Cancer’s 3 Blessings by da-AL

Holidays and increased pandemic restrictions got you down? Hopefully, this tale of hardwon positivity will give you a boost to “keep calm and carry on.”

Cancer's 3 Blessings by da-AL

I’ve always been a writer, but before I became a novelist, I was a journalist. Years ago, a non-profit agency that helps people deal emotionally with cancer hired my business partner and me to produce a video. The afternoon we were to tape a talk-therapy group, I braced myself.

Turns out, these were no mere survivors. They were warriors committed to squeezing all the wonderfulness from every moment they had left. Those people, sick as they were, regarded cancer as a blessing.

To my mind, they were kidding either themselves or me. Nonetheless, the tears I shed behind my camera lens gave way to smiles by the session’s end. Their stories, to my amazement, had uplifted me. I left certain they were made of far sterner stuff than me.

Forward to some years later… In 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer.

To put it mildly, I was scared shi…er…witless. So freaked that I couldn’t sleep for a month. Fighting with insurance and doctors added extra hell to the nightmare.

It took me time… a long while… to understand what those people spoke of. Eventually, though, same as for them, cancer has enhanced my life.

These are only three of the many blessings that cancer imparted to me:

1. Staying focused and positive leads me to my highest self.

Round the clock, I obsessed while I waited for my illness to be categorized and quantified.

How did I get this? How to rid myself of it? How do I ensure it never touches my life again? How will my illness hurt my loved ones? How much longer until I die?

In desperation, I thought a detox could be the answer. If the lump could be sweated out, then hot yoga might do that. Insane with fear as I was, suddenly the prospect of exercising in 105-plus-degrees sounded worth trying.

It took conventional medicine (which I complimented with many alternative therapies) to resolve my cancer — but hot yoga healed me in other ways. The laser focus needed to survive those initial classes renewed my spirit. The full-length mirrors taught me as much as the instructors did.

For one thing, when I thought only of how miserable I felt, I couldn’t do any of the poses. For another, if I did them while truly experiencing a positive word such as “healthy,” “happy,” “joy,” or “love,” I fared way better. My reflection confirmed it.

2. All of us deserve to live.

You might’ve already guessed from the above, I was raised (like, I suspect, too many other little girls and children in general) to doubt and re-doubt myself…

At the height of my frustration, I decided that because I had never accomplished anything extraordinary and probably never would, I did not deserve to live.

That rocked me — clear into the second wisdom that cancer imparted. Deciding I was no better than a cockroach or a flea made me realize if they deserve to live, so do I! My ordinary mortal best is enough.

3. Sometimes happiness comes effortlessly. Sometimes I have to fight for it, but it’s worth it. Life is meant to be joyful.

Perpetual dread that the worst was near eclipsed my life. Then I had the good luck to meet a volunteer for The American Cancer Society. She’d had cancer twenty years earlier and listened patiently to what I was going through.

Then she relayed the story of someone she knew. After ten years of being cancer-free, her friend still continually waited for cancer to hit again, and this time worse. In the meantime, several of that friend’s loved ones had passed away from accidents and natural causes. The volunteer reasoned, “No one can predict the future, not when we’re going to die or from what.”

I’ve never forgotten her words, how lucky each of us is lucky for every breath we take.

What has a seemingly overwhelming challenge taught you?

Squatting Whole Body Health Benefits and Politics plus Video by da-AL

Picture me sitting on my haunches atop a conference table, assigned to perform an entertaining Toastmasters speech titled, “The benefits and the Politics of Squatting”…

Can you do this and smile? Image by edwindoms610 from Pixabay.

The subject first piqued my interest years ago, when my mom moved in with us. To make things extra comfy for all, we had some construction done on our snug home.

Each morning, a crew of men assembled under our backyard gazebo. Aged from early twenties to eighties, each hailed from Cambodia.

What intrigued me was the way they waited for each other to show up. In totally relaxed full-squats, the gentlemen sipped coffees, munched pastries, chatted, and smoked. Once all were there, they stood — not a one groaned or complained of creaky bones.

Lunch involved more of the same. They full-squatted as they passed around freshly steamed rice with fragrant grilled meat and veggies. Afterward, still squatting, they finished with smokes and maybe a sweet.

Squatting was still on my mind when, a couple of years later, I broke my knee twice in the same year. Torn cartilage, fractured bone, stretched tendon, blah, blah, blah. Ouch!!!! and Ohno!!! don’t begin to cover it.

Enter, Francisco Rufino, a gifted yoga instructor who pointed out that squatting keeps people in India free of knee and back problems.

Voila! Thanks to his suggestion that I squat five times a day, for thirty seconds each time, as I watched TV, my knee is so great that I never needed the surgery that two doctors prescribed! Yesterday I went for a terrific jog, no problemo!

By aligning muscles and organs from toes to neck, squatting aids in…

  • Getting rid of hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and hernias.
  • Preventing heart attacks caused by straining on European-style toilets.
  • Alleviating incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Making pregnancy easier.
  • Guarding reproductive organs, including protecting against prostate cancer.

So why don’t we do it more? When I gave the speech, at least one audience member expressed disgust. My h-a-unch is that we think we’re too good for it — and that includes politically. This Korean woman, married to an Anglo man, explains his chagrin when she and her family socialize while squatting.

Would your family be embarrassed if you performed full squats?

Standing Head to Knee Yoga Video of Me by da-AL

When the yoga studio where I practice posted on Facebook a 24-second video of me doing a pose, many people were entertained. Hopefully in a good way.

Here, dear blog friends, I share it with you.

This studio hosts a free class every second Saturday of every month. Ask any studio near you if they offer great introductory deals. Chances are, they do!

’Tis the Season to Sweat Out your Demons! by da-AL

Thank you, Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com
Thank you, Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

“These people are nuts,” I thought when I first heard about Bikram yoga.

Little did I know…

That I’d be doing it myself a couple of years later — desperate for anything that would make me feel like I was living rather than dying.

Cancer. That’s what drove me to try anything — even Bikram! I’d found a lump, had it biopsied, had gotten the terrible news, and now, several days later, cancer was all I could think of, day and night, night and day. 24/7? Hell no. More like 48/7.

Bikram is tough — the heat, the poses. All the classes are for beginners, but just getting through the heat definitely takes some kind of strength of character — or in my case, absolute end-of-the-rope desperation — to get through.

The poses are challenging, but to their credit, they’re only as challenging as one decides to make them. They’re beginner level or advanced level — all the same poses — just depending on how hard you elect to push yourself.

I pushed myself as if my life depended on those poses because they did. My mental health decimated by cancer, Bikram made me focus. Each 90-minute class was a vacation — being forced to get  through that heat, to truly listen to the instructors because they rarely show — made me not think about cancer. What a relief! As treacherous those 90 minutes were, they were also a refuge. A respite from contemplating about the myriad decisions I needed to make and from contemplating my grim situation. I’m not so good at meditation, at the time worse than ever at it, so the classes forced me into laser focus!

In those 90 minutes, body, mind, and soul were simultaneously pummeled and sweat purified into submission. As my body became strong, balanced, flexible, and focused, so did my mind and spirit.

“Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class,” by Bikram Choudhury with the help of Bonnie Jones Reynolds, helped speed the process.

161023bookfrontIt’s just the best! Everything one could want in such a book! Without wasting a lot of ink, paper, and the reader’s time, it engages, explains the background and because. Then it gets to the 26 poses, each with their own succinct background and because. Those magical 26 poses! Designed to address every single part of the body, “head to toes, bones to skin,” as Bikram extols.

There’s a lot of pictures for each pose, some modeled by people who were known by most everyone back in the 1970s. Picture Dick of the Smothers Brothers in what was then referred to as a ‘European style bathing suit,’ doing yoga before everyone was a yogi.

Thank goodness for the non-celebs in it too. They illustrate how women and men, oldsters and youngsters, huge and petite, can all do this yoga! Simple, direct, straightforward, and best of all, inspiring.

All yogas have benefitted me more than no yogas. Here’s the great friendly place I currently attend that even offers a free class a month.

Here’s where I talk more about cancer and about the wonder of public libraries that house many more marvels besides this book.