I pitch my idea for a Cancer patient yoga workshop for the 2nd time. The first person I solicit was not impressed. She chides me, “Kumari, why don’t you take it easy?” Person 1 wants me to go home and relax. Or maybe she doesn’t want this, but it’s what she suggests in as many words. I don’t wanna relax! I want to feel useful. I make a subsequent bid for my workshop. Person 2 suggests I ask the City of Hope. Before turning me down however, Person 2 muses, “A Cancer patient workshop. . . .What would that even look like?”
It would look peculiar. It would look unique. Cancer is unique as my fingerprint. I swear I don’t make this shit up. It’s based on my DNA. It’s my own body, i.e. me, reproducing cells, i.e. living tissue. Cancer are rogue cells not partial to dying or dissolving on the normal time table to make way for replacement cells. My personal DNA intertwines within the problem. Yup. There’s no outside secret forces at work here. There’s only the overt ones: air pollution, stress, noise – stuff like that effects quality of life. Even though I exercise, eat well, and quit smoking – I manifest the disease. It’s very unsettling to realize I let myself down.
My imagined Cancer patients’ workshop opens with treating people as individuals. For despite the blanket term “Cancer” each one of them has a strain as unique as mine. I would ‘splain that to them, (if they didn’t know already) so that expectations can adjust. Two, I will casually use the “C” word in favor of awful euphemisms. We don’t do people any favors by pretending what is happening isn’t happening. Yoga is about waking up. Ending confusion. Cancer doesn’t need to be veiled in shame. Although it ever so often is.
The shame of it, the how-did-I-get-this? every Cancer patient goes through creates anxiety and depression. Meditation and pranayama can specifically soothe and relieve. These are practices anyone can learn in a couple of minutes. This kind of yoga doesn’t require athleticism or flexibility. Oh sure I could teach them in a regular class, and sometimes I do – but many Cancer patients are reluctant to take a generic yoga class, where they fear the teacher might make weird assumptions, unnecessary (possibly dangerous) adjustments and we fear being stigmatized.
Besides which, asking for help is hard. As a functioning adult of many years the loss of full independence is frightening, irritating and disgusting by turns. When a kind friend first suggests I set up a GoFundMe campaign a month ago I hesitate. The form I am facing asks me to fill out how I first found out I had Cancer. (I think I actually blogged on this in real time if you want to go back and check it out.) The thought of reliving the moment made me queasy. The 2nd question is “What stage are you at?” In the end I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t publish all my gory side effects without feeling the questions were lurid, off-putting and irrelevant.
At the time I am also suffering post-surgical depression. I spend much of the next six weeks hiding. I’m forced to revisit the project when I face possible uncovered expenses. The last MRI is ordered stat, but we don’t get authorization before the holiday. My doctor is concerned that the holiday plus the weekend will push back my treatment too far. He suggests I go prior to authorization and hope for retroactive coverage. It’s about 25hundred dollars. I mean back in the day when interest rates were 6% I would have put it on a credit card without worrying, but today ? I worry.
My kind friend, (thank you Catherine) finds a different Go Fund Me campaign that does not require me to answer icky questions. Asking for help is hard. I don’t like feeling like a failure. I’m sending individual thank yous. I also thank you here, now collectively, for your generosity. A certain very kind friend offers to pay off the whole $2,301 in total but I panic. I can’t allow him to do that because he really can’t afford it any more or less than I can. . .it’s not my intention to hurt anyone by asking for help. With that in mind lots and lots of people make nice, small donations: $20 here and $25 there adds up to a whole lot of support. And several people donate $100 and $200 which is amazing and wonderful and I am so grateful thank you. Thank you.
Here’s a photo of me in the changing room at the radiation therapy center after treatment number 2. I didn’t think to take a photo on day one because I was too majorly freaked out. I cry in front of my poor lab technician who looks young enough to be my daughter. She admits she’s seen worse. People have thrown things at her, cursed, yelled. I’m not sure if what she says makes me feel better, worse, or just a little embarrassed. Why after two surgeries and 5 biopsies is radiation scary?
Fear is as fear does. For the Cancer patient doing basic asana can engender fear. We darn well don’t want to break anything. We want to increase our stamina, build bone density and find our new normal range of motion. This requires gentle yoga at first, progressively getting harder as strength permits. My own personal practice before I was diagnosed is the Ashtanga primary series. My practice held me in good stead. I’m pretty weak compared to my former self but my body remembers the shapes of the poses and falls into them eventually after I warm up. The poses themselves squish and slosh my lymph system. The poses themselves stress my bones along the lines I want them to grow.
My point is, and I do have one, if I can do it anyone can. I was never – in my best day – any kind of jock. I don’t have a “yoga” body or any special flexibility.
I pitch my yoga for Cancer Patience workshop to yet a third group, the City of Hope. They say they will think about it. What will it look like? In sum:
- Asana without pressure. Don’t force a Cancer patient unnaturally. Our bones are fragile.
- Meditation to combat depression
- Pranayama to relieve anxiety
- Sequences to move lymph, (a colorless fluid containing white blood cells, which bathes the tissues) with kriya and/or inversions
- A safe place, allowing for disappointments as well as triumphs
- A sharing place to celebrate victories.
Now y’all play nice!