At 44 years old, I never thought I would get cancer. I never thought I would get it twice. I never thought my yoga practice would save my life.
I knew something was wrong. I felt nauseous, had food cravings, felt as if my hair was falling out— was I pregnant? I went to the doctor to get a blood test and physical examination. I was handed a slip for a mammogram the following week. That weekend, I went for a hike. I felt a lump. I went back to the doctor.
My oncologist said I was “lucky” after being diagnosed with “early detection” aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. Lucky? That I have cancer? The second time I got breast cancer, I heard the words again. I finally got it. Both times, yoga had taught me to be so aware of my body, that I knew something was wrong. The second time I had the voice to speak up and say something was wrong – again. I caught my own breast cancer before it could metastasize to my brain, bones, liver and lungs.
I was healthy and I practiced yoga. I was not immune to cancer. People asked me questions about diet, environment, and personal habits to try to understand why I got cancer. I was told that getting cancer creates a time for change, I began to think…
I am a single mom, love my children, my family, my friends, my work, yoga, sunsets, and dancing. Change what? My body was strong; my mind positive and optimistic. So I sat and thought. How is Alexa? Did I truly have balance? Did I make time for me while juggling everything I did for everyone else? Was I stressed? Did I feel resentment that I did not have time for myself? I bought gifts for myself and traveled to amazing places, but what about me? My spirit? Is this why I got sick? Could I have actually enabled cancer to grow?
I was angry and scared. I spent days researching all the information and tried to argue the idea of chemotherapy. I realized no one was making me do anything. The choice of how to handle my cancer was 100% all mine. Not my family’s, and not my friend’s. I began to feel okay.
I could choose to do what my doctors told me; I could say no to western medicine; anything. I started to feel better than ok. I rekindled that connection with my spirit, took care of myself, and followed what I believed, loved, and wanted. I found love for myself and the cancer that was in me.
I chose chemotherapy. I chose acupuncture. I chose to freeze my head and save my hair. I chose to stop radiation early. I chose to eat sushi and drink beer after my infusions. I chose to continue my yoga practice.
HER2+ breast cancer leaves only 7% of patients in remission. Yoga taught me to just see the cancer as what it was: an imbalance in my body. I let go and remained detached of the outcome and of the statistics. I began my recovery.
After radiation, surgery and chemo, I could not practice they way I used to. I searched and found all different styles of yoga and teachers. Meditation, kundalini, restorative, and more. Yoga teachers always greeted me with love and healing energy. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I stayed in child’s pose, sometimes I did the practice. For that 60 or 90 minutes, I could stop thinking of the endless medical bills piling up (mostly in unopened envelopes), all the scans and tests I had to take. I could stop thinking about insurance problems or the advanced health directive I was always signing.
Today, three years and three months from my first diagnosis, my body is a mess. I cannot feel 100% of the bottoms of both feet, my arms are numb, my forearms lumpy and sore from forty-plus infusions. I’m filled with scar tissue, and I get dizzy all the time. I may never be able to do a handstand on my own. But I am here and I am healing. My work is to maintain my mind, body, and spirit connection. In this balanced connection there will not be a space for cancer to grow.
I am one month past my last infusion, and I know I couldn’t have done it without yoga, and all my yoga teachers.
Thank you to the teachers who helped me build my yoga practice so that I could recognize my illness.
Thank you to those teachers who provided me a space to heal, and who offered support and compassion through my treatment.
Thank you for all the new teachers I’ve met recently as I continue to deepen my practice in every way.
And to those teachers I haven’t met yet—I’m looking forward to it, for many years to come.