On May 20, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of its signature education and fundraising event, Yoga on the Steps. Leading up to the event, we’ll be sharing the stories of women who have used yoga as part of their overall wellness program after a breast cancer diagnosis. In addition, this September LBBC will release “Yoga and Breast Cancer,” a new title in our expanding library of “Understanding Breast Cancer” guides. Today, we’re introducing you to Amy Annis. Amy has taught yoga while raising a small army, understanding that her practice not only gave her balance in a hectic life but also spoke to her children about the connection of a healthy mind and body.
I had just turned 40 when I received the diagnosis and like every survivor will tell you it was the proverbial rug pulled out from under with a nice sock to the stomach feeling. At the time my physical body was very strong. I was a yoga teacher and mother to four who always had lived a health conscious life. Looking back at the pre-cancer Amy, I was about as cocky about my health as I could have been. I scheduled that mammogram because that is what you do when you turn 40; not because I even had an inkling of something awry. I had my appointment at 11:00 that morning and by 5:00 I was sitting next to my husband and sister in the doctor’s office hearing the words “you have cancer.” My sister took copious notes. I wrote down on my paper, “you have cancer”.
Playing those first few days out in my head still feels weird….like I was in zombie-land watching the pieces of my world crumble before me. It was really bad news at first, a golf ball sized tumor in my left breast, invasive lobular, highly likely to have traveled, …how could I have missed it? Cancer was never in the cards for this yoga mamma of four. I didn’t meet even one of the risk factors. And the strangest part of discovering it, was accepting it, because I didn’t feel sick.
But everyone knows cancer doesn’t play fair. And I had it, so that was that. My options were ugly….chemo, surgery, and radiation. All for a woman who doesn’t want to eat canned tomatoes because of the BPA in the lining of the cans. The start of my treatment journey was voluntarily poisoning my system with chemo; knowingly un-doing much of the good I had done my body via healthy eating and yoga all in an effort to rid myself of a batch of rogue cells. I wasn’t courageous; I was scared and mad. There were many days when I had dug my heels into the ground declaring I was going to green juice myself out of this mess only to have my family pull me out of bed kicking and screaming to my next chemo appointment.
Recovery was a huge dilemma. Even after the process of treatment ended, I struggled with the emotional hit. Cancer took away more than my health; it had my hair, breasts, and heart too. On top of that it squarely planted mortality in my face. The foolish pre-cancer Amy had never even considered death…I didn’t ask to lose the safety net of naivety. Looking back at the initial journey, as my body healed; my mind resisted.
I began to immerse myself in yoga more than ever before. I would drive to studios in the twin cities two hours from home a couple of days a week to unroll my mat and learn. This was a major undertaking for a mother of four. I remember telling my husband this was something I needed to do and his response was “I don’t care if you take three months off to practice yoga in India, just get better.”
Ease would return to me in bits and pieces. I would weep in pigeon pose often feeling an emotional release even more powerful than the muscle release. I would imagine my yogic breath was my life source filling in all of the voids and plumping up all of my healthy cells. After hundreds of down dogs I realized that the soreness from the mastectomy wasn’t as bothersome as before. And it finally occurred to me that everything cancer had stripped from me was symbolically unfolding before me every time I unrolled my mat.
With a re-ignited passion for yoga and the discovery of its healing components, as well as a cancer-infused passion to kick start my dreams (one of cancer’s gifts…more on that later) I took some huge risks. Within a year I opened my own yoga studio and launched my yoga retreat business, Madeline Island Yoga Retreats. I began to write for several blogs including the Athleta Chi blog and Crazy, Sexy Life, Kris Carr’s blog. Recently my business was featured in Martha Stewart’s, Whole Living magazine and Minnesota Monthly. Seeing your passion printed on the pages of national and regional magazines literally makes my heart flip in circles.
Ironically, cancer has led me in many directions including the opportunity to write for “Living Beyond Breast Cancer.” The healing component of yoga has inspired me to teach it to a wide spectrum of people from survivors to performance athletes. It has been a springboard to live my best life. I am looking forward the rest of the story as I continue to live beyond cancer myself.
After her bout with “crazy” cancer in 2009, Amy decided to take her dreams to the next level and developed her yoga retreat concept on beautiful Madeline Island, WI. She also found her writing voice and recently launched her own blog. As a yoga mamma, wife, outdoor enthusiast, and dog lover she delights in life a little off balance. Lately, she is very grateful for hair. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.