“Ma’am, I know the doctor wants to see me, but I’m busy. I don’t have time to make it to the doctor’s office again right now. Can we put the appointment out about a month when I’m not in trial?” The receptionist finally had to put my doctor on the phone to tell me, “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this on the phone. Dina, your lump was cancerous,” the doctor said. It sounds silly now, but I asked, “What? You mean like I have to do chemotherapy kind of cancer?”
Just like that, everything I knew fell apart. My seemingly controlled life was not so controlled after all. My perspective, and my life, had to change. But how?
My name is Dina, I am 32 years old, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer about two years ago. I lived with a lump in my breast for years, but I had it checked regularly to see if it was anything I should worry about. “It’s just a water pocket,” doctors told me. When it felt like more than water to me, I had it biopsied. “The biopsy came out normal,” the doctor said. One year later, I decided to have a surgery to rid myself of the lump once and for all. I was sure it was nothing, so I was shocked when the doctor told me it was cancerous.
I went home from work the day my doctor told me I had cancer, and read every online article that mentioned Kylie Minogue, Christina Applegate, Sheryl Crow and any other person who had a story about breast cancer. Reading articles about real people living with or defeating breast cancer empowered me. I could use cancer as an opportunity to change my life.
For the five years prior to discovering I had breast cancer, I put my body and mind through the grinder. I finished three years of law school and went immediately into a career I loved but one that did not give me time to breath let alone eat right or exercise. I was determined to make a change.
My life was now about making time for me and doing the things that were important to my well-being. The most difficult challenge I faced was relying on others for help. Friends took me to doctor appointments, sat with me through chemotherapy, went for walks with me and introduced me to yoga. Walking and yoga were the only means of exercise that I could bear after chemotherapy weakened my body. Yoga was one of the most unexpected gifts I could have received.
Prior to actually doing yoga, I associated yoga with flaky people who are almost artificially happy. But, I thought, “Why not?” If I was going to have a major life change, why not try something that made me uncomfortable? So I did it. And I loved it! It could be hard, but I took rest on my mat when the drugs in my system told me I needed to take rest. And over the past two years I have become stronger both physically and mentally. Starting to do yoga was one of the most life changing things I could have done.
But it did not stop there. I wanted to keep cancer at bay once I completed my chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I started weeding out the macaroni & cheese and microwaveable meals in my refrigerator and replacing them with healthy foods. This is still a challenge for me, but I always remind myself that I could revert to my old ways if I don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle. I bought cookbooks that catered to people with cancer. Most importantly, I prioritized my life. Instead of working all the time, I made time for exercise, cooking and, most importantly, friends.
I am grateful for the opportunity to change my life. And I am thankful that I have the opportunity to share my experience with others by volunteering to teach yoga to cancer patients in my area. Having cancer helps me appreciate the moment. I may not always succeed, but I try – moment to moment. That’s all anyone can do.