September 30, 2008

Living without cancer

People often ask me how I feel now, as a recovered cancer patient? These are not the specific words they use, but something along the line. Every time it is still a surprise, depending on my my mood how I answer. I've even denied the fact I ever had cancer and why not, there are no scars or old injuries to be seen unless you know where to look. Most people don't bother. How do I feel?
Happy, delighted, ecstatic, relieved, stressed (yes, after the questions start, I do feel stressed and annoyed), angry, bored..? I usually just say I'm fine, thanks (hahaaa depends of course my mood).

How did I get cancer in the first place? Does it just appear like that, like a flu? Or was I exposed to post-Chernobyl conditions in 1986? Why me? How do I live now- is my life somehow meaningless and empty without clinic appointments, operations, blood tests, scans..?
No way. I don't know how I got cancer, but all I know I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis and an underactive thyroid in 2001 and since then it has been a constant battle with hair loss, weight gain and loss, fatigue, depression, brittle nails, dry skin, endless fatigue.... Mostly a downhill journey. Iyengar yoga arrived as a rescue in early 2002 and after just a couple yoga classes I felt 100% better- compared to what I felt weeks before yoga. I thought it was a miracle cure, one without medical intervention and it was always a pleasure to see my Dr's face when he asked what "miracle" medication I am on. No meds, just yoga.

It was often an endless battle between me and the Dr, help "should" (remove this word from the vocabulary, it stinks and sounds so so negative) be sought from traditional medications, not from this weird alternative stuff.
Years after, from one continent to another, years in the UK, France, the Middle East, I qualified as Kundalini Yoga Teacher in 2006. One of the best moments in my life, by Guru's grace. These years were healing, but not in any way kind at the beginning. One step forward, one back, all the emotions were there and until I learned to recognize them and deal with them, not just hide the in a closet, only then some progress was made. Meditating once in candle light for 2.5 hours, I did not believe I had progressed at all, but those hours ended as always and not everything was the same day after.
At first it felt unbearable, this constant alertness, feeling of a flow. Seeing everything in more detail. Trees, landscapes, animals, lakes- nature in general. Cardboard boxes and concrete buildings were lifeless. Organic food began to taste delicious. Breathwalk came into my life (see or more details) and Albuterol inhaler soon belonged to the past. Lots of these things. Natural methods of healing.

Again, years later, I was awoken by a feeling that something in my body is not right. Years of healing, years of unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, years before yoga and the newly developed awareness brought my life into standstill. Numerous tests followed soon after; thyroid scan, ultrasound and three painful biopsies and blood tests later the diagnosis was clear. To me, yes. To the clueless Dr it was not clear at all. I knew, i knew right away.
September 2007: the first operation and the diagnosis was clear- even to the stubborn Dr.
January 2008: the second op, and it was finally clear. Life continues without the thyroid and several lymph nodes.

Life is ok, I feel fine. Every day is precious, even when work sucks big time, even when I have failed to meditate and do my daily exercise. One day is a misery for someone, delight for another one.

Life after cancer, even fearing a recurrence, is ok. I ride my horse, chat with my cat and feel things on a much deeper level. My compassion is not endless, not towards myself, even though I am much kinder now. Something tells me I know how I got this cancer- it was when I invited it in, to stay in my body, when the circumstances were too much to handle and i needed an escape. Anger gives you cancer- this is what I remember Yogi Bhajan saying. True, I was furious, not angry.
Can cancer then release this anger? Feeling so ill, vulnerable, lonely, cancer is not a good company. Thoughts of rescuing myself, but how.. Under the knife, medications and life long investigations, scans, tablets, injections. There is no way you can say you know, because you don't know how I felt then. No one did. One cancer experience is not the same as the textbook experience.
Chernobyl might have played a part, as well as my work in "radioactive" environment. Family history- maybe. The Gulf War, maybe.

Life goes on, one day at the time. Today may not be so good, so full of sunshine, not enough sympathy, but tomorrow may be better. I need to remind myself abot this. Cancer may belong to the past, but part of the experience remains. I have been cautious to say these words, but there must have been something that yoga taught me, and this "something" (awareness?) saved my life.

Life up in the Alps certainly brought many experiences and plenty of fresh air and I am grateful for those weeks I spent in France. It was never easy, but I always came back feeling truly happy. Is there a better place for yoga in this world? In my childhood I read about these yoga "masters" and saw pictures about incredibly flexible bodies. Me and my horseback riding body type, "yoga ain't for me". So you cannot know what life brings. Without yoga I probably would not be here. Without my job I wouldn't be working in the Middle East, in Europe, in Asia.
It is safe to say I would not have met the man I love, if it wasn't for the scar in my neck. Without that we wouldn't have had anything to talk about.

I can live without cancer, I was having challenging time living with it, but it was after all part of life and part of the learning process. One completed cycle in the washing machine.

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