By Alexa Shore
At 44 years old, I never thought I would get cancer. I never ever 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 around, I had the voice to speak up and say something was wrong – again. I caught my own breast cancer, twice, 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, and then, why it came back. I wanted to understand too. I was told by one doctor “cancer creates 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 friends’. 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 finally began my recovery.
Throughout radiation, surgeries and a lot of chemotherapy, I could not practice the 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 now almost 48, and it has been one month since 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.
Alexa Shore is a single momma that while going through cancer realized the true gift of yoga. She has been practicing for over 25 years, and credits it with keeping her focused and strong. Alexa can be found online at Guru’d and on twitter at @getgurud.