The first time I went to yoga, just shy of three weeks after my mastectomy, I felt like I would never be able to do yoga again.
I thought I would never be able to lift my arms. I thought I would never be able to lay on my belly. I thought I would never be able to swing my arms into twisted up postures or hold my ankle in my hand and kick high above my head. I thought I would never be able to do these things again, ever. Just before the halfway mark of this yoga class I went to, I gave up. I couldn’t do anything. Though I was advised to take six weeks off yoga, I didn’t heed the advice: after all, I did yoga through chemo and I always adapt, or interpret doctor recommendations, anyway, and who likes rules like that?
But. I had not realized how you pretty much use your pec to do everything in yoga, and I couldn’t move my left pec muscle without terribly aching pain. My side ached, my arm hurt, everything was stiff, and I couldn’t do any of the postures. I walked out in tears. Dr. Yoga-Surgeon was there, and when I left she stopped making evil eyes at me for going to yoga before I was “allowed” and followed me out of the studio to reassure me that leaving was the best course of action, and that I would be able to do yoga just as soon as my body had a chance to heal the internal trauma. How kind of her. I half-believed her. I was horribly embarrassed. It sucked.
But now, the glory! Turns out the doc was right about waiting for my body to heal. Now, I can do many of the postures, almost as easily as before. Sure, I still have to modify certain poses because things are still very tight and everything gets very sore very fast, and I can’t lay on my belly, but every time I can do anything, or even part of anything, a gigantic surge of OMG! I CAN DO THIS! runs through my body and it is awesome. I get so excited I cannot stop smiling even though I feel like a total dork with a big old grin on my face in the middle of yoga class for no apparent reason.
It feels like a party in my body.
It happened again today when I forgot my dongle and had to dash from a meeting back to my office. I ran. And it didn’t hurt. And I couldn’t stop smiling and so I started skipping instead. And that didn’t hurt either. And it was awesome. Another party in my body.
I know what it feels like to have millions of my cells systematically killed. I know what it feels like to need to sleep for an entire week from chemo. I know what it feels like to shoot up my belly fat with medicine to make my white blood cells blossom. I know what it feels like to be so exhausted that watching a movie takes too much energy. I know what it feels like to collapse to my knees after five minutes of yoga. I know what it feels like to watch the nurse put on protective clothing to inject me with toxic medicine. I know what it feels like to wonder what, and how, and when to disclose. I know what it feels like to believe the yoga practice that has been a coping mechanism throughout cancer might be gone and impossible forever.
And now, I know what it feels like to get that yoga practice back. I know what it feels like to skip around UBC without aching pain. I know what it feels like to wear a wig with a couple centimeters of hair underneath. Mostly, I know what it feels like to move around this world and discover something new, something glorious, something marvelous, something amazing about my body. The past many weeks have been full of getting to know an unfamiliar body, a body I do not know, a body that feels like it is not mine.
There’s more to be discovered. For now, each time I go to yoga or the gym I learn I can do something new. Last night at yoga, I lifted both my arms over my head for half moon, and it was so amazing I couldn’t stop smiling for the whole class. I’m certain everyone thought I was a lunatic. I still am grinning about it, so delighted with myself. The little things. And the parties in my body, after my body was so devoid of parties for so long.
I have now to discover so much more about my body, the body with a breast I cannot feel, the body that has been battered such that I have had to radically alter my life plans, the body that has marched with me through the halls of the cancer agency, the body that is mine. It’s an odd thing, to have a body that is mine but with whom I don’t totally identify. It’s a slow process, bringing myself back into my body, becoming accustomed to this body. When I look in the mirror, the body I see isn’t the one I expect to see, and the vision of me I hold inside doesn’t map onto the material reflection. I shake my head, trying to clear the confusion and the surgeries and the chemo and the cancer residue and the life fuck-up, but the material reflection of someone I think I am not stares back.
And so for now, I just go to yoga. I relish the good feeling when I run and skip. I delight in being able to reach above my head and swing my arms. Party in my body. It’s what I got right now.