I began the practice of astangha yoga with Christine Hoar as my teacher in the mountain village of Bristol, Vermont about nine years ago. At the time I was unaware of the melanoma cells mitgrating to lymphs nodes most pronounced in the lower left flank. I had been officially declared free of a level 4 melanoma after one year of interferon and seven years of follow up scans and onocologist appointments.
Although I am vital teacher in our arts community and a happy mother of adult children and wife to an excellent man, my late forties and early fifties were highly stressful. I believed I wanted to leave our marriage. My mother was becoming less of a companion and more of a dependent. I deeply feared for one of my children. Producing five shows a year with a high school ensemble produced so much joy and depleted so much energy. For awhile I believed I could do little else.
More and more drawn to the practice of yoga I began to claim a calm center, a center explaining there is time in a life for everything. To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose. As I settled into the order of life's events, joys and sorrows, my body began to explain something was going on.
When sleeping on my stomach became difficult, I thought it was my hips opening. When the lower intestine tract reacted, I went through an aryevedic cleanse. I had never had problems with my lower back before, so I breathed into the slight curve. I learned pranayama and went to aryvedic physicians in order to be convinced of my healthy path. They, however, both saw something on my tongue, "parasites" maybe one suggested. Yet I was strong, increasing upper body strength, talking now again to the love of my life, and dealing with my mother and son. Life was creative, more and more holistic under Christine's expert guidance.
But there was still a stitch in my side. Almost apologetically I went to my doctor. "Can you figure this out? I live a good life style. Eat right. Exercise. Love and am loved." He felt something in my lower left flank, x-rays and blood tests showed nothing. The pain persisted and I looked on the internet and choose kidney stones of diverticulitis. I definitely rejected the cancer I had had twenty years ago. I veered away from the thought my father died of colon cancer at the age I now was. However, I did insist on a cat scan. And that cat scan showed distinctly I had a dangerously enlarged lymph node. It must be cancer. I chose lymphoma, but the biopsy revealed that melanoma had returned. A more complete scan showed the cancer to be in five lymph areas.
Now I faced an utterly dangerous disease. I suppose one could say stage 4, though I try to keep away from that kind of language. I had been so sure my lifestyle and yoga protected me from such an event. I was terrified.
I believe yogis can walk over hot coals without getting burned and that Thich Nat Hahn cured himself through learning how to breathe. But fifty year old Paul Birch died on a yoga mat from a heart attach and Beveraly Sills died of lung cancer although she never smoked. Who I am to say what will happen to me?
In my most terrified state I had a waking dream. I talked to my Aunt Aline, one of the most centered persons I know, recently dead from cancer. She said, "You will die, but not now. You have some work to do... And by the way being dead isn't all that bad."
In truth I wasn't afraid of death itself. The pain convinced me there are worse conditions to be in, I was deathly afraid of pain. Western medicines-- prednisone, oxycoton, tylenal, percaset and even eventually chemotheraphy stopped the growing tumor and the accompanying pain from its toxic qualities. Though ten pounds weaker my yoga body was still evident. As soon as I could I began to do yoga again. Now with a new intensity. A different focus.
But the focus is not fighting my cancer. The focus is living with my cancer, and working hard to understand what kind of "work" my Aunt Aline meant. I have had more support from my husband, my yoga teacher, my friends, my colleagues and even strangers than one small person can understand. Prayers and love float through me mysteriously and I am reduced to helpless tears trying to respond. It is my yoga practice teaching me how not to respond but to accept and channel.
For the first time in a fifty-six-year old life I understand what it is to pray, even though I can't exactly explain prayer. I pray through the breathing and movement of yoga and related meditation and pranayama practices. This prayer is merely a transformation of the energy given to me and a way for me to offer this energy back to my students, my family, my friends, my passions---and,yes, to a connected great BEING. I have not stopped what I am doing. I sweat out toxins. I teach kids. I play. I work. I write. I sew. I swim. I do Thai YOga Massage for other people. Each moment I start what I am doing. Each breath and stretch create room. I can do postures I've never dreamed of---and though I am inordinately proud of this new physical prowess--- each posture accomplishment gives me more and more grace. And grace dies on the vine unless it is offered again to the sources from whence it came.
Over a year now from my diagnosis, I am alive. The last scans showed no apparent cancer. I am now in a 2% category of people still. I have a smart and compassionate onocologist, a whiz-kid brilliant yoga teacher, a darling husband, great kids, fascinating invigorating students. I have very dear colleagues. Most likely I will die one of these days, and the immeidate cause will be cancer. But now I am living, and I chose to believe the immediate cause is yoga, but I know the long-term cause is there is yet something to be done.
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