The following blog post was written by Alysa Cummings, who will facilitate “Writing the Journey,” the upcoming Living Beyond Breast Cancer workshop for women affected by breast cancer. This six-part series, designed to teach women how to express and document their thoughts and feelings about their experience with breast cancer, will be hosted at the Cherry Hill Library every other Tuesday evening from March 13 through May 22. As a special reminder, LBBC will also celebrate the 10th Anniversary of its signature education and fundraising event, Yoga on the Steps, on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Registration for both the writing series and Yoga on the Steps is now open.
Sometimes a day goes by, my cancer survivor buddy Lydia says wistfully, a whole day and I don’t think about it once. Not once! I can almost forget I had cancer, you know what I mean? And she says those words with this incredulous expression on her face, shaking her head from side to side as if to say, can you believe it? can you imagine? is such a thing actually possible?
I don’t know if in fact I do know what she means. But I listen and try on that feeling for size, to see how it fits.
Hours later I am sitting on my yoga mat, legs criss-crossed under me, listening to the teacher direct the class from the front of the room. She models our next posture – a seated twist – while she speaks the directions aloud to us in her gentle voice:…lift both your arms to the side…take a deep breath…extend from the waist…as you exhale, reach with your right arm for your left knee, twist at the waist and look over your left shoulder.
I listen to the George Winston piano CD playing in the background. I breathe deeply. I direct my cancer-treated, middle-aged body to move. At that moment, the yoga teacher adds a postscript to her directions. What I refer to as the Yoga Blessing: if it’s available to you, she says. Words that in my humble opinion ought to be part of life outside the yoga studio, part of life “off the mat” if you will: The Yoga Blessing is a caveat that encourages practice, while at the same time discourages competition and comparison with others. If it’s available to you…I love it! Ultimately this is a caution against performing at a level that you may not be ready for. Not now. Not yet.
That’s the moment when I feel a sharp stabbing pain in the area below my right shoulder blade – the place where a muscle was removed by a plastic surgeon ten years ago to reconstruct my right breast. My gasp must be audible because the yoga teacher immediately looks in my direction and asks calmly, are you okay? Pain during yoga class is not okay. Listen to your body.
Good advice. I hear my body’s protest loud and clear and move tentatively into the child’s pose, head down, face to the mat. I surrender to the pain that has turned into a spasm across my back and breathe into it while soothing music continues to play in the background.
As I wait for the pain to subside, I play back in my head my friend’s comments from earlier in the day (I can almost forget I had cancer), and hear a voice in my head say, that’s just not available to you yet.
But what a lovely thought….
Alysa Cummings is a breast cancer survivor, certified poetry therapist and founder of Pink Ribbon Poetry support group focusing on the power of writing to heal. She regularly publishes poetry therapy projects on the Oncolink website where she has been named Poet-in-Residence.
Ms. Cummings reviews cancer-themed books and media for Oncolink and has started two Oncolink blogs: Greetings from CancerLand and CancerLand Bookshelf. Her writing has appeared in MAMM magazine, in Barbara Delinsky’s book Uplift and most recently as a chapter in the book Writing Away the Demons.
In 2008 the National Association of Poetry Therapy gave Ms. Cummings their Public Service Award for her work with breast cancer survivors. She regularly volunteers for Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice and The Center for Grief.