Summertime will always put me in a reflective state. It seems to be my season of challenge, transition and transformation after being diagnosed with a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor in 2014.
This time last year, I was deep into my 30-day, 200 hour yoga teacher training “intensive”, which is the most accurate description of the experience. I have never pushed myself more physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. I cried therapeutic tears everyday and was surprised how much unresolved trauma I had stored in my body because of cancer. It was the best gift I have given myself and I graduated the program with so much more than a deeper understanding of the physical practice.
One of the many concepts that resonated with me during the 30 days was the Seven Axioms of Teacher Training. Over the last year, as I’ve continued to ride the rollercoaster of illness, these universal truths have been comforting reminders.
- You’re exactly where you’re suppose to be. This is a hard one to accept when an illness is involved. When I was sick, if someone said this to me, I probably would’ve punched them in the face, but now, I get it. I would give back cancer in a nano-second, but that means I would also have to give back the meaningful friendships I’ve created, the completion of the El Camino de Santiago, yoga teacher training, my career as a writer, my role at the FDA, my thirst for adventure, etcetera. All these wonderful things are a result of cancer. So, am I exactly where I’m suppose to be? Unfortunately and fortunately, yes.
- Fear and pain are life’s greatest teachers. Do I need to say anything more? I have learned so much from illness because it has brought on fear and pain I never realize existed and through that same fear and pain, I have learned how to live and not just exist. Cancer has taught me that I am so very strong, resilient and courageous, a word that makes me roll my eyes. I have been able to do things I never thought I’d be able to do because of cancer. For instance, before cancer I coward at the idea of needles. Now, I could give myself an injection while climbing a mountain at the same time. Cancer has also taught me deep compassion for my fellow humans. Others are often shocked when I tell them how the disease has impacted my life because I look like a normal, healthy, 37-year-old. This is proof we never know what others have going on based on outward appearances and for that, I am kinder to people.
- Laughter and play are the fountains of youth. I find nothing fun about cancer. I often say it is the opposite of fun. But, I think within the non-fun, it is important to keep laughing and retain a childlike sense of play. In moments where it’s too hard to keep things light, call for backup. My husband is a major source of keeping me laughing and has succeed to make me smile in dark moments. When he’s not around, I watch YouTube and am surprised how much time I can spend watching puppy videos.
- Exercise and rest are the keys to vibrant health. We all know this, yet, so many of us ignore it. Before cancer, I exercised like crazy, at the expense of sleep. I believe, sleep deprivation was a contributing factor to my diagnosis. Now, I make sure I get at least eight hours and move my body every day. I wouldn’t describe myself as having vibrant health, but I would say I am more fit that the average person, which has been one of my secrets to managing a chronic illness.
- Touch and intimacy are basic human needs. We’ve all seen the study about babies who do not thrive when they are not touched and cuddled, yet, as we grow older, we assume that need dwindles. If you’re unwell, you should double-up the hugs and love.
- Everything is impermanent. For me, this is the most powerful axiom. It’s context is that everything is temporary. We all walk around with an illusion of control, which is not the case. When you look deeply, you will see that there are no guarantees. Health is temporary. Sickness is temporary. Happiness is temporary. Sadness is temporary. One of the reasons loss of anything is so hard to accept is because we do not expect change. We want our lives to continue on without any uncomfortable interruption. And when the interruption occurs, we are surprised and hurt. Accepting that everything is impermanent has given me great comfort. It has made the natural ups and downs easier to accept. And most important, it has taught me to live each day as if tomorrow is not guaranteed, because it is not.
- Everything is connected. I vividly remember the days and weeks after surgeries and chemotherapy concluded. I felt this euphoric connection to everyone and everything down to the core of my bones. Perhaps it was a high level of relief, trauma or PTSD, but I was so happy to be alive and enthralled with everything. I would go for a walk in my neighborhood and notice the tiniest, most beautiful things I never realized were there. I’d often come home with tears streaming down my face and my husband looking at me as if I’d lost my marbles. Everything seemed magical. While some of the feeling has faded, the memories remain evidence that we are all connected to everyone and everything whether we notice it or not.
Whether you are impacted by cancer, another illness or life challenge, I hope these axioms give you the same pause, solace and perspective they have for me.