the gift of yoga as medicine

If there has been one life boat keeping me afloat during this shit storm, it would be yoga.  Through it all – chemo, surgery, radiation, occupational therapy, psychological therapy…yoga has been a constant companion.  It heals what ails me, physically and mentally, a little (or a lot!) each time I practice.  On the crappiest of crap-filled days, I am able to find solace on my mat.  For one hour, or more, each day I find peace from the demons that plague me.  I am present in body and mind.  Yoga allows me to forget my off-mat troubles and focus on the task at hand.  Breath and asana.  Rinse, repeat.  My brain relaxes and lets go of worry, anxiety, fear, sadness, everything but the breath and the pose.  I am THERE.  I strive to make the most of each second, to be the best I can be for that one moment in time, until it passes and the next moment is there, and so it goes.  It forces me to be naked – no wigs or hats, no padded bra.  There I am for the world to see – a bald, one boobed yogini (and with the other one a double D, there ain’t no hiding it!).  But it feels natural in the studio, it feels like home, it feels amazing to practice so exposed (now, I would put on a hat and slip in my knitted knocker on the way out the door, mind you…I always wondered what people thought when they saw my pink falsey on the shelf!).

Now I have more hair on my head and a prosthesis I can wear during my practice so I feel more ‘normal’.  The short(!) hair gets less attention and, although not level with the ‘au natural’ lady on the right, the new fake boob is passable.  The first time I wore it I didn’t think I would need one of the special bras with the interior pocket to slide it in…I figured that my normal compression sports bra would work to keep her from traveling.  Nope.  A few down dogs and that thing was creeping halfway up my neck…lesson learned!  I had also finally gotten used to balancing poses without the additional 2.5 lbs. on the left side, and now my body has to work hard to remember what more equal weight feels like.  And then when I have the mastectomy on the right side, then expanders and implants, it will have to learn things anew again and again.  Forever changing, always a challenge!

I’ve been a member at three different studios in the last 9 months, each with a different vibe and purpose for where I was at during that particular time.  For most of 2015 I was a member at Dragonfly, a group of several heated studios with a youthful energy and exuberance (and lavender scented chilled towels at the end of class that were the BEST!).  When I first joined it felt great to get back into the flow practice I had to give up when I was having hip issues (had surgery in 2013 and it took a good 18 months to feel I was back in flow condition).  During the diagnostic phase of this shit show I fell off the wagon a little bit, as Dragonfly became too fast paced and intense for what I was feeling emotionally and physically capable of doing.  I switched back to my previous studio, Inner Fire, and was able to do hot (Bikram) yoga several weeks into my chemo treatment before the neuropathy made it too challenging (55 minutes in the balancing series without being able to really feel your feet made for an interesting practice!).  Surprisingly, the 105 degree room didn’t affect me as much as I would have thought…at least it didn’t add to the nausea 🙂  When I could no longer practice Bikram I switched to an almost exclusively yin practice at Inner Fire and also started going to Bliss Flow so that I could do yin 6 days a week, and this carried me through the roughest patch of chemo.  Post mastectomy I quickly found my way back into gentle and supportive yoga at Bliss Flow, and am now regularly practicing low to moderate intensity flow there (looking forward to some power flow in my future!).   I’ll make my way back to Bikram at some point, probably (I might have to…the hip that had the labral tear is acting up again, which makes warrior and similar poses difficult, and the whole reason I had to give up flow and try Bikram in the first place…).

hot yoga

Sweating through a Bikram class, back in the day…my hair will be that long in no time! Can you find me?

OK, off my yoga soap box and on to updates!  Radiation continues…but only four more sessions!  My underarm area is pretty ouchy at this point, but not yet blistering.  Constant application of salves, oils, and creams, plus keeping it moist using Elasti-gel (agar like gel on one side and cloth on the other) definitely helps, then taking some ibuprofen for the pain when it gets particularly angry.  Imagine a sunburn that goes an inch deep, the outer skin is raw and painful (it almost feels like if I press too hard several layers of skin would slough off…) and the muscle below tight with limited range of motion.  Hopefully the three day weekend will give my skin a nice break and the remaining treatments this coming week make it only nominally worse.  The fatigue is the worst part…I feel physically and emotionally spent much of the time.  Sleeping ok at night for the most part (still an early riser, just feel stupid groggy for 4-5 hours after waking), but can’t seem to nap during the day no matter how exhausted I feel.  It’s a bit too reminiscent of the bone-tired feeling I had during chemo 😦

Met with the research nurse and oncologist at Froedtert last week.  My participation in the study still hinges on the insurance approving the necessity of being treated out of my service area, but the preliminary discussions went well.  Sounds like even if I’m not matched by genotype to one of the 14 potential drugs currently identified by the clinical trial, the default chemo option is Xeloda.  It’s an oral med that is taken twice daily for one, two, or three weeks, followed by one week off.  It’s usually prescribed as a treatment for Stage IV cancers as a kind of last resort, but has proven to be effective with triple negative breast cancer.  It doesn’t sound as nasty as the red devil or some of the other chemo drugs I was on, and not having to go into the hospital for IV administration is a bonus, but there are still side effects.  The biggest ones are fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, and hand/foot syndrome (irritation, redness, peeling of the skin of the palms and soles).  No hair loss, though 😉  Still, not sure if I’m ready for all that so soon after finishing all the other treatments (especially the hand/foot syndrome, which will undoubtedly interfere with yoga, one of the few things keeping me sane at the moment…).  Was looking forward to some normalcy, and a break from the fatigue in particular, so we’ll see how things shake out.  If I did participate in the clinical trial, I would have to start chemo within 10 days of the review board making the decision to accept me.

As for my mental health, it certainly received a boost from the outpouring of support following the last blog – thanks so much all you AMAZING PEOPLE!   My mood continues to go up and down, up and down, but I think that the ups are gradually gaining ground.  Still struggling to keep my head above water most days, and the mornings remain ever so stubbornly gloomy, but am hopeful the tides are turning.  The fatigue will gradually let up once the radiation is finished (usually takes a couple weeks to see improvement, but an end in sight!).   Also trying a new anti-depressant today, so fingers crossed it’s more effective.  Moving from mirtazapine, which had the added benefit of being a sleep aid (but the drawback of making me crave sugar 24/7…I’ve gained back all the weight I lost during chemo) to citalopram, which may make me drowsy or keep me awake (sounds like it’s a crap shoot from what I read/hear).  One thing the testimonials do agree on – the first week or so is rough going and anxiety/depression is heightened before coming back down to ‘normal’ and then improving.  So,  it’s the last week of radiation and the first week of trying a new drug…lots of hope for healing in the not-too-distant future, but this coming week is likely going to be a doozy 😦  I’ll be needing all the virtual and actual hugs, thoughts, and well wishes you can send!

(Right after I finished writing this I read a blog post from a fellow MpBC survivor that I follow.  Every time I am feeling sorry for myself, I am reminded that it could be worse…several months after being diagnosed with cancer, her husband was murdered.  She has an amazing spirit and desire to always live with joy in her heart.  I recommend reading any/all of her posts, but the one from today pretty much sums up that need for hugs 😉 – )


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4 Responses to the gift of yoga as medicine

  1. Chery Brunner Theis says:

    HUGS, HUGS and MORE HUGS TO YOU!!!! It was great to spend the weekend in Chicago with you cheering Theo on! I think you impressed many people with your vigorous WHOOO WHOOOs!!! Love you to pieces and will do anything to make you feel better or help you out!!!


  2. Eric says:

    Big Gigantic Hug every hour of every day! Unless your’e sleeping. Then the virtual hug will let you sleep. 😉 Keep on keeping on!!


  3. Angie D says:

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.



  4. Great to hear that the radiation is nearly over, and that the yoga is working well for you! I know that you are aware that your body still has to recover from all of this treatment stuff on the inside, so it takes longer than we wish to get over some things and then you are on to the next hurtle. But, it sounds like you are in good hands and please count me in as one of your biggest supporters!! Good things will keep coming, and even if they are sometimes small gains, they are gains for sure. So, thanks for your update and YOU give me strength!!


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