In this post for our Wellness Weekend series, The Whole You, Ayanna Kalasunas writes about how meditation and yoga helped her after she learned she had metastatic breast cancer. Understand how cancer impacts you physically, emotionally and spiritually during Wellness Weekend, taking place September 18-20 in Denver, CO.
Let’s face it – hearing “you have cancer” is one of the scariest moments of anyone’s life. A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago on the day I was set to start chemo was downright earth-shattering. I, like many others, asked myself “how the hell am I supposed to handle this?” Having battled depression and anxiety in the past, I was truly concerned about the coping mechanisms I would need. I felt lost, angry, afraid and hopeless.
Then I thought about my mother. She too had been diagnosed metastatic after a stage II battle seven years earlier. She maintained a zest for life and continued to be the life of the party despite various bouts of chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries. She had cancer and I was aware of that but she was so much more than her disease. My now husband once commented about her saying “I honestly forget that she is sick. Not in a bad way…she is just so fun and happy all the time.” Thinking about this reminded me that I could do it, too.
I was also very lucky to have a few close friends that used meditation and yoga as part of their regular routines. Part of their support as caregivers was offering information and resources regarding meditation, mindfulness, acupuncture and other complimentary therapies to my medical treatments, which I continue to pick up along this journey. Each one has grounded me and brought me to a life that is filled with hope, positive thinking and empowerment.
I did not morph into this person overnight. I read a few articles here and there, followed some inspiring people on social media, went to a yoga class with a friend here and there and spent a few Sundays super-souling on my sofa with a cup of coffee. I tried some mediation challenges and apps and slowly have found a sense of power in each of these moments. I learned that I am in fact in complete control. Cancer is in my body so yes, it is real, but I am not my circumstances.
When I do make time for myself to meditate or do yoga, I feel good that I dedicated that time to myself. Whether it is a 20-minute, 40-minute or even a five-to-10 minute break in my day, I make sure to give myself thanks for taking time to care for me. The moments of reflection, inspiration and silence I experience allow me to acknowledge the power, happiness and peace that reside in me. Taking moments to get in touch with these parts of myself keep me going. They give me a sense of spirituality where I can calm my fears, ease my anxiety and make sense of all the craziness that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis.
A few things to remember:
- There’s no right way to do this. Whether you pick one thing or dive into every beautiful spiritual thing out there what is right for you is what is right for you. Looks to others as a support but only hold yourself to your standard. Some days are just too hard and you have to meet yourself where you are.
- You’re human – perfection is not and will never be the name of the game. Do better and be better every day and pat yourself on the back! Do not punish yourself for not being an avid yogi, the perfect spiritual goddess or for missing a day of meditation here and there. It will happen because life just does sometimes and that is ok.
- There are a lot of tools out there to help you if you are interested in introducing any of these things to your life.
- YouTube – It has great meditation and yoga videos, so you can engage in the comforts of your home. You can find meditations from 5-40 minutes long and some yoga videos in case you want to start slow or cannot make it to a class.
- Instagram and Facebook – I follow or like spiritual leaders, local yoga studios and wellness websites for inspiration and reading material. I find anything from the catalyst for my next book purchase to a perfectly timed quote that makes me stop…take a couple deep breathes and hit the reset button on difficult days.
- Check out what’s going on in your city – here in Philly, there are lots of community yoga classes, some free, some donation-based but either type offers you a great way to get up and out in a new setting.
If you’re searching for more information and a community of support, come to Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Wellness Weekend in Denver, CO, from September 18 – 20. Over the course of three days, you can connect with others and share stories, attend Yoga on the Steps and learn other ways to thrive after diagnosis by attending the Annual Fall Conference.
Whatever you do, it’s important that you choose an approach or two that works for you. That’s how I found myself to heal myself.
Ayanna Kalasunas is 35 years old and lives in South Philadelphia with her husband Michael. She’s an LBBC board member and active participant in Yoga on the Steps: Philadelphia.