I’ve decided to give myself a gift. That gift is to see the beautiful woman that I am. Finally.
It’s Pinktober. This time of year, I usually write a blog post about experiencing breast cancer. This year, I feel different. I feel like reflecting on things–three things–that make me… beautiful. Yes, that’s right—BEAU-TI-FUL.
I have a “secret”. It’s a deep knowledge of feelings and emotions, a deep knowledge of human-ness and humanity. That knowledge is part of my fabric. It’s an insatiable desire to discover new worlds—whatever they are—, to reach out to the soul of others and get to understand them. Whether I walk through a Malcom X Festival, groove in a community of hippies or attend an Alcoholic Anonymous speakers meeting, I connect with others. Each time I connect with them as if I could become their best friend, if only we’d have a little more time together.
Cross two cancers, move across the ocean, experience living together, live through a divorce and losses of all kinds, cope with a complete change of career… All this while still believing in love, wanting to build a life together, and… dancing. I go through my ordeals with the willingness to rise above, to keep believing that everything is possible again and again. Hey, you, all the angels that look after me, please help me keep my willingness that way!
“Stay who you are”. Leif Roland, my therapist and gestalt trainer at the time, made that demand to me shortly after I landed in the States, thirteen years ago. Immersed in a new culture, I was paralyzed by what I felt was expected of me—to be polite, smiling and happy, no matter what. His words gave me the permission to be myself. And I have. No matter what.
Doctors, therapists… we’re all “wounded healers” since Greek mythology. I personally relate to those words as I feel both intimately as a wounded person and a healer.
My friend Randy Spiers, an astrologer, was the first to tell me about the idea of the “wounded healer”.
The psychologist Carl C. Jung, who looked into archetypes, came up with the concept of the “wounded healer” to describe a phenomenon that may take place between a physician and his patient, a healer and his client. Jung went back to Greek mythology to find its origin.
Chiron was a god, a centaur, a half-man horse. He was knowledgeable, peaceful and gentle. He was also a revered teacher, known for his skill in medicine. The myth says Chiron was wounded accidentally by Heracles’s poisoned arrow. Chiron didn’t die. Instead, he suffered excruciating pain for the rest of his life. He continued to heal the sickly and the injured until he was given the opportunity to become mortal, and died. It was because of Chiron’s wound that he became known as a legendary healer.
As a cancer survivor and a yoga therapist, I am a wounded healer too.
Five years ago, I started exploring my wound. I was coming out of my second breast cancer. I needed to understand the disease. What was it saying to me? In the process I searched my childhood years. My mother was in a depression that doctors thought they could “cure” with Valium. My father was unavailable, working hard pulling his family out of financial distress. Meanwhile, I was left unseen and unheard.
AnIrrepressible Need To Be Seen
That left a powerful footprint in me. Just like any other human being, I had an irrepressible need to be seen, to be heard. I realized that, in order to be seen, I had developed a strategy–I gave abundantly. I gave to classmates, family, life partners, friends, clients, whomever. I gave to the point of exhaustion, of illness.
That’s how two breast cancers broke into my life, ten years apart. The first one immerged after I put an end to an abusive relationship of ten years.
Then, I crossed the ocean to start anew.
Because I believed—and still do—in a life together, I got married. There again, I was unseen. I had the immense courage to leave the relationship.
I gave up an established career as a corporate journalist to create my own yoga therapy practice. I poured everything that I had learned from my own healing journey into my practice. For once, I felt seen.
The way has been marked with other losses.
Since my first cancer, it’s been a gigantic healing journey. Every step of this voyage has had, and still has, one purpose—to be seen and heard. It’s my commitment, it’s my journey as a human and a healer.
Time to reflect on how the past five years, since my second cancer, have left their footprint in my life. With one big lesson learned—my own needs are as valuable as others’.
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with my second breast cancer. Once again, I was terrified, face to face with my mortality. Thank God, life, the universe or whatever you want to call that higher power, I have been in remission ever since.
This second time, cancer has changed me in a deeper way than the first time. The change didn’t occur in my lifestyle habits. I changed the way I ate, relaxed, exercised, and lived fifteen years ago after my first cancer, and I have maintained these habits ever since. Instead, this recurrence has transformed me at the soul level.
Looking back at these five years, I see a long, devious road of learning something that I have discovered to be crucial to my wellbeing—the immense power of valuing my needs. There is a reason for that. I used to put others’ needs before mine—always. As a matter of fact, to me, cancer people have that common characteristic–they put others’ needs before their own.
Back to my long, devious road.
In 2014, I realized I had helped my husband to fulfill his dream—to buy a house—which had nothing to do with my own—to be seen by the man I loved. We ended up with a house and unable to connect. We divorced. Two years later, I gave up my 25-year career as a corporate journalist. Having a “title” and a good professional status were actually my father’s need, not mine. Then, the time came when I said “no” for the first time to friends who were used to me being present for them and saying “yes” whatever my circumstances. The time also came to say “yes” to more play. I started dancing–a life-long dream–and have brought contra dance, zydeco, salsa and blues into my life since then.
This past year, I have stepped in a new relationship. More than anything, this relationship has tested my ability to value my needs, not only my lover’s. I’m getting there. The next step will—hopefully, maybe–be to find a balance between the two of us.
Several things have been vital to walk this long, devious road, like listening to myself thanks to my own yoga practice, and people who see me and who listen–I mean who really listen like those in my Non-Violent Communication group. Cheers to the next five years.
I asked a question to my students at the end of my weekly 105 min-yoga therapy class, the other day. It was right after the week-end of Easter and Passover.
I’m asking you the same question–What does your resurrection look like after these winter months?
In other words, what are you emerging from? What has changed in you? What have you learned about yourself? What have you left behind? What have you picked up? Who is the new “you”, who are you becoming and how do you feel about this new version of you?
It may be worth to stop everything you do right now, to pause and reflect. At the very least, you’ll become aware of what and how much you have experienced. I bet it’s huge.
A French architect who believes in “sacred architecture”, Pascal Boivin, wrote a text the night of Notre Dame Cathedral’s devastating fire. Here is most of it. Boivin talks about the tragedy as a “redemptive fire”—regardless of our beliefs and faith. Powerful.
“Heart of Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral, the spiritual lighthouse of ‘Ile de France’, is the historic axis of the nation. Our Elders, the master builders, have founded a radiant home on ‘Ile de la Cité’ that has fed the pages of time. The cathedral is a master piece in both the French and European landscape, an energy center which has irrigated Europe’s spirit for almost a thousand years.
Holy, religious places, which are energy centers, speak to the souls of those who are ready to hear them.
A touristic jewel, Notre Dame Cathedral is visited daily by tens of thousands of people. Energy workers of spiritual places recognize that this constant flow of people who are not necessarily drawn to spirituality—which the church was initially designed for—affects the place’s sensitive quality. These great buildings are soundboards that the architects of the Middle Ages have tuned to carry the vibrations of their time’s liturgy. The content has evolved over the centuries, but the power of these energy vessels has remained intact. Few insiders still know how to sail these transmitters-receptors of exchanges between the Earth and the cosmos, between secular life and Spirit’s mysteries (…).
If the cathedral is the stone on which the Catholic Church is built, the Republic of France also made the cathedral hers. The centuries’ legends have penetrated the stone joints, and the People of Paris have hidden their sorrows inside them.
This evening, the sky was set on fire, and the fire reached “the forest”. The sky has spoken.
For the builders, the roof’s slope represents the sky’s root and every angle’s direction puts the building’s proportions into vibration. The cathedral, suddenly beheaded, now seems flattened. All of her antennas, that launched to the stars, collapsed. The woods caught fire, the lead melted, the roofs flared up. The Gargoyles don’t have anything to disgorge anymore, the bare vaults are now left to the uncertainty of very bad weather.
If the burst of perfection allows Notre Dame Cathedral’s stone to resist like that of her sister, the Cathedral of Reims, which held up during the bombing of 1914, the Earth’s flows will find, once more, the path towards the sky and the vessel will spurt again towards the skies.
This fire of Easter offers jointly a spiritual connotation, a symbolic dimension, and a political reach.
On the spiritual level, the forest’s fire, the frame and the spire’s collapse, and the bruises on the monument’s jewels are a metaphor of the Christian martyr. Notre Dame is home to the Christ’s crown of thorn, and some believers will see an echo that bounces through the millennia.
On the symbolic level, the cathedral is the place that welcomes the People and awakens it to a sense of elevation. Unlike the heavy Romanesque vaults often reserved for the inner contemplation of communities of initiates, the stone lace of the gothic naves brings the Light in, the Light that makes us look to the sky. The cathedral is a media, an amplifier of vibrations that stimulates and harmonizes vital rhythms with those of the cosmos.
This redemptive fire robs us, for a long time, of the place of awakening and forces us to draw our own forces together. The fire is here to remind us that the first temple is our body. It tells us that the vibration is in the heart of our cell. It shows us that the Light is the information that gives the breath to our DNA. It is no longer about looking for spirituality elsewhere, in religions, in texts or in sacred places, which is what most people do. Spirit is at the heart of the inner void, the subatomic space, beyond the particles, this interstellar vacuum whose emptiness is the substance of our wholeness.
Finally, the network of cathedrals creates a network of communication parallel to the network of monasteries of different religious orders, especially that of the Cistercians. This network in the European territory has connected the construction of the European civilization beyond the kingdoms and nations. It has woven its values, and carried the power of thought (…).
The emotion and the burst of solidarity that brings the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral reveal the universal aspect of this place full of history. Everyone in Europe relates with this tragedy because everyone carries such a place within, that bears their sorrows, their dramas, their grieves, and also their glories, their celebrations, and their popular jubilation.
The cathedral is a place of reconciliation and peace. The most iconic of them falls apart and all others rise to support and help her rise again.
The fire of action calls for initiatives, solidarity, responsibilities.
The ‘Cathedral Energy’ may be born on this first day of Easter week. The death of the place itself carries the rebirth of a place of life which everyone, as a torchbearer, carries within (…).
May this fire of centuries clean the slag of our stories, and unite beings in sharing their universal common heritage. The Inner Cathedral is the place of a generous and vibrant inner world that recognizes oneself in the other and welcomes their richness.”
Text written originally in French by Pascal Boivin, architect, on April 15, 2019.
NB: This English version is most probably an automated translation (FB). I lightly reviewed it. There is still some “approximate” English. Hopefully, you still got the idea. The text is published in its entirety except for three paragraphs I deleted, I felt they were irrelevant to the US reader.
I cruised a 3-day nationwide conference for psychologists and social workers who help cancer people get better spiritually, emotionally, socially and financially. Yoga therapy fits in.
Last month, a couple therapist talked at the annual conference of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) that was hosted in Atlanta, about how a gay couple addressed cancer. “Go on with your life. Find someone who is not damaged and broken,” said the prostate cancer patient to his partner. The disease brought them together and they ended up getting married.
I registered at the conference as a yoga therapist who is also a two-time cancer survivor. The experience was eye-opening.
I was with 200 psychologists, social workers, nurses and
researchers from around the country who work with cancer people. Their goal is
to answer one question–“How do we help people with cancer?”
I believe I was the only yoga therapist at the conference. “It’s good to be the
first one,” a psychologist from Vermont told me.
I learned that I’m one of 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. I also
learned that a “tsunami of cancer is about to confront us” according to Richard
Wender, MD from the American Cancer Society, mainly due to the aging of the population.
More cancer patients mean more cancer survivors—thanks partly
to progress in medical treatments. Depression, anxiety and fatigue are real and
persistent among survivors. So, wellness matters to them.
Great. That’s where I can help.
Fifteen years ago, medical doctors started inviting psychologists and social workers at the table. Today, these psychologists and social workers want to engage with and bring other healthcare and wellness providers at the table like… yoga therapists.
So they say, anyway.
A presenter’s slide featured this quote tagged on a wall in Jerusalem: “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.”
Well, I have a vision. I visualize Yoga for Renewal classes offered in a cancer wellness center, maybe several centers, as part of a program “to help patients re-engage back into their lives,” as Barbara Jones, Ph.D., MSW, the closing keynote speaker, said. I may have found the right people to talk to.
Lisa Shea, art therapist (left) and Pat Eden, music therapist (center), work for the Psychosocial Oncology Program at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. Lisa and Pat guide the cancer patients who choose to, to make art or sing during their chemo sessions. I asked them what does this change in a patient’s experience. “Everything,” answered Lisa.
Atlanta has one of the best cancer wellness centers in the country. As a survivor, I have attended their classes and been blown away by the patients’ creativity and aliveness.
I found out about the Piedmont Cancer Wellness Center in Atlanta, this past autumn, while I was looking to teach yoga therapy to cancer patients. With that goal in mind, I met the manager, Carolyn Helmer. She suggested that I, as a survivor myself, start by attending classes and workshops to get a vibe of the place, the people who look to the center for support, as well as the healers and the teachers in the support team.
I was a little annoyed by the idea. I was passionate about teaching yoga therapy to anyone affected by cancer. Nevertheless, I wanted nothing else to do with people looking like zombies.
I met people who were dealing or had dealt with breast cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer. You name it.
I also came across something I didn’t expect—aliveness.
I attended soul collage sessions, yoga classes and personal development workshops. We all shared a common experience–The experience of facing or of having faced, at some point in our lives, the effects of a life-threatening disease.
During a lunch break, I talked with Cookie, a woman who had had pancreatic cancer seven years before, now in full remission. I had noticed her witty look and remarks during the class. “If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she told me.
During a workshop on how to cultivate self-care, the counselor asked us to come together in groups of three and brainstorm to write our own quote on self-care. Adele, Elizabeth and I were ecstatic with our quote: “Drop the mask of perfection and replace it with authenticity. Allow the development of creativity and reach for the unknown”.
After the workshop, I left the center and took the elevator to the building’s lobby. Suddenly, I stopped walking. I became aware that people I came across—employees, visitors, etc.–looked dull and drained. A thought came to my mind. I had just spent three hours with a bunch of cancer people who looked more alive than the “healthy” people. I smiled while realizing that, after all, I liked the zombies.
The visual at the top of the page is a card I created during a soul collage session at the center on Jan. 5, 2019. The card is titled “I See You”.
Feeling “good enough” is vital. At least for me. Why? Because over doing or always putting the needs of others before my own has come with a high price.
Piedmont Hospital’s Chapman Cancer Wellness Center provides free wellness and personal development programs for cancer patients and survivors. Last week, the center offered a workshop that spoke to me, “Good Enough: Letting Go of Perfectionism and People-Pleasing”, so I went. It made me reflect on my own—sometimes painful—journey towards feeling “good enough”.
Twelve years ago, I moved from Paris to Atlanta. I was coming out of breast cancer, and I believed that my (new) marriage and a complete change of scenery would make me happier and prevent me from getting sick again.
I was wrong.
In 2014, I got sick with a second bout of cancer.
The ordeal forced me to face something that became clear—I had spent most of my life pleasing others and helping them fulfill their dreams. I was convinced I had to do a lot to be loved, and I was constantly looking for the love and approval of others.
It was time to change, and to start seeing and acknowledging who I was.
Two years later, I did a big step towards feeling “good enough”. I let go of a 25+ year corporate career that was draining me, and I allowed myself to do something I loved—teach yoga therapy.
The workshop at the cancer wellness center, last week, was a new opportunity to check in with myself. What are the areas in my life where I may not feel good enough? How come this is happening? Feeling good enough is my life’s project.
What about you? Do you tend to overdo yourself and please others? If yes, what has motivated you to do that in your life? And what is the cost you are paying to overdo and please others? These are important questions as they may lead you to better physical and emotional well being.
Intuition is a powerful tool, especially when recovering. Listening to my intuition helped me conserve my breast and, ultimately, overcome cancer.
Intuition came into my life when I was diagnosed with my first breast cancer and started practicing yoga therapy, all at the same time, 14 years ago.
That first time I was diagnosed with cancer, my surgeon carried out a breast-conserving surgery. That means he removed part of the breast tissue as opposed to all of the breast (mastectomy).
Yoga therapy helped me navigate the medical treatment and become more in touch with my intuition. It brought down the level of chronic stress, and allowed me to move into more physical and emotional peace, giving me access to clarity about how to move forward in situations of daily life.
Fast forward ten years. I was confronted with a second bout of cancer in the same breast. Here I was in my new surgeon’s office. Without hesitation, he said he could perform a breast-conserving surgery, just like my first surgeon had done a decade earlier. I breathed a sigh of relief. For years, I had struggled with insecurity and not feeling feminine enough and had embarked on an emotional healing journey. So, conserving my breast, no matter how messed up it would look, meant the world to me.
I had a few weeks to get prepared for the procedure.
Two days before going to the hospital, my surgeon called me, trembling, “I forgot about the committee… I had to submit your case to a committee, and they just let me know their decision. They want a mastectomy”.
I found out that French healthcare had recently introduced “cancer committees”. Any doctor who diagnosed a patient with cancer had to submit their patient’s case to a committee. There were–and still are–hundreds of committees all over France. Each committe is made up of a dozen experts, including an oncologist, an MD, a social worker, a radiologist and more. Its mission is to bring experts together to to determine the patient’s needs—most of the time without meeting the person. The idea is to avoid a single doctor to misdiagnose, and, ultimately, to save lives.
In almost all cases, patients go with the committee’s decision.
My surgeon believed the breast-conserving surgery was enough, and that the mastectomy was not a must. He left the decision up to me, “I will support whatever decision you make.”
I was shaking. “I need to feel this out. I’ll give you an answer by tomorrow”.
The next 24 hours were among the most intense of my life. Every cell of my body was telling me to conserve my breast.
The next day, I called my surgeon. “Let’s stick with our first decision. I want you to take out the tumor and leave the healthy tissue alone”.
Two months after my surgery I had my first appointment with the oncologist who was going to walk me through chemo. It was the first time I ever met him. I knew only one thing about him—he was the one who headed “the committee”. When I stepped into his office, he said, “so, it’s YOU”!
When I told him I was a yoga therapist, a strange smile came onto his face. We saw each other every three weeks for eight months. Not only did he know my medical situation, he also knew I was divorcing and losing my father of lung cancer, all at the same time.
Ultimately, I recovered. And here I am four years later—healthy.
I remember what he told me right at the end of my treatment, “Keep doing what you’re doing”. And that’s what I do—I practice and teach yoga therapy, and listen to my intuition.
While a client went through her pregnancy with emotional turmoil, her unborn baby showed physical symptoms. Yoga therapy helped my client resolve her emotions. Shortly after, her baby’s symptoms dissolved. Coincidence?
This time last year, I starting seeing Ronika, a client, during yoga therapy private sessions to support her during her pregnancy that was emotionally challenging.
Four months into the pregnancy, doctors told my client that her baby had five or six cysts on her kidneys.
From that point on, Ronika was considered “at risk”, and went to visit her doctor every week. There was nothing else the doctor could do except wait until Ronika’s baby was at least three months old. The doctor would then check the baby’s kidneys. What would doctors do if the cysts remained? There was no answer to that question at that moment.
When I first heard about the unborn baby’s cysts, I connected the dots between Ronika’s emotions—fear, anger, sadness—and her unborn child’s physical symptoms.
I called a mentor and close friend of mine in Paris to have his point of view. Rodrigue Vilmen is a reflexologist with an exceptional intuition. He immediately saw the cysts as the unborn baby’s reaction to her mother’s fear, and said, “If your client finds peace and is able to welcome her baby with love and serenity at birth, then everything will come back to normal”.
During her private yoga therapy sessions, Ronika became in touch with suppressed emotions and released them. The process helped my client be emotionally and physically prepared to welcome and nurture Raina after she was born.
A month ago, the doctor was finally able to check Raina’s kidneys with ultra-sound for the first time since she came to the world. Raina was five months.
After three unnerving days of waiting, the doctor called my client with the results, “We can’t find any cyst on your baby’s kidneys. They all dissolved”.
“I think you need to write about this story on your blog,” suggested Ronika who calls me her “fairy godmother”.
The mind-body connection is a fact. I’ve known it for a long time. Raina is another living proof of that truth.