‘A Lesson Not Learned From Breast Cancer’

by Shelley Lewis

Joining the Club—Once a Week

After all that time spent avoiding the campfires where breast cancer ghost stories were told, (chat rooms, support groups, etc.) I was finally ready to hear some, now that I was at a safe distance from my own experience. I wanted to know what other women had learned and see whether it applied to me as well. And I knew I had some unfinished business with breast cancer. I had to get into a relaxed, safe place and allow myself to feel whatever emotions I’d suppressed. It wasn’t a renewal of the quest for spiritual transformation so much as it was an effort to take inventory on my emotional shelves and see what was missing.

So, when the opportunity to take this yoga class presented itself, I took it.

I was a little worried about having to show some kind of proof of eligibility when I went to register. I pictured myself having to show my scar at the door. But the people at the front desk just signed me up and pointed me toward the studio. The instructor, Tari and assistant, Susan, were warm and welcoming, and about ten seconds after I walked into the class I realized that it was a great idea.

As it turned out, I became aware of my buried feelings in the very first session, as I was breathing deeply in that yoga way, and listening to our instructor talk about healing.  My eyes were closed but I could feel tears spring up almost immediately behind my lids.  Whoa, I thought to myself.  Who knew I had so much emotion right beneath the surface?

On any given day there may be 10 women, and something less than 20 breasts. But it is so not about the breasts.  Everybody is there to get back something they lost, whether it’s flexibility, muscle tone, their sense of wellbeing or their place in the world.  Some are pale and bald, some old and determined, some heartbreakingly young and beautiful. But every one is strong. We’re all there to work on ourselves, inside out.

The class was created by Tari Prinster, a yoga instructor who’d had breast cancer herself years ago. Her class is about self-healing and self-acceptance, and what she, and others, call “post-traumatic growth syndrome.”

It’s a syndrome I don’t have, but maybe someday I will.

Tari says she began doing yoga when she was 50, for all the wrong reasons.

“Vanity,” she said, smiling.  “It gave me great muscle tone, I was stronger, I had better posture.  I never thought of myself as spiritual.  When I got breast cancer, though, I decided I would continue to do yoga right through the treatments, every single day.  It made me feel I was part of my own healing process.  Everything is done to us when we have cancer, but we have to be participants.”

Tari is the least judgmental woman I’ve ever met.  I watch her sometimes out of the corner of my eye during class and wonder what’s going on in her mind. But maybe the secret is what’s not going on in her mind.

“It’s important to be participants in our healing. We can have a lot of control. I hired a friend to come over while I was in treatment to teach me how to do positive meditation, which helped a lot with anxiety.  That was a big gift to myself.  What made me healthy was to be treated as normal, as a strong and healthy woman, not as a freak or a fragile creature.”     

-Tari Prinster

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