A friend of mine, who has been through breast cancer, said, “One way not to get cancer again, is to do everything differently”. I didn’t immediately take this on board because I had mixed feelings about the idea. On some level it implied that something I did caused the cancer and I don’t feel that I was, any more than other people, involved in any particular high-risk cancer causing behaviour. On the other hand I couldn’t help but think of all the people who have gone on to do amazing things after their diagnosis. I quite fancy doing something amazing so perhaps ‘doing everything differently,’ would be a guide.
I knew I wanted to help other people going through cancer. I had ideas about teaching yoga and getting trained in massage with a focus on treating cancer patients.
It was November, I was just about to have surgery and I still had the effects of chemo-induced stiffness. If I sat in a position for more than I few minutes my muscles and joints would freeze. I’d be in terrible pain just by standing up, even worse than that was my ungainly staggering which made me look like I was doing an impression of Frankenstein. It was hard to imagine this weakened version of myself riddled with aches and pains and lacking confidence being able to help anyone else. Although I could see the glimmer of light at the end of my cancer treatment tunnel and although I could see a shadow of hair return to the top of my head, it was hard just to get through a normal day. I could barely do an eighth of what I used to do, it felt overwhelming to be struggling for normality let alone figuring out how to make it all different.
I started small. I changed the colours in my bedroom from cozy orange and brown to be fresher and lighter with white and lime green. I took a belly dancing class, went to my first kirtan (like a yoga revival) and deliberately took my friends out for a night of silly dancing. We went to a dive bar where 80’s clothes never went out of fashion and aging rockers still rocked their skintight snakeskin pants. I decided to rock flat comfy shoes, legging-like yoga pants, my Sinead O Connor hair, hot flushes and my extra 13 pounds of puffiness. Instead of hiding in my house I decided to rock hanging out with my friends and being able to appreciate what great fun they are.
I still went to yoga classes even though my balance was awful in tree pose, my muscles seized up in hip openers and my chatarunga became a belly flop.
I wanted to be teaching yoga to cancer patients not struggling through the basics. I wanted to be doing something life changing with my time out of work not going to doctors visits and struggling to do my laundry. I wanted to look cute and confident not flushed and fat.
I wanted to things differently but my post chemo life is inherently different. Instead of being goal oriented perhaps being accepting enough to laugh, being humble enough to do an occasional rhythmic wiggle and tenacious enough to keep falling out of tree pose is a different enough perspective, for now. Maybe the most radically different thing I can do is to be ok with my idea of different looking different.