Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

Guest blog: How yoga helped me through my cancer diagnosis

Yoga is a physical and spiritual discipline that originated in India and has been practised for thousands of years. Yoga typically involves a combination of physical postures, meditation and breathing techniques. Research has shown that yoga may help reduce depression, stress, distress and anxiety, and improve quality of life. Our client, Sharon Lee Bridglalsingh speaks about how yoga helped with her cancer diagnosis. 

Last year I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. What a shock! I had no family history, I don’t eat meat and let’s face it, my daily green juices make me immortal right? Well it’s no surprise that cancer doesn’t discern on those fronts so the disbelief really, is that the words were being said to me. What a game-changer!

I am fortunate that the next words I heard, confidently set out a treatment plan to get rid of it, no guaranteed success but a well travelled route.  I am all too aware that is not always the case with a cancer diagnosis and remind you to do your checks and attend screenings.  Don’t think it can’t be you. Early detection makes a difference so self examine and don’t be bashful about seeking help. In the so far unsolved case of who gets the disease, spotting it is somewhat in our control, so please just do it.

Before the shock settled in, treatment started and daily medical appointments quickly became my routine, displacing the usual activities of a full time working mummy. Eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove any cancer left and 23 radiotherapy sessions are behind me and I am currently on my forth of eight preventative chemotherapy rounds. I am technically cancer free and although I still can’t articulate it without the caveat I know it is a good outcome and I am very grateful.

Fear, disbelief, guilt, gratitude, self care, self loathing, anticipation, joy, desolation are just some of the emotions I have felt strongly in the last year. I am blessed to have super support and am overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others.  However even within this cocoon of positivity and love, dealing with cancer reminded me that it was my life and for it be authentic, I had to find my way.  In all the doing that treatment throws your way and all the feelings that a cancer diagnosis inevitably introduces, I craved that space for me.  A place to accommodate whatever version of me turned up that day as it was ever-changing both physically and mentally.

Yoga provided that and, as always, surpassed my ask.  A source of truth when my wandering mind needed it. An accepting place for my radically different image from which I frequently felt disassociated.  A lever to harness my inner smile and smile I did!  A lens that revealed to me how strong and amazing I was when my battered mind and body were saying anything but.

The positive impact of yoga on cancer patients is well documented so theoretically a no-brainer but lets face it, when you are undergoing treatment and dealing with the impact of cancer, are you really going to seek it out? When you have good days and mental clarity, chances are yoga might not be the top of the list that is already populated by miracle foods and other surefire cancer cures on tap from well meaning people.

I have been practising yoga for years and I know I sound evangelical when I say this but it has been a life-changer for me.  After a class, I feel blissful and thankful and take that with me.  I am convinced my experience is especially so because I practice at an amazing studio, which is a  gateway to this delicious feeling for so many.

So far idyllic right? You can see the marriage forming and I live in a yoga filled world forever. Not so at all. You see,  cancer pulls the rug from under you, and while you are up in the air, gale force winds blow you around and when you do glimpse yourself you look and feel nothing like yourself.  It takes a lot of energy to seek out help and then actually access the help.  Too easy is the temptation to stay in limbo, feel despair, be sorry for yourself and, believe me, you would have found me in that state last year on various occasions.

So hurrah for my yoga studio for making it so easy. All it took was one phone call. I thought I would simply attend the least busy classes and hope that I wouldn’t catch anything that could cause an infection.  I was apprehensive and honestly wasn’t ready to be in a class as my weight was up due to chemo drugs and steroids and and I was now bald. The studio suggested a 1-2-1 route instead.  Within days I was in a room with one of my fave teachers soaking in the beauty of being her sole student.

I met with my teacher twice just before each of my chemotherapy rounds. We practiced dynamic yoga and yoga nidra. The latter was new to me and after googling it, I thought no way was I using this valuable time sleeping! How wrong was I? The practice was very useful mentally and, as I got more fatigued as chemotherapy progressed, the nidra practice offered me respite and refreshment fuelling me to carry on physically and emotionally. I didn’t always feel like having the sessions but after each one, I was glad I did. It was a powerful influence in my treatment and it is clear to see why yoga is touted as an excellent partner for cancer treatment.  Of course, always check with your doctor before embarking.  My oncologist was very on board and gave his okay with a big smile.

One of the highlights of last year for me was sharing this experience with my daddy. No parent wants to see their child battle cancer or any other life-threatening disease.  Some days in my chemo treatment he was anguished by my appearance and lack of energy. So it was uplifting for both of us to practice yoga together. He had never practiced before but my teacher shaped the session doing a lot of partnering moves. Daddy said he will never forget the experience. It gave him hope and allowed him to see beyond the present version of me.

After surgery, I did a limited home practice simply to keep mobile and got the medical okay to start yoga and pilates when I began radiotherapy. I was so excited as I had started to feel somewhat human and there was less anxiety about infections so I felt ready to come back to classes. Still not easy, the weight was still there and yes, the hair was back but still quite short and now grey! I looked nothing like myself before I started and I was unsure of my left arm after surgery so safe to say my confidence and self esteem were not tip top.  It’s one of those moments when you know you must get out but actually want to crawl into bed and hope your magical duvet fixes everything.

This time I started with a pilates class and blended with yoga. Each teacher has been very good giving me adjustments although I find that the practice has really helped with my mobility, so much so, that I no longer ‘declare’ an injury at the start of class. Moreover the wealth of empathy from teachers and other practitioners has really spurred me on.  I don’t think of myself as inspirational or even braver than the next person but thank you for saying it.

Each person’s journey is different and you will come to things in your own time and way. Yoga teaches that. I share my story because I feel compelled to pass on the healing and kindness that yoga brought to my life with cancer last year. Adversity can be a time of great opportunity and new doors. I feel grateful for the gifts of self love and strength that being on a mat in the studio whether in deep relaxation or with trembling legs give me. Cancer came but it could not conquer and I say that not because of my medical outcome, although I am of course very pleased by it, but because  along the way, whatever the cancer brought my way, yoga helped me stay present and fed my spirit so I could represent and be me. Gratitude always.

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