Navigating re-entry after cancer as a graceful dance

I listened to a TED talk the other day from a young leukemia survivor, who described the challenges of “re-entry”, or coming back to normal life after surviving a grueling 4 year cancer journey that included tons of inpatient chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. This re-entry phenomenon is the time after active treatment, when we are “done”, and cancer-free, and ready to get back to our lives. Although, as this young cancer survivor described, it is never really quite that simple, and can be very challenging in ways different than active treatment. We don’t just flip and switch and go back to who we were before cancer. We are changed. There are physical changes, mental/emotional changes, changes in our values, changes in how we perceive the world around us, and perhaps even deeply spiritual changes. This young woman was graceful and beautiful, and described the process with honesty and vulnerability.

But as I was listening, I found myself a little perturbed. I am quite a stubborn person (as my poor husband well knows). And there are certain things that I just refused to believe, or accept, during and into my re-entry. So I was thinking to myself, “I don’t buy that. We don’t have to just accept weakness, or limitation, or that there are things we cannot do now because of our cancer history”. But as I was sitting there with my stubbornness, sometimes disguised as strength or resilience…. this quote came to me from BKS Iyengar:

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured”.

And along with the quote, the realization that the re-entry dance lies somewhere in between. In fact, as much as I don’t like to admit it, there may be consequences of cancer treatment that we cannot cure, no matter how stubborn and strong we are. I have a few. But there are certainly also things that we can overcome with a little persistence and effort. So it takes really listening to ourselves and our bodies to learn which are which. And to learn how to slowly and safely overcome the ones that we can (to cure what need not be endured), and to gracefully accept and learn to work with, instead of against, the ones that we can’t (to endure what cannot be cured).

And THIS is some of the magic of yoga. Yoga isn’t just stretching and strengthening our bodies. It does that of course, but it also helps us to dig deeper, diving inward to really get to know and understand ourselves on a deeper level, where we can really find that balance between effort and ease, between the strength to overcome and the equanimity to accept. We are each unique and different in where we lie on that spectrum, and in what we need to achieve that healthy balance. Yoga helps us to really see ourselves and what we truly need, and to then develop those healthier mental and physical habits, that will bring us peace, health, and clarity, to help our re-entry transform us for the better.

So step onto your mat, and let yoga teach you, as Iyengar said, to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured. Use what you learn to find that “new normal” that is better, healthier, and happier than you were before.


(cute cameo in the photo from Howie, our latest rescue)

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