The Fig Tree Whisperer

My cousin Giavonni propagates fig trees from parent trees in Italy, and gives young plants to grow to friends and family. One of them has crossed the ocean to Atlanta…

Giovanni Picano, my cousin, has a passion for the fig trees that grow in the rich soil of Cassino, the small town in Southern Italy where he grew up.

Born in the thirties, Giovanni has a rough start. The war makes him an orphan when he’s barely in his teens. He ends up as child labor working on his grandparents’ farm. He’s hungry and ready to climb these trees as soon as the figs are ready!

A decade later, Giovanni immigrates to France for a better life. He’s a builder. With his wife Rosina, who’s also originally from Cassino, he builds a house—the same house where they both live today–just outside of Paris.

For decades, Giovanni regularly visits Cassino. He needs to see those fig trees! (He’s less mobile now and hasn’t been there for a couple of years.) During each of his visits in Cassino, he cuts branches from parent fig trees and brings them back to Paris to grow new trees in his backyard or a friend’s backyard. Today, his big “Cassino” fig trees in his Paris backyard are legendary in the family.

In 2015, after my father passes, Giovanni gives me a sprout of one of his fig trees to bring back to Atlanta. My ex, John, plants it in his garden. The plant in Atlanta that comes from a parent tree in Paris that comes from a grandparent tree in Cassino, becomes a big fig tree!

I am simply ecstatic when John gives me three young plants, last summer, so I can grow them into new trees in my own backyard. One has been in the ground since then, and I’m about to plant the other two in the next few weeks. A little piece of Paris and Cassino are in my home in Atlanta, and you have no idea how good that makes me feel.

Summer ’20. The gorgeous leaves of my fig tree.

“I Need You To Have Faith”

How the healing journey of a wound on my breast has taught me the power of faith.

May 2014. My marriage is going to hell. I am diagnosed with a second breast cancer, and my father receives the diagnosis of a lung cancer the next day. This extreme situation calls for me to move back to Paris where my parents live. All three of us need to be under the same roof.

The breast conserving surgery goes well although the situation turns tricky. Complications bring on an infection in the incision that simply won’t heal. My treatment includes 4.5-months of chemo–a must considering the tumor’s profile—which I am about to start.

An infection. Chemo. Those things usually don’t go well together. I have no other choice than to start chemo and hope the infection heals.

I manage—God knows how—to get rid of the infection at the end of these 4.5 months. What a relief for both my surgeon and I! Another tricky turn comes up though. We’re now in the middle of winter. The incision transforms into a wound which has to heal from the bottom up so that it doesn’t get infected again. This means I need to go to a nurse, every single day, so that they clean the wound and change the dressing, until the wound closes up. How long will this take? No one knows.

Two months later, the wound is still wide open. I go visit my surgeon for one of those frequent check-ups. I feel so discouraged I cannot hide it. “For the wound to heal, I need you to have faith,” says Dr Dulaurans. His words wake me up. They echo what my friend and reflexogist, Rodrigue Vilmen, tells me for months now, “You’re emotionally torn and don’t want to let go of your marriage. The wound is the physical expression of this struggle. Have faith. The wound will heal in the spring when you will feel clarity again.”

That’s exactly what happens. Six months later.

Today, I’m asking you the same thing—Have faith.

I Am Beautiful

Appalachian North Carolina

I’ve decided to give myself a gift. That gift is to see the beautiful woman that I am. Finally.

It’s Pinktober. This time of year, I usually write a blog post about experiencing breast cancer. This year, I feel different. I feel like reflecting on things–three things–that make me… beautiful. Yes, that’s right—BEAU-TI-FUL.

My “secret”

I have a “secret”. It’s a deep knowledge of feelings and emotions, a deep knowledge of human-ness and humanity. That knowledge is part of my fabric. It’s an insatiable desire to discover new worlds—whatever they are—, to reach out to the soul of others and get to understand them. Whether I walk through a Malcom X Festival, groove in a community of hippies or attend an Alcoholic Anonymous speakers meeting, I connect with others. Each time I connect with them as if I could become their best friend, if only we’d have a little more time together.

Rise above

Cross two cancers, move across the ocean, experience living together, live through a divorce and losses of all kinds, cope with a complete change of career… All this while still believing in love, wanting to build a life together, and… dancing. I go through my ordeals with the willingness to rise above, to keep believing that everything is possible again and again. Hey, you, all the angels that look after me, please help me keep my willingness that way!

Authenticity

“Stay who you are”. Leif Roland, my therapist and gestalt trainer at the time, made that demand to me shortly after I landed in the States, thirteen years ago. Immersed in a new culture, I was paralyzed by what I felt was expected of me—to be polite, smiling and happy, no matter what. His words gave me the permission to be myself. And I have. No matter what.

How about you? What makes YOU beautiful?


Related posts:
Pinktober–Intuition Saved My Breast
Pinktober aka The Month Of OVER Giving

The Wounded Healer

Doctors, therapists… we’re all “wounded healers” since Greek mythology. I personally relate to those words as I feel both intimately as a wounded person and a healer.

My friend Randy Spiers, an astrologer, was the first to tell me about the idea of the “wounded healer”.

The psychologist Carl C. Jung, who looked into archetypes, came up with the concept of the “wounded healer” to describe a phenomenon that may take place between a physician and his patient, a healer and his client. Jung went back to Greek mythology to find its origin.

Chiron was a god, a centaur, a half-man horse. He was knowledgeable, peaceful and gentle. He was also a revered teacher, known for his skill in medicine. The myth says Chiron was wounded accidentally by Heracles’s poisoned arrow. Chiron didn’t die. Instead, he suffered excruciating pain for the rest of his life. He continued to heal the sickly and the injured until he was given the opportunity to become mortal, and died. It was because of Chiron’s wound that he became known as a legendary healer.

As a cancer survivor and a yoga therapist, I am a wounded healer too.

Five years ago, I started exploring my wound. I was coming out of my second breast cancer. I needed to understand the disease. What was it saying to me? In the process I searched my childhood years. My mother was in a depression that doctors thought they could “cure” with Valium. My father was unavailable, working hard pulling his family out of financial distress. Meanwhile, I was left unseen and unheard.

An Irrepressible Need To Be Seen

That left a powerful footprint in me. Just like any other human being, I had an irrepressible need to be seen, to be heard. I realized that, in order to be seen, I had developed a strategy–I gave abundantly. I gave to classmates, family, life partners, friends, clients, whomever. I gave to the point of exhaustion, of illness.

That’s how two breast cancers broke into my life, ten years apart. The first one immerged after I put an end to an abusive relationship of ten years.

Then, I crossed the ocean to start anew.

Because I believed—and still do—in a life together, I got married. There again, I was unseen. I had the immense courage to leave the relationship.

I gave up an established career as a corporate journalist to create my own yoga therapy practice. I poured everything that I had learned from my own healing journey into my practice. For once, I felt seen.

The way has been marked with other losses.

Since my first cancer, it’s been a gigantic healing journey. Every step of this voyage has had, and still has, one purpose—to be seen and heard. It’s my commitment, it’s my journey as a human and a healer.

Sources:
The Wounded Healer as Cultural Archetype (Purdue University)
The Wounded Healer: A Jugian Perspective (jungatlanta.com)



The Five-Year Mark

Time to reflect on how the past five years, since my second cancer, have left their footprint in my life. With one big lesson learned—my own needs are as valuable as others’.

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with my second breast cancer. Once again, I was terrified, face to face with my mortality. Thank God, life, the universe or whatever you want to call that higher power, I have been in remission ever since.

This second time, cancer has changed me in a deeper way than the first time. The change didn’t occur in my lifestyle habits. I changed the way I ate, relaxed, exercised, and lived fifteen years ago after my first cancer, and I have maintained these habits ever since. Instead, this recurrence has transformed me at the soul level.

Looking back at these five years, I see a long, devious road of learning something that I have discovered to be crucial to my wellbeing—the immense power of valuing my needs. There is a reason for that. I used to put others’ needs before mine—always. As a matter of fact, to me, cancer people have that common characteristic–they put others’ needs before their own.

Back to my long, devious road.

In 2014, I realized I had helped my husband to fulfill his dream—to buy a house—which had nothing to do with my own—to be seen by the man I loved. We ended up with a house and unable to connect. We divorced. Two years later, I gave up my 25-year career as a corporate journalist. Having a “title” and a good professional status were actually my father’s need, not mine. Then, the time came when I said “no” for the first time to friends who were used to me being present for them and saying “yes” whatever my circumstances. The time also came to say “yes” to more play. I started dancing–a life-long dream–and have brought contra dance, zydeco, salsa and blues into my life since then.

This past year, I have stepped in a new relationship. More than anything, this relationship has tested my ability to value my needs, not only my lover’s. I’m getting there. The next step will—hopefully, maybe–be to find a balance between the two of us.

Several things have been vital to walk this long, devious road, like listening to myself thanks to my own yoga practice, and people who see me and who listen–I mean who really listen like those in my Non-Violent Communication group. Cheers to the next five years.

I Am Good Enough

Feeling “good enough” is vital. At least for me. Why? Because over doing or always putting the needs of others before my own has come with a high price.

Piedmont Hospital’s Chapman Cancer Wellness Center provides free wellness and personal development programs for cancer patients and survivors. Last week, the center offered a workshop that spoke to me, “Good Enough: Letting Go of Perfectionism and People-Pleasing”, so I went. It made me reflect on my own—sometimes painful—journey towards feeling “good enough”.

Twelve years ago, I moved from Paris to Atlanta. I was coming out of breast cancer, and I believed that my (new) marriage and a complete change of scenery would make me happier and prevent me from getting sick again.

I was wrong.

In 2014, I got sick with a second bout of cancer.

The ordeal forced me to face something that became clear—I had spent most of my life pleasing others and helping them fulfill their dreams. I was convinced I had to do a lot to be loved, and I was constantly looking for the love and approval of others.

It was time to change, and to start seeing and acknowledging who I was.

Two years later, I did a big step towards feeling “good enough”. I let go of a 25+ year corporate career that was draining me, and I allowed myself to do something I loved—teach yoga therapy.

The workshop at the cancer wellness center, last week, was a new opportunity to check in with myself. What are the areas in my life where I may not feel good enough? How come this is happening? Feeling good enough is my life’s project.

What about you? Do you tend to overdo yourself and please others? If yes, what has motivated you to do that in your life? And what is the cost you are paying to overdo and please others? These are important questions as they may lead you to better physical and emotional well being.

Pinktober–Intuition Saved My Breast

Intuition is a powerful tool, especially when recovering. Listening to my intuition helped me conserve my breast and, ultimately, overcome cancer.

Intuition came into my life when I was diagnosed with my first breast cancer and started practicing yoga therapy, all at the same time, 14 years ago.

That first time I was diagnosed with cancer, my surgeon carried out a breast-conserving surgery. That means he removed part of the breast tissue as opposed to all of the breast (mastectomy).

Yoga therapy helped me navigate the medical treatment and become more in touch with my intuition. It brought down the level of chronic stress, and allowed me to move into more physical and emotional peace, giving me access to clarity about how to move forward in situations of daily life.

Fast forward ten years. I was confronted with a second bout of cancer in the same breast. Here I was in my new surgeon’s office. Without hesitation, he said he could perform a breast-conserving surgery, just like my first surgeon had done a decade earlier. I breathed a sigh of relief. For years, I had struggled with insecurity and not feeling feminine enough and had embarked on an emotional healing journey. So, conserving my breast, no matter how messed up it would look, meant the world to me.

I had a few weeks to get prepared for the procedure.

Two days before going to the hospital, my surgeon called me, trembling, “I forgot about the committee… I had to submit your case to a committee, and they just let me know their decision. They want a mastectomy”.

I froze.

I found out that French healthcare had recently introduced “cancer committees”. Any doctor who diagnosed a patient with cancer had to submit their patient’s case to a committee. There were–and still are–hundreds of committees all over France. Each committe is made up of a dozen experts, including an oncologist, an MD, a social worker, a radiologist and more. Its mission is to bring experts together to to determine the patient’s needs—most of the time without meeting the person. The idea is to avoid a single doctor to misdiagnose, and, ultimately, to save lives.

In almost all cases, patients go with the committee’s decision.

My surgeon believed the breast-conserving surgery was enough, and that the mastectomy was not a must. He left the decision up to me, “I will support whatever decision you make.”

I was shaking. “I need to feel this out. I’ll give you an answer by tomorrow”.

The next 24 hours were among the most intense of my life. Every cell of my body was telling me to conserve my breast.

The next day, I called my surgeon. “Let’s stick with our first decision. I want you to take out the tumor and leave the healthy tissue alone”.

Two months after my surgery I had my first appointment with the oncologist who was going to walk me through chemo. It was the first time I ever met him. I knew only one thing about him—he was the one who headed “the committee”. When I stepped into his office, he said, “so, it’s YOU”!

When I told him I was a yoga therapist, a strange smile came onto his face. We saw each other every three weeks for eight months. Not only did he know my medical situation, he also knew I was divorcing and losing my father of lung cancer, all at the same time.

Ultimately, I recovered. And here I am four years later—healthy.

I remember what he told me right at the end of my treatment, “Keep doing what you’re doing”. And that’s what I do—I practice and teach yoga therapy, and listen to my intuition.

How Raina, Five Months, Reminded Me Of The Power Of The Mind Body Connection

While a client went through her pregnancy with emotional turmoil, her unborn baby showed physical symptoms. My client worked through her emotions to find peace, and her baby found the way back to health.

This time last year, I starting seeing Ronika, a client, during yoga therapy private sessions to support her during her pregnancy that was emotionally challenging.

Childhood trauma came up to the surface. Ronika was also facing a feeling of abandonment in her couple. She was overwhelmed with anger, fear and sadness.

Four months into the pregnancy, doctors told my client that her baby had five or six cysts on her kidneys.

From that point on, Ronika was considered “at risk”, and went to visit her doctor every week. There was nothing else the doctor could do except wait until Ronika’s baby was at least three months old. The doctor would then check the baby’s kidneys.

When I first heard about the unborn baby’s cysts, I connected the dots between Ronika’s emotional turmoil and her unborn child’s physical symptoms.

I called a mentor in Paris to have his point of view. “Kidneys are connected to fear. If your client finds peace and is able to welcome her baby with love and serenity at birth, then everything will come back to normal,” he said.

During her private yoga therapy sessions, Ronika became in touch with suppressed emotions and released them. Her relationship with her partner became stronger. All this helped my client be emotionally and physically prepared to welcome and nurture Raina after she was born.

Five months later, doctors were finally able to check Raina’s kidneys with ultra-sound for the first time. “Raina has one only one kidney. The good news is that there is no cyst on her kidney.”

I am convinced Raina absorbed her mom’s emotions before she was born, and that these emotions had an effect on Raina’s body–they dissolved one of her kidneys. I am also convinced that Raina felt her mom’s renewed peace and serenity and that those feelings dissolved the cysts.

Today, Raina is two. The youngest of three girls, she is a powerhouse of health and vibrancy!

I Always Listen To The Signs


Signs and synchronicities are always around me—they’re an ever-present part of life—if I choose to tune in. The birth of my client’s baby is an example of how I let these signs guide me.

On March 28, 2018, something extraordinary happens. Ronika, my yoga therapy client, gives birth to her baby girl, Raina Ali Ruff. This day also happens to be my birthday.

Since almost the beginning of her pregnancy, I meet with Ronika every week for a private session of yoga therapy. The purpose of this work is to give Ronika emotional support.

Each of the private sessions with Ronika is powerful. Each help my client pick up a piece of herself she has left behind, and eventually helps her to be emotionally and physically prepared for the arrival of her third daughter.

During our last session before the upcoming birth, Ronika feels distressed. She is in the middle of a dilemma—she’s unsure how she feels about the thought of her partner/baby’s father’s presence in the labor room.

To help her connect with her deep feelings, I tell her the circumstances of my own birth. Something I rarely share–with anyone. That day, my mother is alone with the medical staff in the labor room of a Paris hospital. That day, my father chooses to stay in the province where he finishes building a school for another two days to get his much-needed pay check. It takes me five decades of feeling that “I am not worthy enough for my father to be here for my arrival”, to finally realize that his choice is driven by love—by the love he has for me—for his family.

Raina Ali Ruff

Speechless

Ronika is speechless. My story resonates with her. Deeply.

A week later, Raina’s father is in the labor room and welcomes his baby girl when she takes her first breath. His presence positively affects Ronika and the birth story that Raina will carry with her for her entire life.

I see Raina Ali’s birth date as a sign, a synchronicity that lets me know I am on the right path, teaching yoga therapy the way I teach it. It also validates the way I feel about the circumstances of my own arrival on Earth. Raina Ali’s birth is the best birthday present I have ever received.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung created the word “synchronicity”. He defined it as “A meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”

Today, Raina is four months old. Both of her parents, along with her teachers at daycare, all say how calm she is, in all circumstances.

There’s a thing that helps me receive the signs–listening. The ability to listen to what life brings my way. I nurture that ability when I practice the yoga I’ve learned for 14 years from my French yoga teacher, Aline Frati, until she passed away.

Practice something that helps you listen. And listen. Pay attention to the signs life sends your way. Consider them as information the universe sends you. And take them into consideration before your next step forward. Do that now.

My father and I in Spain.

Yoga Therapy Prescription—Learn What Brings You Joy and Do Lots of It!

If you want to live a long, healthy life, consider doing things that bring you joy. They are the same things that bring you closer to your true self. And what brings you to your true self is the path to your well being and health.

I spent this Memorial Day weekend doing something I love–contra dance! As a French native, I have a hard time explaining what contradance is. I had never experienced anything like contra before my friend Stephanie introduced me to it last autumn at LEAF Festival’s “contradance hall” in Asheville, NC. Mind you, many of my American friends didn’t know what contra was either. I’m told it’s a subculture.

Contra is an old style of American dance where you dance with a partner in two lines—partners face each other on each side—while a caller leads everybody in a series of moves. And then, there’s the music. Contra is danced to Celtic, Southern Appalachian, jazz and blues played by live bands. Thanks to the slaves who brought rhythm from Africa, contra is full of it. During the dancing the lines of people morph into patterns–from the sky, a contra dance looks like a kaleidoscope of humans.

In contradance, I swirl, swing, circle, trade places, make eye contact, and even flip sometimes. I’m in love with it. The other day, I was told that contra is powerful, that it’s love. That speaks to me. What I also know is that contra has made me re-connect with a passion of mine—dancing—that I had given up since I was a teenager. I would never have thought that dance would come back in my life, years later, especially not in this shape and form. Life always finds new ways to surprise me.

Giving the right food to my soul

What’s contra got to do with yoga therapy? Well, everything. You see, contra brings me joy. And when I feel joy, I know I’m giving the right food to my soul. And when I nourish my soul, I’m doing one of the most powerful things I can do to heal—on whatever level I need to heal.

Whether you’re on a healing journey or just in need of more aliveness, I recommend you look closely into what brings you long, lasting joy–into what feeds your soul. Nourishing your soul brings you closer to who you are deeply. The 17th century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who was the champion of joy and gave the emotion the most thought, came to the conclusion that each time you grow in the direction of your true self is when you experience joy.

Letting go of old beliefs

This movement towards your true self, towards joy, may mean letting go of old beliefs. That’s what it’s meant for me. I was brought up in a family where the value of “hard work” was first and foremost with little room left for playing and enjoying life. I’ve re-evaluated the place I’ve given to “hard work,” and re-orchestrated my life so that joy has gradually become the center. You gotta do what you gotta do.

I’ll also always remember a doctor and nutritionist I met in 2004 in Paris. I had just been diagnosed with my first breast cancer. He gave me tips on how to feed my body with healthy nutrition which I still use to this day. He also mentioned this guy who had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and who had decided to go ahead and live his dream—spend the rest of his life on a sail boat, traveling around the world. The guy ended up being cured and living many more moons. My doctor finished our conversation saying, “if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, do it. It can make a huge difference.”

I couldn’t help spending most of Leaf Festival, close to Asheville, NC, mid-May, in their contra dance hall. On the evening of Sat. May 12, we were up to 250 dancers to move non stop for hours. Photo: Patrick Olin.