I am at the end of 6 months of chemotherapy when I take up Yoga.
Even though I have been to classes on and off, I hadn’t practiced in a while and chemo leaves me feeling extremely weak, exhausted and short of breath.
By then I am also suffering from severe neuralgia and experiencing crippling muscle and joint pain, besides decreased immunity.
For ten weeks, I practice a combination of Yin and Flow Yoga on a daily basis. They help my movement’s fluidity and I note a reduction on chemo’s mialgias and arthralgias.
During the classes, due to severe anaemia I take my time standing up so I will not pass out, but I am finally able to build up muscular mass again.
Yoga’s attention to breathing helps freeing up my intercostal muscles, affected by the mastectomy. It also provides calming and relaxation techniques for the radiation procedures, that can be very stressful.
The meditative aspect of Yin yoga is also key in keeping my mind serene, aligning very much with my mediation practice.
The radiation treatment starts. I go for daily sessions at the Wellington Hospital (weekends off). For over three weeks, the travel in and out of hospital is taxing. It is a psychological respite to know that, aside from the hospital trips, I have daily yoga treats to look forward to.
Radiation increases fibrosis, so the stretches to my arm and chest areas are essential in making me more comfortable as the tightening around my breast implant progresses. Building strength around the shoulder girdle also helps fibrosis management.
Throughout radiotherapy I look after my skin with a combination of arnica oil (Weleda) and a cannabis infused shea butter stick (Coco the acupuncture magician, thank you!).
All goes pretty smoothly until it doesn’t!
First I experience side-effects in my trachea, that is in the radiation field. I have a hard time to swallow and the radiation department offers me no more than liquid analgesia and advice to chew lots and have small sips. By then I am desperate, in pain and panicking. As a last resort I see my trusted G.P.. It is him who decides to put me on a short course of prednisone that literally just about saves me! In an hour from taking it I can feel an increase in the space in my tracheal tube. I breath and swallow better.
On steroids, I practice even more yoga! I understand now what the expression “being on steroids” mean! I struggle to swallow water but practice Yoga twice a day. LOL!
Two weeks after radiotherapy my skin breaks into angry blisters, much like burns, which is extremely painful. I have to pull back from yoga because the skin breaking under my arm and the rubbing make it excruciating. That is when I need antibiotic cream, dressings and more analgesia. I also use a cooling gel and a fatty cream. I have so much gratitude for the district nurses and the health system that provide us with continued care, creams, gels and dressings. I cannot describe how much that improves the discomfort!
I am now almost four weeks after radiation and my blisters start to heal. I am back on the yoga horse full force and I start aerial classes.
I could not be more grateful for having Yoga in my life and I recommend it to anyone undergoing radiation for breast cancer. Radiation is not a walk in the park how some people seem to think. It offers a whole different set of challenges and they can be hard to navigate. I hope the experiences I describe here will help people.