Meet Amy: Healing With Yoga & Horses
I cannot imagine it is easy for anyone to hear the words “you have cancer”, and at the same time I still wonder, one year later, if other people are as completely blindsided by those words as I was that day. I didn’t feel sick, and definitely did not meet the criteria for risk factors on the list the doctor handed me, except for the fact that I was a woman. Looking back, I don’t remember anything else he said because I felt like I was in a tunnel where sounds were muffled. I remember what I wore that day and in my head thinking, I just scheduled that mammogram because I turned 40. It wasn’t supposed to be “off.”
And yet the fact that there was an invasive golf ball-sized tumor in my left breast was my reality. It took days for it to sink in, and even then I kept thinking it was probably a mistake. But the biopsy proved my doctor right, and I braced myself again and again as the bad news continued to come. Finally after two weeks of bad news one good call came. I had “happy nodes” and my doctor used the word “treatable.” At the time I was too exhausted to understand that for a cancer patient that’s the equivalent of winning the lottery.
I began my treatment. It was ugly. During the course of it I was struck by how great I felt when I was unaware of the tumor vs. considering that it might be the treatment plan that killed me. The most difficult part was accepting the fact that I was going to voluntarily poison my body with chemo drugs, after years of healthy living and teaching yoga. I was sick, sore, and my hair fell out. All of it. The hardest part of my year was transitioning from a healthy, spirited mother of four to a sick person who some days didn’t have the strength to get out of bed.
Thank God for my family and friends who swooped in to pick up pieces, because I’m not sure how I would have coped without them. During my darkest moments they would remind me that it was a process, and that I would emerge stronger than ever. I will always believe that it was the ability to look ahead that contributed most to my swift healing.
I finished up chemo, had my mastectomy and then radiation. In the meantime, my peeps walked for The American Cancer Society, ran races in my honor, said prayers and set intentions during their yoga practices with my healing on their mind. Call me crazy, but I felt every wave of it. One of the highlights of my year was becoming the first scholarship recipient for Big Sky Yoga Retreats’ Cowgirls vs. Cancer program. Just the understanding that my light at the end of the tunnel was Montana, horses and yoga was a very powerful healing element.
Finally there this summer, it was the first whiff of a horse barn that immediately brought back my happiest childhood memories. Nothing heals a broken spirit like a day around a beautiful herd of horses. Even before I swung my leg over the saddle I could feel my shoulders settling back and my breath evening out (much like a great yoga practice). So much of the tightness in my body from a year of cancer treatments released. I have felt the powerful emotional healing that takes place as a horse instinctively trusts and allows you to climb onto his back. There is a powerful connection that takes place between horse and rider, as well as an awareness that unfolds of one’s own raw emotions.
Today I am healthy and strong again. My hair has grown back (curly!) and my one year follow up yielded normal (my new favorite word) test results. I had an amazing time in Montana and shed tears at the top of a mountain when I realized I had symbolically finished my own personal climb.
The most incredible part of my cancer journey was that the diagnosis gave me a sense of fearlessness. As soon as I started to feel stronger, I began attending classes to strengthen my knowledge of yoga, will open the doors to my own yoga studio this fall (my dream) and am beginning the process of creating a Yoga Adventure Retreat business on Lake Superior’s beautiful Madeline Island. One year ago I would have told you all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work. I was too busy, not enough time, etc…but truthfully I was limited by fear. So, oddly enough, I now look at my year of cancer as a gift. One that forced me, not so gently, to take my passion for yoga to the next level and inspire others in their practice. Yeehaw and Namaste.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Montana-People.com