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.”
The world is passionate about wellness—finally!—and so am I. I have adapted a workshop, that I originally designed to help people recover from a serious disease, into a workshop for “healthy” people. “Achieve Wellness In Uncertain Times” helps you think about wellness—in a different way.
The workshop was originally meant for people who recovered from illness. Its purpose was to help them restore their wellness, re-ignite their life force and re-emerge glorious out of their health crisis. I shared what helped me in my own healing journey.
Thriving After Illness drew from three practices: yoga, Gestalt therapy and nutrition. The workshop involved the yoga I teach which is a powerful healing tool at the crossroads of the body and the psyche. It also involved Gestalt therapy. I asked questions to the participants: “What is going on in you, right now?” “How do you feel?” “How do you participate in your health?” “What are your dreams?” I included this part because I believe that exploring our own humanness and share our truth with others, helps us restore our general health. Finally, the workshop was also about nutrition as it is one of the most powerful ways we can bring life and light into our body.
Now, everything’s changed.
The pandemic is bringing forward any unresolved issues in our lives whether they are connected to our body, our emotions, our relationships or our life’s objectives. Those of us who used to never give a thought about wellness, are now interested in the subject.
That’s what brought me to adapt Thriving After Illness for a broader audience. Achieve Wellness In Uncertain Times is accessible to everyone, not exclusively to people who have been affected by a serious disease.
My new workshop is a live, virtual discussion where I share the ways I have found to manage stress and take my place in the world. I also ask questions. Sometimes, difficult questions. Necessary questions. Participants share, bond. Sometimes, they find answers, sometimes they don’t. “I leave the workshop with many questions I never thought of asking myself,” said a participant at the end of the workshop. At the very least, attendees come at the other end of the discussion with an entirely new vision of what wellness is. As another participant puts it, “It’s been nice to challenge the status quo”.
I have hosted Achieve Wellness In Uncertain Times for the first time ever for the Alliance Française of Atlanta, this past September. I am now taking the workshop virtually on the road and will host it for the Alliance Française of Portland (Oregon) before offering it to other communities. Because who doesn’t need wellness, right now?
I am seeing how much Aline was right as the pandemic–and the lockdown that has gone along with it—makes many of us re-consider the things that are not quite working for us—whether it’s our health, a job, a relationship, or just the way we deal with a specific situation.
I have been affected by the coronavirus, too.
Mid-March, shortly before Georgians were told to “shelter-in-place”, my boyfriend at the time convinced me to leave my apartment in Atlanta where I live and to drive to stay with him in North Georgia. Love, six acres of land and a vegetable garden motivated me to pack and go.
There was another deeper motivation—the need to be heard and accepted, to find a nest where I could feel safe and secure. Something that I have longed for, all my life.
In short, that day in March, I was driving to paradise.
In the course of three weeks, I realized that, as beautiful as this paradise was, it was his paradise. I felt who I was didn’t fit in. I caught myself saying“yes” when really my soul meant “no”, too often. I was compromising my integrity.
In the end, I chose to say “no”. I chose to confront my fear of being rejected. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who has constantly tried to meet the expectations and desires of others.
I also chose to confront the fear of driving through a locked down Georgia and Atlanta, in the midst of the pandemic.
I drove back home feeling peaceful. “Safe in integrity”, said my friend Roy.
Since then, I have been doing something I have never done before. I have been busy creating my own paradise.
Whether it’s practicing yoga, re-arranging my office, re-planting, bonding with family and friends in new ways, teaching French and yoga therapy, occupying my blog again, cooking, you name it, I am rooting in my own nest. Feeling safe. What I have been searching outside of myself for decades, has been inside all along.
I live in integrity. I feel it in my body. What better thing could I do to protect myself from a life-threatening disease?
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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.
AnIrrepressible 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.
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 asked a question to my students at the end of my weekly 105 min-yoga therapy class, the other day. It was right after the week-end of Easter and Passover.
I’m asking you the same question–What does your resurrection look like after these winter months?
In other words, what are you emerging from? What has changed in you? What have you learned about yourself? What have you left behind? What have you picked up? Who is the new “you”, who are you becoming and how do you feel about this new version of you?
It may be worth to stop everything you do right now, to pause and reflect. At the very least, you’ll become aware of what and how much you have experienced. I bet it’s huge.
A French architect who believes in “sacred architecture”, Pascal Boivin, wrote a text the night of Notre Dame Cathedral’s devastating fire. Here is most of it. Boivin talks about the tragedy as a “redemptive fire”—regardless of our beliefs and faith. Powerful.
“Heart of Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral, the spiritual lighthouse of ‘Ile de France’, is the historic axis of the nation. Our Elders, the master builders, have founded a radiant home on ‘Ile de la Cité’ that has fed the pages of time. The cathedral is a master piece in both the French and European landscape, an energy center which has irrigated Europe’s spirit for almost a thousand years.
Holy, religious places, which are energy centers, speak to the souls of those who are ready to hear them.
A touristic jewel, Notre Dame Cathedral is visited daily by tens of thousands of people. Energy workers of spiritual places recognize that this constant flow of people who are not necessarily drawn to spirituality—which the church was initially designed for—affects the place’s sensitive quality. These great buildings are soundboards that the architects of the Middle Ages have tuned to carry the vibrations of their time’s liturgy. The content has evolved over the centuries, but the power of these energy vessels has remained intact. Few insiders still know how to sail these transmitters-receptors of exchanges between the Earth and the cosmos, between secular life and Spirit’s mysteries (…).
If the cathedral is the stone on which the Catholic Church is built, the Republic of France also made the cathedral hers. The centuries’ legends have penetrated the stone joints, and the People of Paris have hidden their sorrows inside them.
This evening, the sky was set on fire, and the fire reached “the forest”. The sky has spoken.
For the builders, the roof’s slope represents the sky’s root and every angle’s direction puts the building’s proportions into vibration. The cathedral, suddenly beheaded, now seems flattened. All of her antennas, that launched to the stars, collapsed. The woods caught fire, the lead melted, the roofs flared up. The Gargoyles don’t have anything to disgorge anymore, the bare vaults are now left to the uncertainty of very bad weather.
If the burst of perfection allows Notre Dame Cathedral’s stone to resist like that of her sister, the Cathedral of Reims, which held up during the bombing of 1914, the Earth’s flows will find, once more, the path towards the sky and the vessel will spurt again towards the skies.
This fire of Easter offers jointly a spiritual connotation, a symbolic dimension, and a political reach.
On the spiritual level, the forest’s fire, the frame and the spire’s collapse, and the bruises on the monument’s jewels are a metaphor of the Christian martyr. Notre Dame is home to the Christ’s crown of thorn, and some believers will see an echo that bounces through the millennia.
On the symbolic level, the cathedral is the place that welcomes the People and awakens it to a sense of elevation. Unlike the heavy Romanesque vaults often reserved for the inner contemplation of communities of initiates, the stone lace of the gothic naves brings the Light in, the Light that makes us look to the sky. The cathedral is a media, an amplifier of vibrations that stimulates and harmonizes vital rhythms with those of the cosmos.
This redemptive fire robs us, for a long time, of the place of awakening and forces us to draw our own forces together. The fire is here to remind us that the first temple is our body. It tells us that the vibration is in the heart of our cell. It shows us that the Light is the information that gives the breath to our DNA. It is no longer about looking for spirituality elsewhere, in religions, in texts or in sacred places, which is what most people do. Spirit is at the heart of the inner void, the subatomic space, beyond the particles, this interstellar vacuum whose emptiness is the substance of our wholeness.
Finally, the network of cathedrals creates a network of communication parallel to the network of monasteries of different religious orders, especially that of the Cistercians. This network in the European territory has connected the construction of the European civilization beyond the kingdoms and nations. It has woven its values, and carried the power of thought (…).
The emotion and the burst of solidarity that brings the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral reveal the universal aspect of this place full of history. Everyone in Europe relates with this tragedy because everyone carries such a place within, that bears their sorrows, their dramas, their grieves, and also their glories, their celebrations, and their popular jubilation.
The cathedral is a place of reconciliation and peace. The most iconic of them falls apart and all others rise to support and help her rise again.
The fire of action calls for initiatives, solidarity, responsibilities.
The ‘Cathedral Energy’ may be born on this first day of Easter week. The death of the place itself carries the rebirth of a place of life which everyone, as a torchbearer, carries within (…).
May this fire of centuries clean the slag of our stories, and unite beings in sharing their universal common heritage. The Inner Cathedral is the place of a generous and vibrant inner world that recognizes oneself in the other and welcomes their richness.”
Text written originally in French by Pascal Boivin, architect, on April 15, 2019.
NB: This English version is most probably an automated translation (FB). I lightly reviewed it. There is still some “approximate” English. Hopefully, you still got the idea. The text is published in its entirety except for three paragraphs I deleted, I felt they were irrelevant to the US reader.
I cruised a 3-day nationwide conference for psychologists and social workers who help cancer people get better spiritually, emotionally, socially and financially. Yoga therapy fits in.
Last month, I attended the annual conference of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) that was hosted in Atlanta, as a yoga therapist who is also a two-time cancer survivor. The experience was eye-opening.
I was with 200 psychologists, social workers, nurses and researchers from around the country who work with cancer people. Their goal is to answer one question–“How do we help people with cancer?”
I believe I was the only yoga therapist at the conference. “It’s good to be the first one,” a psychologist from Vermont told me.
I learned that I’m one of 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. I also
learned that a “tsunami of cancer is about to confront us” according to Richard
Wender, MD from the American Cancer Society, mainly due to the aging of the population.
More cancer patients mean more cancer survivors—thanks partly
to progress in medical treatments. Depression, anxiety and fatigue are real and
persistent among survivors. So, wellness matters to them.
Great. That’s where I can help.
Fifteen years ago, medical doctors started inviting psychologists and social workers at the table. Today, these psychologists and social workers want to engage with and bring other healthcare and wellness providers at the table like… yoga therapists.
So they say, anyway.
A presenter’s slide featured this quote tagged on a wall in Jerusalem: “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.”
Well, I have a vision. I visualize Yoga for Renewal classes offered in a cancer wellness center, maybe several centers, as part of a program “to help patients re-engage back into their lives,” as Barbara Jones, Ph.D., MSW, the closing keynote speaker, said. I may have found the right people to talk to.
Photo: Lisa Shea, art therapist (left) and Pat Eden, music therapist (center), work for the Psychosocial Oncology Program at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. Lisa and Pat guide the cancer patients who choose to, to make art or sing during their chemo sessions. I asked them what does this change in a patient’s experience. “Everything,” answered Lisa.
Atlanta has one of the best cancer wellness centers in the country. As a survivor, I have attended their classes and been blown away by the patients’ creativity and aliveness.
I found out about the Piedmont Cancer Wellness Center in Atlanta, this past autumn, while I was looking to teach yoga therapy to cancer patients. With that goal in mind, I met the manager, Carolyn Helmer. She suggested that I, as a survivor myself, start by attending classes and workshops to get a vibe of the place, the people who look to the center for support, as well as the healers and the teachers in the support team.
I was a little annoyed by the idea. I was passionate about teaching yoga therapy to anyone affected by cancer. Nevertheless, I wanted nothing else to do with people looking like zombies.
I met people who were dealing or had dealt with breast cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer. You name it.
I also came across something I didn’t expect—aliveness.
I attended soul collage sessions, yoga classes and personal development workshops. We all shared a common experience–The experience of facing or of having faced, at some point in our lives, the effects of a life-threatening disease.
During a lunch break, I talked with Cookie, a woman who had had pancreatic cancer seven years before, now in full remission. I had noticed her witty look and remarks during the class. “If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she told me.
During a workshop on how to cultivate self-care, the counselor asked us to come together in groups of three and brainstorm to write our own quote on self-care. Adele, Elizabeth and I were ecstatic with our quote: “Drop the mask of perfection and replace it with authenticity. Allow the development of creativity and reach for the unknown”.
After the workshop, I left the center and took the elevator to the building’s lobby. Suddenly, I stopped walking. I became aware that people I came across—employees, visitors, etc.–looked dull and drained. A thought came to my mind. I had just spent three hours with a bunch of cancer people who looked more alive than the “healthy” people. I smiled while realizing that, after all, I liked the zombies.
The visual at the top of the page is a card I created during a soul collage session at the center on Jan. 5, 2019. The card is titled “I See You”.