Each week as I prepare to teach the Yoga for People with Cancer class, I seek some inspirational words. I'd decided that we'd visit and revisit Tree pose in all its iterations, from lying to long sitting to static tree to moving tree to a pre-savasana resting tree, each time finding a new kind of balance. This poem, written by Ilan Shamir, really struck a chord with me and so here's playful blog to share with you. As we transition into spring, let's celebrate the catkins on the hazelnuts, the swelling buds on the maples and our own roots and growth!
Advice from a Tree
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of your true nature
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go like leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet renewal of Winter.
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!
Words from people who have or have had cancer…..
Cancer. 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will experience cancer in their lifetime. It is now recognized as a manageable disease. Simply, cancer is one word for many different diseases in which some cells go rogue, just won't quit when they are supposed to, then multiply. Our immune systems are supposed to catch these wild ones.
The following are the pearls of wisdom comes from the people that I've been privileged to meet in my clinic or in our Yoga for People with Cancer class.
1. You've got the power. Listen to your intuition, your mind and your body while making the many big decisions ahead of you. You'll be getting to know and handing over some degree of power to medical professionals and making challenging decisions. Check in with yourself with kindness and gentleness. Seek support from your MIPs (most important people).
2. Recognize that you are still you. Many people describe a loss of identity as they search for one cause, one action/habit/behaviour/situation that is the root cause of "their" cancer. Try thinking of cancer as a mystery….one cell mutated and the immune system didn't catch it. No ownership, no causation. Not your fault.
3. Sit a while. Be aware of your thoughts, ideas and sensations, the good, the bad and the ugly. Ask for what you need and for what you want. Some call this experience "sitting well with discomfort" rather than denying its presence or letting it completely take over. Learn to be aware of how you're coping with cancer, your treatments and how they're affecting you.
4. Give yourself space when all the medical attention is over. This may sound odd, but many people report feeling quite lost when, after far too much intervention, there is suddenly none. No doctor visits, no specialists, no tests, consultations….then what? There is a period of waiting for you and your medical team to see how your body is responding. It can be a scary and lonely time. Talk to those people with whom you can be vulnerable and open or seek an appointment with your GP and/or a counselor.
5. Oh, those comments. "You look great!" "How are you, really?" or avoidance. Many people, from good friends and family to acquaintances, have no idea how to interact with someone with cancer. Some want to reassure or offer their stories, opinions and internet "wisdoms". Those with cancer have said: simply be present, listen, "be normal", have other topics of conversation (besides cancer), go for a walk together, remind us all that there is beauty in life outside of tests, surgery, radiation, chemo and side-effects world!
6. And sometimes, the "side effects" go on, and on, and on…… For some people, cancer doesn't end with the end of treatment. Hormonal or targeted therapies can last 10 years, create sudden onset menopause and give both women and men hot flashes. Retesting can be every 3, 6 or 12 months and be terrifying. Just attending doctors appointments and hospital tests can evoke fear. There may be side-effects from chemo (like peripheral neuropathy), radiation (like scar tissue) and surgery (loss of part of you) that change you for a lifetime. The people around you may assume that you're "done the fight", expecting you to bounce back. They may not recognize your challenges. Describe cancer related fatigue (and how it's different from garden variety "tired") and cancer related cognitive dysfunction ("chemo brain") to those near you. Help them understand your present experiences to help them be more compassionate and understanding. And know that your body is really talented, wants to restore and almost all side-effects reduce in intensity in time.
Here we are in a new decade where cancer is considered a manageable disease. Who knows what brilliant insights we'll have in understanding cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment!
Yoga for People with Cancer classes are held on Mondays at 10:00 at The Yoga Room at 1204 NW Blvd. in Creston. First class is free and come as you are…no special clothes or equipment, no previous experience or fitness level, just you and a sense of humour!
Written by Joanne Gailius, March 2019
Cancer is a diagnosis that none of us wants to hear, yet 33 to 50% of us will experience that moment in a doctor's office……"You have cancer." There are so many advances in oncology (cancer medicine) from diagnosis to treatment yet cancer patients and survivors continue to face unique challenges in their physical and mental health over their lifetime.
A December 2018 "white paper" (a concise report that informs readers about a complex issue) explored the growing literature available to us regarding the effects of yoga on the continuum of cancer care. Medical research has shown that yoga increases strength and flexibility, improves balance and prevents falls, helps maintain a healthy body weight, improves psychological well-being, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels, improves sleep and reduces fatigue, reduces stress, enhances the immune system, reduces inflammation and improves quality of life. We health care providers seek evidence-informed, cost-effective ways in which we can help people to manage the short and long term effects of cancer and its treatments. This paper clearly supports cancer-specific yoga intervention as a supportable part of cancer intervention.
Yoga is a complex, holistic system that includes movement and postures, breathing, restorative and relaxation practices that support physical and mental health. PubMed gathered 435 studies from observational studies to clinical trials regarding yoga as a part of cancer care. The general conclusion is that yoga can help adult cancer patients and survivors manage symptoms and side effects as well as lead longer, healthier lives. A variety of cancers were studied, although the most numerous studies were on breast cancer; they studied people before, during and after treatment. Yoga is not a cure-all, but there is ample evidence that well-planned yoga classes, done consistently and over time, have measurable benefits on healing and long term health.
From all the studies, these are the conclusions regarding yoga for people with cancer:
Yoga comes in many forms and classes vary greatly. Again, from all the studies, these are the conclusions regarding the best options of yoga for people with cancer and cancer survivors:
Creston is a wonderful valley in which to live. We have many opportunities to help us all live our lives well over our lifespan, through our ages and stages. Should you face a cancer diagnosis, please ask for community support. There are support groups, mental and physical health options, home visiting nurses, care aids, PTs and OTs and cancer-specific yoga classes at The Yoga Room in NW Blvd. at the east end of town.