Changed but not broken

Yoga in breast cancer recovery

My Mom bought me this beautiful figurine two years ago when I was sick during chemotherapy because she knows I love fairies. If you look closely you can see that one wing has a crack across it at the upper aspect. She apologized that it was broken, but I honestly thought that it was, in fact, perfect for me. I was feeling a little broken at the time; bald, sick, and knowing that I had a bunch of surgery ahead of me that would leave my body scarred and not quite the same. A little like a fairy with a broken wing.
Interestingly, a few months ago I realized that I have a partially “winged” scapula on the right side, which was the side of my cancer. It turns out this is a potential side effect of mastectomy and axillary node dissection, in which a nerve is damaged that controls a muscle called the serratus anterior, connecting the side ribs to the underside of the scapula (or shoulderblade). The result is that the scapula doesn’t move properly, and in some positions it protrudes like a wing off of your back. Some people have significant pain in the shoulder and upper back as a result of the dysfunction of these muscles and the scapula. I am lucky in that mine is not as dramatic as some people’s. And clearly many women have other complications much worse than this.
This serratus anterior paralysis is likely permanent for me, since it is still present nearly 2 years after surgery. But this is just one of many examples of a situation in which yoga has helped me in my recovery. Not only do the asanas themselves help me to strengthen surrounding muscles, so I am as little affected as possible. But the body awareness that we learn from practicing asana makes me much more aware of what is going on in my body so I can do more to try to keep the area in proper alignment. I have been fortunate enough to have very little pain associated with it, and I think that is thanks to yoga. Finally, focus on my favorite of the niyamas (part of the 8 limbs of yoga), santosha, or contentment, helps me to remain content despite all conditions. A deep, and abiding sense of contentment keeps me from feeling frustrated or upset about anything that happened as a result of my cancer treatment. Instead, I feel grateful that I am able to do what I can do, and I find the changes in my body are just a new challenge that gives me different things to focus on in my practice.
With santosha in my heart, I look at my little fairy, and now I think I am not broken at all, but instead just beautifully changed. Thank you, to yoga, for that.

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