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.

 

 

The Season of Grief, Gratitude & Compassion

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As featured on curetoday.com

The last few years fall has been a season of challenge for me. In 2014 I was recovering from a distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy after my pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor diagnosis. In 2015 I was recovering from a liver resection, months of chemotherapy and a serious case of PTSD. In 2016 I had a surprise surgery due to a bowel obstruction, a complication from my previous abdominal surgeries. And this year, I am undergoing an experimental treatment, but overall, doing well and grateful to not be watching leaves change through a hospital window.

I admit I tiptoed into autumn holding my breath with optimism I would exit without a traumatic event. While there are still a few days of the season left, I, personally have been spared, but others have not been so lucky, creating a new kind of trauma.

Between September and today, there were four people in my circle who died from cancer. They were all young and all women, making their deaths too close to home. One was a young mother I met in a luncheon in New York City who had a very similar case to mine. We exchanged emails regularly and I got scared when the messages stopped coming only to find my fears realized when I logged onto Facebook after a hiatus to see she had passed away. Another was Beth Caldwell, who died from neuroendocrine breast cancer. I only knew her from social media, where she was revered for changing the advocacy game. And most recently, a friend of friend, who died from pancreatic cancer.

Another one of these new angels was a fellow Cure Magazine contributor, Jen Sotham. I also never met her, but enjoyed reading her blog and being Twitter friends. I always thought she sounded pretty cool and someone I’d be friends with in real life even if we both didn’t have cancer. When I read her last blog, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, I could not help but smile and be sad at the same time because she did it – she won. She didn’t die while still living and she didn’t let the disease break her to the point of bitterness. In fact, Jen got to say goodbye, in a pretty cool way.

Unfortunately, cancer wasn’t the only grim reaper to make an appearance this fall. There was a tragic death of a friend of a friend whose family was already grieving a huge loss. Also, my husband came home one day with terrible news of a colleague that passed away, from a massive heart attack leaving a wife and two daughters. He simply left in the morning to go hunting and didn’t come back. I think of both these families and am heartbroken to think they are left replaying last, perhaps mundane, meaningless conversations and without “I love yous” or important words said. It definitely makes me ask, where is the justice?

With each death I lit a candle and sat for a quiet few minutes processing my feelings. Of course there was sadness, but more than anything there was appreciation for my own life and the people close to me. I feel gratitude for still being here, having an excellent quality of life and for the warning cancer gives.

These losses also have me treading into the holiday season with renewed compassion as I encounter angry traffic, tired crowds and over booked schedules. Knowing the chances are high that the person in front of me experienced loss and hardship this year. I find myself pausing, slowing down and truly appreciating, like never before, the intangible gifts of life, family, friends and my fellow-man. My only wish this year is the same realizations for everyone (hopefully without experiencing death and cancer). And may we all take a moment to light a candle for those empty spaces in our life and the lives of others.

For some inspiration, watch the Jen Sotham’s TEDx talk here, which she gave days before passing away:

Check out my other articles on Curetoday.com

Can-Sur-Thrive No. 2

Welcome to a segment in my blog where I’ll share podcasts, books, videos, products, etc. that (I feel) help me not just survive, but thrive along this crazy road called life.

Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story
Feeling sorry for yourself or having a bad day, week month or year? Then you need to watch this documentary (available on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube or Amazon). ‘Charged’ tells the story of Eduardo Garcia who was electrocuted while hiking in 2011. I don’t want to spoil the film, but what the trailer below doesn’t reveal is that while recovering from being electrocuted, he was also diagnosed with cancer. So, yeah, talk about a rough go of it. Instead of wallowing and playing the victim (which no one would’ve blamed him for), he chose to do the opposite and live his best life. After watching this, it made me wanna get up and go do something. I’m also proud to share that he’s a fellow First Descents surfing alumni. And if you’re like me and can’t get enough of Eduardo, listen to him on Lance Armstrong’s Forward podcast here.

Emily McDowell cards and gifts
The perfect gift or card for someone who needs some love, but who rolls their eyes at Shakespearean sonnets, Bible passages or cliche-y-isms. I am putting several stamps of approval on Emily McDowell cards. Here is a sampling of my favorites:

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10 Regrets Too Many People Will Have in 10 Years by Marc Chernoff
I don’t know where I came across this listicle, but I saved it because it was too good not to share. You should definitely read it all, but here are the highlights:

  1. Not spending enough quality time with the right people.
  2. Not expressing your love openly and honestly with those you love.
  3. Basing a significant portion of your self-worth on other people’s opinions of you.
  4. Being too busy impressing others and forgetting about what matters to YOU.
  5. Letting uncertainty paralyse you.
  6. Focusing on failures instead of opportunities.
  7. Holding on too tight to every ideal, and then missing out on real opportunities.
  8. Playing the victim for far too long.
  9. Waiting, over analyzing, and never taking the necessary steps.
  10. Being too busy to appreciate your life.

‘Friends From College’ on Netflix
If laughter is good medicine, then ‘Friends From College’ must be the cure to cancer. It has been so long since I laughed this hard at a TV show. And just when I thought my love of Fred Savage couldn’t possibly be greater than seeing him in ‘The Wonder Years’, Friends From College made him a gay, literary agent. Swoon! There was one episode in particular (No. 5, Party Bus) that reminds me of my friends and I so much that I wondering if one of them is ghost writing the show. Anyway, if you are a 30- or 40-something, I must insist that you watch this show. I’ll wait…

89446bfb227738793bc03c7488a21fac--headspace-app-appsHeadspace App
I seriously struggle with my meditation practice. I know I should do it and that it’s good for me, but still, I always find a way to talk myself out of it. Headspace has given me some consistency. The app gives ten days of ten minute meditations for free and offers a paid upgrade to access packs addressing anxiety, stress, sleep and cancer. You may even want to check with your hospital’s patient services department, support group or a non-profit you support since they may provide a free one year subscription. I got mine through First Descents.

Previous Can-Sur-Thrives:
No. 1
Mitch Albom: The Dying Know the Secrets to a Good Life, Super Soul Podcast
Tony Robbins: Overcome Suffering and Live in a Beautiful State, Super Soul Podcast
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
Soul Analyse
What Really Matters at the End of Life, TED Talk by BJ Miller