Letting Go & Looking Forward

In March, film maker (and now friend), Rain Bennett traveled to Nashville to spend the day with me. We talked about cancer and a few of the lessons its taught me since my diagnosis in 2014. From our time together, he created this video which is one in a series called Fit to Fight sponsored by Lexicon Pharmaceuticals celebrating the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation’s 50th anniversary. I am so grateful to this organization for all it’s done for me and those impacted by Neuroendocrine Tumors.

And a huge thank you to my yoga teacher, Michelle, who runs the yoga program at Lifetime Athletica in Franklin, TN.  Coincidentally (or not) her yoga practice was born from the same yoga studio as me, in Detroit, The Center for Yoga. The teachings from this specific and unique style have (literally) saved my life.

Check it out:

 

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Back to Spain

Spain will always hold a special place in my heart from my treasured days on the Camino de Santiago in 2012 and 2016. Having spent weeks in the country, it’s unusual that I’m more comfortable following a yellow arrow through the mountains than navigating the streets of Madrid or Barcelona. While the primary purpose of my visit was attending the European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society’s (ENETs) annual conference, this trip wasn’t without fun and yellow arrows.

In December, the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation and the International Neuroendocrine Cancer Alliance invited me to the ENETs meeting in Barcelona. It was quite an honor given the few number of patients invited to this meeting attended by 1,500 medical professionals.

As I was sharing this with one of my best friends, Lara, she told me by pure coincidence she would also be in Spain at the same time for a wedding. So, we coordinated our travel plans to spend some time together.

Lara has been a mainstay in life since she moved across the street from me in 3rd grade. Initially bonding over our love of New Kids on the Block and Beverly Hills 90210, I’m happy to say that our tastes have improved and our friendship has grown into more of a sisterhood. In fact, we were born two days a part. We have seen each other through so many bookmarks and chapters. It’s wonderful to have not just a friend and sister, but someone who has bore witness to your life as we have for each other. Lara is now living in London and while we talk often, it had been over a year since we’ve seen one another.

Her college friend who was getting married, graciously invited me to her wedding.  It  was, hands down, the nicest wedding I’ll ever attend. The Spanish women resembled royalty with their stylish dresses and elaborate hats. The bride was stunning and pulled off a dress that was both modern and timeless. The reception was at the Casino of Madrid, a gorgeous venue containing art, sparkly chandeliers and dramatic staircases. The festivities began at 1pm, but I was contending with cancer and jet lag, so I happily took a taxi home at 11pm while Lara partied until 4am.

After the wedding festivities, we walked around Madrid talking and snapping pictures, followed by laying in bed and snacking to Frankie and Grace on Netflix. Monday morning, we both flew to Barcelona for more of the same. Our trip highlight was going inside Sagrada Familia. It’s difficult to express, but the interior is a dream – the stained glass, the light, the colors, the simple and intricate angles, curves and coves. I don’t say this lightly, but Gaudi was a genius.

After a couple of days running around the city, it was time for Lara to get back to London and the ENETs conference began.

The first day I attended was interesting. Meeting some of the doctors, patients and organizations I’ve only known through the internet was awesome. The downside to the meeting – perhaps it was a bit too much information. Let me share an example. Walking through the exhibit area containing case posters, I crossed a situation similar to mine. Okay, the 34-year-old male was diagnosed, he had this surgery, this treatment, that treatment, was doing well, oh, and then he died. I did the math and based on his path, I died a couple of years ago. So, I was able to talk myself off the ledge, but it was a little disheartening.

However, the second day and the highlight of the conference was meeting a patient I’ve dubbed, my tumor twin. Being a rare case of NETs (1 in 10 million), I’ve never met another person like me and it took travelling to the european continent for it to finally happen. And, I’m happy to report that not only is he alive, 12 years post diagnosis, but very well. He and I ate lunch together where he shared the stops along his path and the lifestyle activities he’s adopted. It meant the world to me and spotlighted the realization that I should focus on the thriving person in front of me rather than poster guy….may he rest in peace.

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Montseratt

Once ENETs ended, I had one last free day on Saturday before flying home on Sunday. Having fulfilled my Barcelona bucket list, I opted to head out of the city to Montseratt, a monastery in the mountains most famous for its black Madonna statue and children’s choir. Another conference attendee joined me and it was a gorgeous and fun day outside the city. I did the math and thanks to my time on the Camino de Santiago, this was my fourth monastery in Spain. In fact, the grounds were riddled with yellow arrows and Camino signs because this is a stop on the Catalan Camino de Santiago.

After a long day in the mountains and the city that night, I was content, spent and grateful for another adventure in Spain.

 

Learning to Breathe

 

fullsizeoutput_1546Carcinoid NETs Health Storylines presents Zebra Tales! This is a brand new feature which will allow you to learn from the experiences of others within the NETs community. For our first Zebra Tale, Stacie Chevrier shares her journey with NETs and how her dedication to yoga has enhanced her own life.

When I walked into my first yoga class in 2007, I was confused. During 60 minutes, the teacher lead students through a long sequence of postures followed by moments of no instruction. I was uncomfortably close to my neighbors and everyone was breathing funny. I can’t remember why I went back, but I did and with diligent practice I learned the physical poses. Little did I know it would become so much more than exercise.

In 2014, I was diagnosed with a metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, the same cancer that killed Steve Jobs. Through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, I continue to use the valuable lessons contained in that one hour yoga class to navigate the disease.

Some instructors start class by telling students to leave their problems at the door, which I find impossible. Yoga has taught me the mental strength to sit with things that are uncomfortable. Sometimes this is a yoga pose, a 45 minute MRI, anxiety, etc.

During my early days of yoga, I often became frustrated by forgetting the long sequence, but eventually realized that was by design. I now understand the teacher’s intention was to empower students to figure out what is best for them on their own. This method taught me to follow my instincts and that I don’t need to follow someone else’s plan because I am in charge of my body.

Another important concept this practice has gifted me is the ability to truly be present. During my practice I become so focused on breathing and the series of poses that I don’t have time to think about cancer, the uncertainty of the future or the traumas of the past. I have been able to translate this while off the yoga mat. When I notice anxiety building, I stop and tell myself, “Right now, in this moment, you’re okay.” Because in the grandest scheme of life, the present moment is all any of us are guaranteed.

Last summer in class, I had an incredible moment of clarity in an uncomfortable core pose, when my teacher said, we hold our issues in our tissues. I realized after years of always avoiding core work, that I didn’t avoid core work because I was weak, but I avoided it because that’s where I hold my stress, emotion and issues. After a lifetime of avoiding this area, it’s no wonder that’s where disease developed.

However, the lesson that has been most valuable to me is that yoga taught me to breathe. Through a one hour class, I take approximately 600 big, intentional, long, strong, cleansing, releasing breaths. Before yoga, I’m not sure I took one deep breath a day. Through my most difficult moments, I remind myself that the only requirement is to breathe. As long as I can accept air in and out of my lungs, I am still here living.

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Photo: Emmy Singer, Inner Light Yoga

I am grateful for the teachers at the Center for Yoga, Inner Light Yoga and Lifepower Yoga who have taught me to breathe through a life with chronic cancer.

 

fullsizeoutput_1545Do you want to share your own experience with NETs? Email: linda@selfcarecatalysts.com

Log into Carcinoid NETs Health Storylines App and click on the Zebra Tales icon or click here to create and access the tool online.

Click here for the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation’s announcement.