The yoga of cancer patience
I’m not averse to dying, I’m averse to pain. My friends who died from cancer have lousy last six months. I don’t like the idea of losing my mind, snapping at people, becoming irrational. Alienating folks. Luckily for me there’s a high rate of survival on what I have. So far my main side effects are weariness and nausea. Despite the nausea I eat almost constantly. When I’m not sleeping I’m eating, I suppose as a reaction to stress or a symptom of clinical depression. At any rate, whereas last week I was running on my sore ankle in a I-gotta-run-while-I-can moment, this week I am too tired. I’m glad I ran when I did. Don’t have a bucket list! Do what you can when you want or perhaps that sliver of time will slip through the cracks. There will always be less time, never more.
A path is a path, even at night
On the whole I prefer the analogy of cancer as a “journey” not a battle. For if it were, a fight, then the non-survivors are implicated in their own death and that ain’t right. Don’t blame victims. Exploitation of the vulnerable is evil. The people who die are not losers in death any more than they were losers in life. Cancer fails to make heroes of us. Cancer makes us tired, nauseous, ill tempered and the like – those are facts. Facts are not morals, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about being tired. I may feel annoyed when I got stuff to do, responsibilities, tasks and errands – but there’s nothing intrinsically negative about being tired. Don’t try to “fight” fatigue. Take a nap. Take two, they’re small. This morning I slept until 8:30am, which sounds utterly unremarkable until I mention I went to bed at 8:30pm, lol.
Things people say
The best cancer thing anyone has said to me so far came from the mother of a 15 year old cancer patient. The mom said to me, “When you first find out you cry a little . . .and that’s okay. For a while. But don’t think that it’s all like that; we’re still a family. We do things together, we have fun, we laugh.” That has been my experience as well. I still have fun. I laugh. I have cancer, but I don’t self-identify as “Cancer.” I’m still me, with cancer. While I like to think of this (cancer) event as a journey, I like to think of my life as a song. Say what? I mean I don’t listen to songs just to get to the end. Do you know what I mean? I like some parts more than others of the Brandenburg concertos, and I’m enjoying the whole, every note in the chord, the point and the counterpoint, not hurry hurrying to the end. From my little kingdom of laptop I still get lots done. Dude, yesterday I showed property, tomorrow night I’ll teach yoga, today I blog and meet another doctor. Hurray for me !
Back in the day when I smoked unapologetically my friends found cancer prone yogis a good joke. Why bother? they would ask, as they purchased another carton of cigarettes. I disagreed. I had a yoga teacher who wore a nicotine patch to class. I would point out to the nay-sayers: people who practice yoga are not a random cross section of society. People who practice yoga enjoy making a better life, (which implies life may not have gone so great for ’em, thus far.) I realize yoga isn’t for everyone. But as for me, I wouldn’t do yoga if it didn’t make me feel alert, awake, alive. Yoga is not a Kool-aid factory. It doesn’t ask me to pretend I’m happy about nausea, cancer and fear. It only suggests I be here now, acknowledging that at this moment (and this moment only) I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window. Branches wave in the breeze. In this now-ness, for this second, I’m not dead. I’m safe. If this moment and the next moment are taken with care, the days, months and years will take care of themselves.
The breath practices shift energy to the necessary locations, calming, soothing, stimulating, depending on what sequence I employ. While my biopsies were terribly, awfully, horribly painful – I did manage to stay still – no easy feat. I rein in my natural claustrophobia, while lying tight in the MRI, by repeating the Ashtanga pranayama David Williams taught me in Crete. I comfort myself in 20 minute breath bytes, imagining myself back at the yoga room – the winds from Africa wrapping the building, the smell of the ocean reminding my nose, the memory of David’s syrupy North Carolina accent telling me when to inhale, exhale, hold or switch. If you’re curious where we went, it’s Triopetra, run by Helen and Phil and sometimes Mo. Using the search engine of your choice look-see – Ashtanga retreats crop up all year long at the site.
A well meaning student, bless her heart, tells me coffee causes cancer. Really? My beloved coffee? The warm astringent drink is my definition of comfort food. I’m disappointed, for a moment – then suspicious. Sounds like an urban myth. People have plenty o’theories on what we did “wrong” to get cancer. Don’t beat yourself up. I am here to assure you, cancer is caused by the insidious division of misguided cells. A certain amount of comfort is derived from being optimistic and surrounding one’s self with optimistic circle – but ultimately, optimism itself is not a cure. Who was more optimistic, more metaphysically advanced, more generous, loving, and kind than my dead friend Scott ? His death, from melanoma, tore my church in half, with many accusing him of bad thoughts, a weak mind, a need to die, a morality payback – – I disagreed. His dying was a beautiful thing. He died, as he lived, peacefully surrounded by well-wishing friends.
“Everything in my life works now and forevermore.” Louise Hay
My oncologist tells me that my cancer, my specific strain is caused by stress suffered ten years ago. Ten years ago my husband left me, left me heavily in debt. I work 3 jobs, 7 days a week, 70 hours in a week – to pay bills he incurred, only to end up losing my health, my jobs, the truck, the house, the friends, the religion, the dog, and even more – (in that order), each loss fertilizing the next. Note to readers, author Louise Hay writes that breast cancer is caused by women holding onto embittered feelings following a divorce. In a typical blame-the-victim manner she advocates bless and forgive. grrrr. I accept what happened. I refuse to bless what happened. I see no merit in lying to my self. I won’t pretend betrayal is a blessing. What a relief to learn Louise is wrong! My disease is caused simply by stress. Divorce is stressful. Moving is stressful. Losing support, self-esteem, partnership, love – is unavoidably inherently stressful.
The yoga of patience
Many practices of yoga, both the well honed Ashtanga sequence, and gentler forms of asana build resilience. Meditation, focus, and pranayama are also helpful tools to pack on the cancer journey. Mantra and kirtan are soothing to many. Pick your own ingredients. You probably know more than you think.
Now y’all play nice!