As an avid fitness junkie for the past 30 years, I started teaching high impact aerobics classes in the late ’80s (for those who remember leg warmers and Jane Fonda you know what I’m talking about) and then moved on to spinning, step classes, and strength training in the ’90s. I transitioned into running marathons and half marathons, and found the runner’s high something I couldn’t find anywhere else, until I stepped foot into The Hot Room in June 2018.
My daughter, Claire, invited me to join her for a Hot Power Sculpt class. My immediate reaction was “this is probably not my thing”, but I will try anything once and this sounded like it was a bit more than just yoga. I had this perception that yoga wasn’t really a workout. While I understood the benefits, I traditionally couldn’t find the time to spend an hour stretching on my mat. Wow, I was completely wrong and I am so thankful that I accepted the invitation to try something new. I will never forget how I felt after my first class. I was exhausted, sweat dripping from every part of my body, tired but energized and the challenge had me craving more. I compare it to running my first marathon. When I crossed the finish line I said “that was so hard, I will never do that again”, but 10 minutes later I was already signed up for another one. The pain of running 26.2 miles is only temporary and the feeling of accomplishment lasts a lifetime.
My first class at The Hot Room was similar, it was absolutely one of the hardest workouts and the heat was very challenging. Claire encouraged me to sign up for the unlimited month and she promised it would get better. I took full advantage of my first month and attended 13 classes. I could already see and feel the benefits. I felt more flexible, I had more energy, my skin looked more radiant and I started to feel the stress of everyday life be less noticeable. Little did I know what hot yoga was really preparing me for in life.
Let’s fast forward in early August 2018, I went for my annual physical and mammogram. This was routine business for me. I have never had any health issues, my blood work, and preventative screenings have always been stellar. Because of these factors, I was not too concerned when my mammogram results came back abnormal and follow up tests were required. With no family history of cancer of any kind, I didn’t think much about it, especially when the doctor told me 70 percent of the time the biopsy results are benign. I felt healthier than I had in months and I credit that to hot yoga. To say I was a bit shocked to have received the news is an understatement.
I was diagnosed with stage III invasive ductal carcinoma – breast cancer. In less than a month, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy and 8 lymph nodes removed. I had a positive margin after surgery, therefore 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation were also part of my treatment plan. All the while, hot yoga was the core to my healing along with integrative oncology including, acupuncture, cupping, meditation and a complete transformation of my diet.
Cancer is a transformative life experience and it will continue to be a journey of growth and learning for me. My first month at The Hot Room prepared me for what has been the most challenging and difficult season of my life. I can’t imagine where I would be today if I had not been invited to join the amazing community of yogis at The Hot Room one month prior to my diagnosis. The support I have received from so many people, many of whom were complete strangers is truly incredible. My most favorite part of the day is when I get to the studio 10 minutes before class, I lie on my mat in silence, breathing in the warm air and reflecting on how lucky we are to have such talented and giving human beings who share their love of yoga with each of us.
The staff and teachers at The Hot Room have given me so much inspiration and encouragement to do the impossible, to give it my all and that is good enough no matter what circumstances I am facing that day. I am stronger both physically and mentally today than I have ever been in my life. My yoga practice has given me the space to be exactly who I am meant to be, with no judgment or expectation. I don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future, I just make the most of the time I have right now. This practice, along with cancer, has taught me to treat my body like a temple. What’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside. Transformation begins from within, and yoga has taught me to focus on the connection of my mind, my body, and my spirit. This is such an amazing gift that I hope everyone will experience at some point in their life.
A few reflections from my year-long cancer journey:
Taking care of myself is my number 1 priority. I only get one body and I must treat it like a temple, and that starts from the inside out. I practice the Mix of Six every single day, this is something I read all about in the book Anti-Cancer Living. We have the power within to prevent disease by living by these core principles:
- Eat nutrient-dense, organic foods – I eat mostly a plant-based diet
- Move your body daily
- Practice meditation, yoga and other stress-reducing activities
- Embrace a social support network – this is essential for healing
- Be aware of the chemicals in our environment and how they create chaos inside of our body
- Commit to restorative sleep every night
I am not just treating cancer, I am treating my whole body and creating an internal biological environment where cancer cells have no chance of survival. #slayit
Gather information and be your own advocate. After my diagnosis, my life felt a bit out of my control. Things were happening fast, appointments and treatment plans were scheduled before I had enough time to understand what was really happening. I took a timeout, did my own research, asked a ton of questions, delayed chemo by one week to seek additional options that would compliment my treatment. I am so thankful because this is when I began to learn what was truly going on in my body.
Don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking and integrative healthcare. Regardless of where I have been on this journey, I wake up every day with a smile on my face, take three deep breaths and thank God for the time that I have right now. Our actions are a direct result of our thoughts. Living every day to the fullest by seeing, doing, feeling, saying, touching, smelling, tasting the goodness in life. There’s no victim in my situation and it’s up to me to do my best even on my worst days. I made a choice to include Integrative options in my treatment plan. I had acupuncture and cupping after each chemo treatment, I changed my diet, practiced yoga and meditation almost every day, I take supplements to increase vitamins and minerals where deficient. I experienced minimal side effects from chemo, no nausea or vomiting, some fatigue and bone pain toward the end but all very manageable. I believe the physical benefits I experienced were a direct result of my dedication to yoga. I lost 15 pounds, gained muscle strength, energy and mental toughness that I had no idea was even possible given my circumstances. This was not by chance and not something my medical team prescribed, so don’t leave your health and well-being solely in the hands of medical professionals. We are more in control of our healing than we give ourselves credit. I am more in tune with how my body feels than I have ever been. The mind-body connection is key to healing and preventing a recurrence.
Cancer is a beatable, treatable, survivable disease. Self-awareness is the first step. According to the National Institute of Cancer Research, 40 percent of all cancer can be prevented. Take action and live a healthy lifestyle, and remember cancer can happen to anyone at any time. WE are survivors the day we are diagnosed. Cancer is not a death sentence, it’s a second chance to live your best life ever.
Lastly, I am grateful for The Hot Room, the compassionate instructors, and other members of The Hot Room community who have all been my tribe of warriors throughout a difficult season in my life, and my daughter for the invitation to try something new. Together we are making a difference in the lives of others by showing up on our mat each and every day.