begin now. Unfortunately, with biopsies you can not tell what stage the cancer is, or if it has spread to other areas. It started in my left breast and had definitely spread to my left lymph nodes.

My lulus have cancer. I looked down at my left breast. Really? It looks so connection2divinefine, it feels so fine other than some soreness from the biopsy. That’s cancer in there? How is this possible? As soon as I got off the phone, I turned to my husband and the tears began to flow. The best words I can use to describe how I felt were…. “surreal” and “fucking weird.” I loved how my husband held me, both crying/trembling together. I love him so much my heart could burst.

Then all of the sudden, my body got extremely hot. So hot, that I had to take my shirt off. I paced around the living room…Wow. What? Really? I remember actually pinching my arm multiple times to see if this was some sort of crazy dream. Me? Cancer? Realllllllly?

I called my mom on facetime. That was really, really hard. Nobody wants to get this phone call from their child. Seeing the tears in my mother’s eyes while I told her the news made it more real. She nodded her head, “Okay, okay.” I love that the moment I asked if she could come to Dallas, she responded with an immediate “Yes, of course.” Her ticket was booked within an hour to arrive tomorrow. We agreed that she would call my Dad and that I would call my brothers.

What started to plague my mind the most was…HOW is this possible? Why is this happening to me? How did I get cancer? I had thought that perhaps all of the inner work I did up until this point would have given me a “cancer bypass” ~ I already learned all I needed to know, right?

I’m 34. Young. Healthy. Happy. Yet, this reality is still true. I hear Byron Katie’s words, “who would you be without your reasons?” It really is the best time for me to have cancer, isn’t it? I have a healthy vehicle and the time and support to take care of this now. I have the tools to fall in love with it. I gently caressed my lulus and thanked them for showing up.

It wasn’t until 6pm that I realized how bad of a headache I had and that I hadn’t eaten lunch. Sweet Travis jumped to prepare dinner for me. Earlier, he had said, “you don’t have to do anything around the house anymore, honey. I’ll do all the cooking and all of the cleaning. I’ll go get your car washed too.” How amazing is he? I was more than happy to receive. My Dad and I traded texts ~ he said how proud he was of me for how I am handling this. I agreed. Then we texted hilarious images back and forth….my favorite one being the poop emojis with big eyes and smiley faces.

The doctor called back and said that the breast surgeon thinks that it’s fine for me to wait until October. The surgeon offered to clear time in her schedule Friday (in 2 days) for the consultation so that we can begin testing on the 1st. She said she would comp the visit since I don’t have insurance yet. Wow. Kind. Universe.

I cleared my work schedule the rest of the week. It feels like my “healing team” is all coming together.

Around 8:30pm, the body and mind just fully let go. Let Out LoveI started in a child’s pose and the tears began to pour out. Deep whaling, shaking, moaning…I just let it all out. At one point, I was hovered over the toilet, dry heaving. It
wasn’t painful, it just felt like the body needed to do its’ thing and luckily, I have had a lot of experience with emotional healing to know that all I need to do is to get out of the way. Then I laid in bed while Travis massaged my head.

Right now, it’s 3:47am. I’ve been up since 1am or so. My mind is active and I felt the need to write. I have no idea what I’ll be doing with these words. I don’t know if another eye will see them. I just know I am supposed to write. My head is starting to feel better too. Breathing.

September 17th, 2015

My mommy is here! My mommy is here! I picked her up from the airport ~ one of the BEST hugs I’ve ever experienced. There is something so soothing and comforting about being nestled into your mothers chest. I. Am. So. Happy. She. Is. Here.

BeforeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA she arrived, I had the morning to myself and it was magical. I did my morning “steam & tizzle.” This is a new tradition for me ~ I’ll boil ginger and turmeric root in water, place my face over the steam and breathe it in for a few minutes. Then I’ll add clove and steep a bag of decaf green tea. I love to drink the tea with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and raw honey ~ it’s incredible and is anti-inflammatory, helps with allergies, boosts immunity, cleanses, & is high in antioxidants. After my steam & tizzle, I went for my morning walk. I felt so much more present ~ like the best high I’ve ever experienced ~ the colors, sunlight, sounds were so much more alive. There was this lively sense of quiet inside of me. I’ve had similar experiences when I attend Byron Katie’s workshops & schools. Life is simple. Life is beautiful.

At the end of the walk, I talked with the property manager at our condo. He said, “I don’t mean to pry, but you’re in such great shape and you’re so beautiful ~ do you really just do yoga? I mean, you look like you’re in your 20’s.” I remembered that he had just had a mini phone consultation with my husband last week, getting tips on food/exercise/stress relief. I told him, “yes, it’s yoga, walking, and I do love rebounding and swimming. Organic foods are important to me and I’ve learned to listen to my body and eat what feels good ~ I’ve been known to rock pizza and a burger too. I also think the most important thing is to take care of the mind ~ and we use The Work of Byron Katie to deal with stress. When the mind is stressed, the body’s systems don’t work efficiently.” But then I could feel myself begin to turn “my experience” into “advice giving.” And then I blurted out, “But shit, what do I know ~ I just found out yesterday that I have cancer. So yes, you can do all of these amazing things for your body & mind and still get cancer!”

It felt good to be blunt and honest. I mean, really…what do I know about health for anyone else? Living this way feels right for me, nurturing for me. I will continue to live this way to support healing cancer. I’ve come to realize that I have created a wonderful vehicle to support cancer healing: I’m young, healthy, strong, open-minded, and know exactly how to deal with stress.

 

Introduction

Welcome

VideoScreenShotThis blog is dedicated to sharing my journey healing breast cancer. It will serve as a sort of “online journal” for progress, updates, inner & outer work, struggles, enlightening realizations, & more.

Join me on this adventure from pre-diagnosis to the cure…through all of the ups, downs, & turnarounds.

On September 16th, 2015, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (fancy name, eh?). I am young, healthy, and have no family history of breast cancer, so this news came as a big surprise! Watch this video to learn a little more about how I am handling this diagnosis.

I have chosen a path of healing that integrates traditional & alternative medicine ~ the perfect path for me. I feel incredibly blessed to already be fully equipped with incredible healing tools ~ The Work of Byron Katie (self-inquiry), Yoga, Meditation, Nutrition, Art, Acupuncture, Humor, & best of all…the Loving Support of Family & Friends. I’ve recently discovered the power of writing & a burning desire to share it…so here we are.

I am not here to fight cancer. I am here to make friends with it, listen to it, learn from it, evolve & grow. What if illness happens for our enlightenment? What if it makes our life even better? I am already learning so much from my new guru, Cancer: CRHeartSeated

  • People are kind.
  • Unconditional love does exist.
  • I am fully supported in every moment.
  • The cancer in my head (ie- my imagination) is way worse than the cancer in reality. Whew.

The universe doesn’t just pour a pile of shit on your head; there’s a bigger calling at work here and I’m open to fully experiencing it. Like Byron Katie says, “Life happens for you, not to you.” Here we go!

With Love,

~Bethany

How to navigate this blog

This Welcome Post will remain at the top of the page and the rest of the posts will be ordered by “most recent” at the top. Here is the complete list of posts in chronological order:

Blog Posts

Pre-diagnosis: a Lump & an Angel

By Request: Alternative & Complimentary Therapies for My Breast Cancer Treatment Plan

The Mammo & Ultrasound…I will finally know! Or not.

How I found Peace during “The Waiting Game”

Getting the Call ~ “You have Cancer”

Part 1: Meeting with the Breast Surgeon right after Diagnosis

Part 2: Meeting with the Breast Surgeon for Surgery Options

Medical Update

Inquiry: “The Cancer is spreading ~ is it true?”

The Future of My Boobs (FOMB)

Update: Post-Chemo & Pre-Surgery

Gratitude, Elephants, & Going Potty ~ my experience of breast surgery

Self-Discovery while in Recovery

The Gift of a Butterfly

When Complications Become Blessings

BIG UPDATE! Post-treatment Life of Awesomeness

A Different Kind of Breast Cancer Awareness

All Natural Remedies for Chemo Side Effects

What if Fear is just a Fart?

Inquiry: “Chemo is poisonous to my body” ~ is it true?

Life with Tissue Expander Boobs

Update ~ Prepping for the Last Hoorah: Breast Reconstruction

Meeting BIG Emotions in the Cancer Journey

Follow-ups, the Boob Whisperer, Clear Scans, & Summer Fun

Diagnosis = New Direction

Diagnostic Testing without Stressing

Conventional vs. Alternative Medicine ~ can’t we all just get along?

You Can Have Cancer & Be Happy

HOW would you LIVE if you knew you were dying?

The Work of Byron Katie & Cancer

Update: Boobieversary, Cancer Camp, Retreats, & Book

 

Permanent Links

Medical Updates

Yoga/Breathing/Meditation for Healing

Mental Medicine ~ The Work of Byron Katie

Nutrition & Supplements

Alternative/Complimentary Therapies