Thanks to all who came out to support The Retreat Project and Yoga 4 Cancer on Sunday, November 24! Together, we raised over $2,700 to help support FREE y4c classes for survivors in need in 2014!
SPECIAL THANKS to Elena Brower and Vita Coco Coconut Water
What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?
When my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer I’d been practicing yoga for a few years. Teaching yoga was not in my plans. I traveled back and forth between New York, Minneapolis and Utah to be with her during surgeries and chemotherapy. I found wonderful teachers wherever I practiced and yoga gave me the energy and strength to survive the challenges of juggling caregiving, work, and family. My mom wanted to practice yoga, too and we searched for classes that would address the side effects she experienced from her treatments and the pain and anxiety that she was feeling but this was fifteen years ago and we did not find a class, video, or book that she found helpful. A month after mom died I began a yoga certification program and began teaching the next year. So it was my mom and her experience with cancer that inspired me to teach yoga, as well as the creative, intelligent and compassionate teachers I met who supported and inspired me during this difficult time. Two years after my mom died I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I started exploring how yoga could help me recover as soon as I woke up after surgery. As I lay in my hospital bed I began gentle breathing and moving my hands and feet with my breath, then my arms and shoulders. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was moving lymph! I was on chemo for four months and experimented on myself ways to use yoga to heal and reduce painful side effects as I continued to teach.
My experience with cancer, my mom’s and my own- convinced me that I could help reduce the pain and distress of surgeries and cancer treatments and I began to offer one on one yoga sessions. I see the people I work with respond in hugely different ways, but my commitment in teaching yoga is to offer what my mom wanted but could not find: a practice that addresses the side effects and discomfort of cancer treatments and offers a different kind of healing than traditional medicine.
What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?
Tari’s training. Before I completed the Y4C training I did not want to teach classes for people who have cancer. My private practice was thriving and I didn’t know how I would bring the skills that I had developed over ten years of teaching one-on-one to a classroom situation. After the training it clicked.
I understood how to structure a class and how to modify poses. I learned about breast reconstruction and many things about the science of cancer that I did not know before taking the Y4C training. I contacted the owners of Indian Rock Yoga in Suffern, NY and asked if they were still interested in offering classes for survivors and Cindy, Pauline, and Laura said, “Absolutely!” and we are offering classes beginning in January.
What have you enjoyed most about working with the y4c New York students?
I am struck by their intelligence, commitment, and kindness. We come together from different backgrounds, we have vastly different cares and concerns, and for and hour and a half we put our differences aside and share the same space. No matter how they may feel-grumpy, cheerful, anxious or just relieved to be in class-there is an atmosphere of respect and openness that inspires me.
How do you bring your own teaching elements into the classroom?
Ten years of teaching restorative yoga has enriched my teaching and my life in so many ways. Judith Lasater taught me how to build a pose so that it meets the needs of each person comfortably and effectively. I have learned that skillful sequencing can be the difference between a yoga class that is “good enough” and one that has the potential to heal. Being with my mom throughout her surgeries and cancer treatments and then going through the same surgery and chemotherapy myself taught me that until I walk in somebody else’s shoes I can’t truly understand their situation. That experience encouraged me to talk less and listen more and never forget the power of perspective, good humor, and a well constructed restorative pose.
Has y4c training impacted you in any unexpected ways?
It’s given me even more confidence in the power of yoga to heal. I am convinced that we have only begun to tap into yoga’s effects on our bodies and minds. I am invigorated by Tari’s teaching and training and look forward to exciting discoveries about how we can live with less pain and more ease no matter how difficult our individual circumstances might be.
What is your favorite pose and why?
Reclining bound angle, in my experience, never fails to deliver. There are so many possible variations-from minimal props to the full “Cadillac Version.”
Students have told me that they feel deeply protected in this pose. This pose opens the belly, throat, shoulders and heart area-areas we tend to protect. It refreshes and relaxes the body and mind and is the perfect pose to do if I feel nauseous, anxious, and depleted. Especially good before and after cat scans.
A letter to all physicians from Barb Bordwell, member of the Facebook group “Flat & Fabulous”, regarding breast reconstruction (or lack thereof) and patient decision making.
I am a member of a Facebook Closed Group of the same name that has now grown to over 360 members. Some who chose no reconstruction from the beginning, some with failed reconstructions who have deconstructed, some with medical conditions that make reconstruction too risky or impossible, and some who are still at the front end of their journey and considering all of their options. Our members include the whole range from those who wear breast forms sometimes, always or never. And even some among our midst, who with our blessings and full support, will one day change their minds and go on to have reconstruction.
I sense that you and many of your surgical colleagues care about women who have had mastectomy or facing it whether from breast cancer or the threat of it. Yet as I hear the stories and see the photos repeated over and over, it becomes immediately apparent there is a huge disconnect between patient expectations and the reality of the actual results, whether from initial mastectomy or from deconstruction. At the very same time, there are a small percentage of stellar examples so we know it can be done. What we do not understand is why stellar is not the norm and what we too often see is not the exception.
For the vast majority of us who choose mastectomy without reconstruction, our expectation is smooth, flat, fairly symmetrical scars and a chest that is not unlike a prepubescent child with scars and no nipples. That is the typical patient expectation. We accepted that as the expected reality when we made the decision. Instead, what too many are alarmed to discover upon waking is that they have been left with large pendulous pockets of extra skin, dog ears, scars that wander all over the place, and looking at times as if a summer sausage was encased under the skin and then the adjacent area sucked down to the chest. They are then told they can “easily” have it fixed in a year or so. Excuse me?!? Even an episode of the Doctors that I saw online left the impression that a woman’s only options are frankly a mess or full on reconstruction. I am here to say that is a flat out lie, I know it, you know it and they know it.
Often among the many reasons we chose no reconstruction was to prevent the need for any further medically unnecessary surgeries or procedures to the highest degree possible. We are asking for a Breast Surgeon to give us their very best and something we can live with.
With Pinktober upon us, my reason for writing to you is to hopefully open a discussion between the Breast and Plastic Surgeons who care for us and the patients. I imagine some will say their patients do not typically come screaming in over the extra skin. Probably not. After all, the reason they chose no reconstruction was to avoid additional surgery. Even if they complain, what can you offer them but …more surgery. They then are faced with the very thing they did their utmost to avoid or suck it up and try to live with it. There is this too often heard remark from surgeons “…I left the extra skin in case you ever change your mind about reconstruction.” News flash to those in the medical field: your question should be “What if she does NOT change her mind?” and the answer to that question should NOT entail additional surgery to achieve.
The following is what I and some of my sisters in scars discuss that we would like to see:
1. No reconstruction and/or Flat & Fabulous are offered equally with all of the reconstruction options. For the most part, we are grown women who are perfectly capable of deciding what is best for ourselves and our families. We are the ones who have to get up every day and look in the mirror and therefore it should be up to us to make the fully informed decisions. It is time for shaming and bullying of patients by doctors and other professionals to stop.
2. That Flat & Fabulous will just be seen as normal. I live that reality. Sounds like the bra burning of the 1960’s but in fact most people we pass in daily life rarely notice and even more unlikely to care if they do notice. If we suddenly had big ones, people would notice, but small or flat – not so much.
3. That the surgical outcome expectations for those choosing no reconstruction will be ever better. There are a few among you who need to be brought up to acceptable standards or weeded out, perhaps a couple I would be tempted to send to prison. Strange as it might sound, I know a few veterinarians who are so accomplished, I wish they were working in human medicine.
4. To understand there is more to the discussion leading to decisions than just longevity. If one chooses no reconstruction, for many (not all) symmetry and balance are of utmost importance and therefore justify a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Not everything can be boiled down to simply what is medically necessary. In the same vein, a patient comparing her life with the choice of lumpectomy with radiation and hyper-surveillance, against her life with mastectomy, may choose mastectomy as the lesser thing in the long run. Granted her length of life may be equivalent but she may see her quality of life between the two as very different. I compared the two and chose the bilateral mx including the contralateral prophylactic. Have never once questioned whether I made the right decisions for me. Each one of us needs to search her heart and make the right decisions for her and statistics are just not the whole story.
5. To the Plastics, a gentle reminder that we are living breathing human beings and not just simply living canvases for your artwork. Why do so many of you refuse to do revisions to simply remove all the extra tissue left from the original surgery in order to give us what we expected on the first go round which was as smooth, flat and as aesthetically pleasing as possible? BEFORE you try to even dare to suggest reconstruction, can you truly say that it would be equal or less in time on the table, recovery, additional procedures and costs over her lifetime, as a simple one time revision? Until we conjure up Samantha to twitch her nose, we all know the answer to that question is a resounding NO.
This is an opportunity for you and your colleagues, whether breast or plastic, to bridge the disconnect between our expectations as patients and the typical surgical outcomes. We have large circles out there and sadly every day brings more women coming behind us. I think we can likely agree that a well-informed patient with realistic expectations is a plus and that is the main reason that I am reaching out to you and your colleagues. Pinktober seems the ideal time to bring it up and right now today are women, both in the Flat & Fab group and outside it, who are gathering all the information to make their own difficult decisions. I would love to hear from you all. If you would like photos, I am sure they could be provided. All the way from what we think is ideal, to acceptable, to completely unacceptable.
P.S. Did you notice that I did not once suggest what any patient “should” do? That is for them and only them to decide.
by Tari Prinster
Having correct posture not only makes us look younger, but it keeps us healthy. When we slump, we change the shape of our spine and restrict a number of body systems. This causes us to look and feel unhealthy. Bad posture limits and crowds the space necessary for our lungs, stomach, intestines, and even the heart to function well. With good posture, there is adequate space for all the organs to live and work well together. This aids detoxification of the body.
Yoga teaches us how to correctly align our posture in every pose and movement. We also learn how to use the breath to facilitate and maximize the strength of our spine, and the remainder of our skeletal-muscular system. Developing back strength for correct posture is especially important to breast cancer survivors because breast surgeries and reconstruction can cause many life-long side effects.
By Tari Prinster
Cancer treatments usually create inflexibility, as some cancer surgeries and radiation therapies create scar tissue around muscles. The scaring makes them stiff and painful to move. Other treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapy create stiffness in the joints, which decrease the body’s ability to bend and limit the muscles and bones’ ability to work together efficiently.
A yoga practice will help achieve the goal of exploring your range of motion, and give guidelines that will help you through various stages of flexibility using restorative poses and gravity to increase flexibility. Gradually, you will not only become more flexible but will go about your daily life activities with less pain.
Over the past year, we have featured Tari in various poses around the world on Facebook. They have been super popular and amusing (for both viewers and photographers). So we thought it would be fun to share our favorites here.
Today’s pose is just outside the y4c Offices in New York City.
Where should her next photo be taken?