Meet Amy: Healing With Yoga & Horses

Amy & Her Sister AnnaI 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.

Practicing at the Cowgirl Yoga Ranch

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

9 Comments
Cindy

October 03, 2010 at 5:40 am

I have personally felt healing on the back of a horse. This story, so beautifully written, brought tears to my eyes. God bless this cancer kickin’ cowgirl!

Sheryl

October 03, 2010 at 8:01 pm

The merits of “hippotherapy” are undoubtable to every horsewoman. A calm horse will share his/her calm, no matter where you are. A more spirited horse will reflect back exactly where you are. If you are in your calm, focused place, you will get that from your horse. If your horse is in turmoil, then you are in turmoil. When you find the calm and focus to focus your horse, you will find you are left in your calm, focused place. Once you can communicate with your horse, s/he will show you what it is you need to give yourself. I would wish a good horse to every ill woman in need!

Cathy McGraw

October 04, 2010 at 10:31 am

First I would like to thank you Amy for being my yoga teacher. Two years ago I was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease and went from being a strong healthy woman to a frightened and very weak woman. I understand the power of fear.Today I am learning yoga, my body is growing stronger and my heart is more open. I feel so lucky to have such a good teacher through the YMCA. Thank you

Meggan Kramer

October 04, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Amy has introduced me to yoga AND reintroduced me to our friendship!!!! I too, was very emotional while reading Amy’s words. Until recently, I had the finest memories of Amy as my best friend in high school. Regretfully, I have not been very good about keeping in touch. However, several weeks ago, she shared her passion with me on Madeline Island. Amy instructed a small group of us outdoors. Lake Superior was our focus point! Unfortunately there were no horses, but the waves rolling in sounded similar to a steady, strong, gallop. I have a new memory of my friend Amy. The love and energy she has for life and living is contagious. Amy, your beautiful!

Serenity

October 05, 2010 at 11:51 am

I had a mammogram for an abnormal lump three years ago, at age 30. All tests came back normal, but those couple days waiting for the test results were very trying. I had to come to terms with the possibility of facing the journey you have recounted. Thank you for sharing your story.

After my test results came back normal, I recommitted to removing all risks from my body for breat cancer (I carried weight around my middle). It was a wakeup call to remember to make it count (this life, this time), because we don’t know how long we may have. To cherish and savor, sweat and strive.

Thank you for sharing your journey- what courage~ what focus! I am sure you maintain that you are ‘only’ human, but it is so encouraging to see someone in a pivotal and life-threatening position, and handle it with grace, and use it to remind the rest of us of what really matters.

Larry Stanley

October 05, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Hey Margaret and the lovely and strong Amy! Amy, I am in awe of your strength and kindness. Thank you for sharing a little piece of your story with me. I am honored to photograph people like you. It moves me. You are an inspiration to me. Namaste! and may great blessings shine in your life.

Mary DeLaney

October 06, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Amy, what an amazing journey you have been taking and now are realizing your dream! I love when you say you say that the diagnosis gave you a “sense of fearlessness.” I am also on a journey to recover, from a bad ski accident, and I too, feel that same sense. I refuse to be beaten down by this. Thanks so much for your contribution to the Chi Blog!! You are a inspiration to all!

Bailey

October 12, 2010 at 10:31 am

Amy, I just have to say thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of yoga with me. I was new to yoga before I started coming to your class, and it has honestly changed my life. I rarely take time out for myself now-a-days with my two little ones running around, and I feel like yoga can give me time for me. You are an inspiration. Thank you again.

Patricia Wickman

November 01, 2010 at 7:46 am

Dear Amy,

Joe sent this link to me about a month ago and today I found a little sliver of grounded time so I could read this. I am so happy that I did. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is amazing! I had no idea that your business is emerging out of such scary adversity. You inspire me! I identify with that feeling of being healed by horses and mountains. I grew up in Colorado so I know exactly the smell you are talking about. Many blessings and thanks again for sharing this story.

Love,
Patricia

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