First and foremost, I’m a creative and visual artist who from a young age has also enjoyed writing and being physically active. I became hooked on yoga in my mid-thirties when my friend, Marie, took me to my first class. Much like my art practice, yoga called me to move my body in meditation, precision, structure, strength and in storytelling from one gestural expression to the next.
Cancer does not run in my family. As a yoga teacher and studio owner, I assumed that I was living a life that would at least dodge the cancer bullet, but I was wrong. (Never ass/u/me.) Diagnosed with breast cancer on January 14, 2016, I soon found purpose in emailing periodic updates to my friends on the events of my cancer saga which was riddled with absurd and truthful commentary, adding flavor and funny that ran from one doctor’s appointment to the next.
The doctor who delivered my diagnosis reassured me that the cancer (he kept saying that ugly and irritating word) was found and caught very early and that was good news, especially since the one legion was incredibly small. Then he proceeded to discuss his recommendation for lumpectomy and radiation. As he started to discuss all possible options, he skipped to and aggressively began discussing mastectomy. “How did we go from the good news citing just one tiny legion caught very early to the discussion of a mastectomy?" I didn't understand the segue. He seemed annoyed at my questioning and persistence for an explanation of the speedy detour in conversation. He proceeded to book an operating room for the lumpectomy. I struggled to understand and digest what was happening. I hadn't yet decided how to discuss this with my family — so NO, I wasn't ready to commit and sign on for surgery. In that moment, I felt incredibly unseen, not properly consulted or considered. I was offended by the way that doctor spoke AT me. Within 15 minutes of meeting him, he drops the C-bomb, says he'll take care of me then ignores my concerns and questions? Yet, I'm supposed to schedule and agree for him to cut me open? Aren't doctors to have a bedside manner and see patients as individuals? He didn’t deal with ME, the person. Granted, this doctor was probably overworked, and I wondered how many of those conversations he had that week before I took his schtick off script. Angry and confused by it all, I got a second opinion, more information with screenings, and fired him — which in hindsight was the best thing that I could have done.
Six months after MY decision for a bi-lateral mastectomy, I was cleared to resume my full teaching schedule. And though I didn't share this out right, my planned theme for that first class was inspired by my revelation that 'cancer sucks and that real yoga is called upon and gets even more real when things TOTALLY suck'! And all those sucky things refer to anything that we humans perceive as negative or undesirable when, in fact, they’re conduits for life’s sweetest gifts. That’s right. I don't know why, but that's the way it works. So, while sorting through feelings of anger and being violated, and a diminished sense of physicality and strength, I continue to rebound from a loss of independence, lack of health and feeling less like my pre-cancer self. The idea that these 'gifts' were fostering my growth allowed me the opportunity to practice rest, and self-care, stillness, being taken care of and being loved by others. All of which has deepened my yoga practice making it more 'real' than it once was. I am now well aware that the uncomfortable truths lie in that space in between where it all completely hits the fan and how you bounce back. That middle piece IS the practice which is...that gritty, often ugly and uncomfortable work towards establishing a new foundation from which to navigate and profoundly move on. For whatever reason, I realized that I've been handed this particular cancer baton and I am to run my leg of this race — however I can. In that moment, I decided to blog.
Teri Gandy-Richardson is a Brooklyn based visual artist, yoga teacher, studio owner and writer who finds great personal peace in nature. She also writes the blog, Greetings from My Cancer Vacation.