In Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness, Women, Friendship

In light of the feeling of division in the world, I’ve been wanting to share stories of people in the community. When we share stories, I believe, we realize our shared story is greater than any division. My hope has been that by using this platform to engage in vulnerable and often difficult conversations, I might help plant seeds of union–all that yoga is, after all. In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am kicking off these conversations with the story of a woman who’s been very special to me.

I met Adrienne Steuer when we were both on the precipice of becoming new mothers. She was energetic, endlessly approachable, and one of the most hospitable people I’d ever met. Thirteen years later, my relationship with her has deepened in ways I could not have imagined. She has been a friend, a student, a sister–and she is a woman who has had parts of her burned to ash by breast cancer.

I didn’t grow up with a large cadre of women friends. In fact, if grade school was to be any indication, most women friends weren’t to be trusted. I had to grow into allowing myself to be vulnerable enough and becoming strong enough, to embrace a group of women into my heart. Now I can’t imagine doing life without the women, the fellow mothers, teachers, confidantes, I’ve been graced with. I have learned that I can fall in love with my friends again and again, even when the friendship has been burned to what seems like ash. Ash truly is the starting point for so much beauty. I have also learned that these women I love can be made new from ash. They just keep rising–and with each rising, though I’d never thought it possible, they are even more lovely than they were before.

Adrienne’s Story: Life is Uncertain – find peace with that….

I am a fellow yogi, I am a mother, a wife, a friend and have battled breast cancer. I didn’t want to identify with the last one, or have anyone label me with it. In part, I wanted to protect my family and be brave for everyone. Until recently.

October is a time to shed, like the leaves falling. October also stirs many emotions for me. It is the month my oldest daughter was born. She turns 12 this year and she is lovely. It is also the month I found a lump in my breast, and, last October, was the month I had my last surgery. Now, this October, my oncologist asked that I get a CT scan because of a concern in my blood work. Again, it’s October, and I face a surprise, a shock.

My life is “back to normal,” mostly. My body physically is different and I worry more, but my girls and husband, we do our life as the normal we always knew and that I am so grateful for. I find this new surprise and request from my doctor feeling so unfair and many emotions come forward: anger, sadness, and fear. When I was going through surgeries, chemo, and radiation, I powered through to get on the other side and back to “my normal.” I tried not to think about it or identify with it. I tried to stay positive and grateful. Finally, I felt like the scary cancer was behind me and not coming back! Then, suddenly, I am reminded and all my fearful emotions come back.

I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer February 2016 at 36 years old.  Even knowing that my paternal grandmother, aunt, great uncle and second cousin all experienced this in their past and survived, I did not think at 36 years old, with three young daughters (8, 5 and not even  one year old), that I’d be diagnosed with cancer.  I was healthy in every way I felt I could be.  I completed the 200 Yoga Teacher Training just two years prior.  I was committed to taking care of myself.   I did not even have a general doctor because I didn’t have any major reasons that would send me to a doctor.  I saw midwives for my pregnancies and all were healthy and well.

I found the lump in my breast that previous October because my youngest daughter was refusing to breastfeed on the one breast.  I went to the doctor who then dismissed it because “I was healthy” and nursing a baby makes it hard to even feel the lump.  Intuitively, I felt something was wrong and asked for an ultra sound, but was told again that mostly likely it was not a concern.  Finally, I went to a different doctor only to find out it was breast cancer.  I do think having a yoga practice gave me a better understanding of my own body and the ability to trust my intuition.  Also, if it hadn’t been for my nursing baby I might have missed this natural sign of concern.

The team of doctors I had after diagnosis were wonderful.   I am very grateful for them.  I had a mastectomy, 3 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation, and multiple surgeries.  The entire experience seems long ago; however, every day, I find moments of gratitude for my life in a way I didn’t experience before cancer.  I don’t want it to be a part of me, but it is.  In my yoga practice, I am reminded physically of my limitations now; this has given me deeper insight to be kinder to myself.  Having a young family and being young myself made my experience with breast cancer very scary, humbling, and made me oh so vulnerable.

With the recent request from my doctor for a CT Scan, I decided I needed to sit with these emotions and reflect.  Why was I so shaken this time about a screening that could possibly be nothing or prevent something?  I didn’t need to push away my experience with breast cancer; maybe, instead, I needed to let that experience be part of who I am today.  I won’t be labeled by it, but I do know it has changed me.   I have to practice every day to live in the moment and look for gratitude in all my wonderful life is giving me, every day.  This is good change.  These are the things that came from being surprised and woken to the now.  I don’t know what the outcome of the test will be, but I do know now is good.  I do know life is uncertain, but there is so much to be grateful for.  Brother David Steindl-Rast said, “”Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise”.  Experiencing breast cancer for me was a surprise–a surprise I wish for no one and hopefully not for my daughters.  However, now that the ashes have settled and I see my life with incredible gratitude.  I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, nor does anyone, but today is wonderful.

I want to thank Christa Mastrangelo- Joyce, a very dear friend to me for a long time now.  She was friend before, during, and now through all of my experience with breast cancer.  She, along with my other very dear friends gave supportive words, a listening ear, and care so much for my family.  I wrote this because Christa asked if i wanted to share my story when I shared with her my upset about this recent concern.  She gave me an opportunity to share my story with the beautiful community of Jala.  I hope my sharing allows us all to share more, and to be vulnerable with and kind to each other.