Cancer’s 3 Blessings

Cancer's 3 Blessings by da-AL

Before I became a podcaster/blogger/novelist, I worked as a journalist, and sometimes produced promotional videos. Years ago, a non-profit agency that helps people emotionally deal with cancer hired my business partner and me to produce one for them.

The afternoon we were to tape a talk-therapy group, I braced myself.

As it turned out, these were no mere survivors. They were warriors committed to savoring every bit of 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 the camera’s lens gave way to smiles. Their stories, to my amazement, were filled with hope, gratitude, and acceptance. 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 witless. So freaked, that I couldn’t sleep for a month. Fighting with my insurance company and doctors added to the nightmare.

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

Here are only three of the many blessings 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. Questions tormented me…

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 alternative therapies such as acupuncture and Chinese herbs) 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 about what I could achieve 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 steady poses reflected back in those mirrors confirmed it.

2. All of us deserve to live.

Like too many other kids, especially little girls, I was raised to believe that my own needs were secondary to those of others and that I wasn’t smart enough to have opinions or make decisions.

At the worst of my ordeal, 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 easily. Other times it requires effort. Regardless, it’s always worth striving for. 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 a decade of being cancer-free, her friend continued to be anxious that cancer would strike again, this time fatally. Over those ten years, 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.”

Her wisdom allowed me to see that worry, if I continued to allow it, was sucking the vitality from my life worse than cancer ever could.

What has a challenge taught you?

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, everything. All classes are considered beginner level, but just getting through the heat definitely takes extra strength — or in my case, absolute end-of-the-rope desperation — to get through.

The poses are challenging, but to Bikram’s credit, they’re only as challenging as one makes them. What matters is how hard you 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 mental vacation — being forced to get  through that heat, to truly listen to instructors, since they don’t demonstrate poses — made me not think about cancer. What a relief! As treacherous those 90 minutes were, they were also a refuge. A respite from contemplating the myriad decisions I needed to make for my grim situation. I’m not great at meditation, but the classes taught me laser focus!

In an hour and a half, my body, my mind, and my soul were pummeled. Sweat rained out of me. As my body became strong, balanced, flexible, and focused, so did the rest of me.

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

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It’s everything one could need from such a book! Without wasting a lot of ink, paper, and the reader’s time, it starts with how Bikram put together his workout. Then explains the do’s and don’ts of the 26-pose routine he designed to address every part of the body. In his words, the sequence heals one “head to toes, bones to skin.”

Photos abound to thoroughly demonstrate poses, some modeled by 1970s celebrities, such as Dick of the Smothers Brothers in his Speedos.

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

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.

What’s worked best for you to stay mentally and physically fit?