We all have days where it feels like everything is falling apart. As if all of the hard work we have done has been for nothing and we have absolutely no control over any of it. Is there a plan, a reason or a bigger picture we can’t see? I have spent years telling people to trust the Universe, to have faith – whatever that means to them – and recently for the first time in my life…I lost mine.
I have always been “hopelessly hopeful” and felt so connected to God and the Universe. I have felt immense gratitude and love or my family, my community and for finally finding my place with my fellow yogis at my home studio, Body Bliss Yoga Studio. I felt like I knew who I was and as if I had found my place in this world. Then almost exactly one year ago, things began to change.
After opening a second studio the previous November, I began to feel overwhelmed, depressed and exhausted. As someone who has never had to count on others for help, I really needed it. I needed help from my teachers, my managers, my husband, my kids and my community, but how do you ask for help when you can’t really quantify what is wrong? Everyone has bad days and while my friends, family and community were all willing to listen, no one really understood what I was going through and neither did I. So…I just kept telling myself to keep pushing…I kept telling myself that I could do it, practiced affirmations, meditation and brought more focus to rest, regular exercise and my diet to try and feel better.
But I knew something was wrong. For the last four or five years, I had been really fighting weight gain and I had started to put on weight. I tried everything I had done in the past, but nothing was working. I was very publicly putting on weight day after day, week after week and month after month. In the coming three months, I would put on almost 30 pounds and there was nothing I could do about it.
How does it feel to be in the yoga and fitness industry, depressed, barely able to make it through the day all while gaining 30 pounds? Not good…not good people. However, I was also feeling worse and so I knew deep down, the weight gain was coming from somewhere. I was so extremely depressed and exhausted, I knew something was very wrong. It was the beginning of June when I sat down with my husband and told him I had decided to sell the studio. I told him I couldn’t handle it and that something was wrong with me.
A couple of weeks after that, I had just taken a bath and was putting on my moisturizer. It’s so funny, every time I put on my moisturizer I think of my little sister. She worked her way through law school doing make up and she would always remind me to moisturize my neck so I didn’t end up with my face looking young and beautiful and my neck looking like an old turkey. That day, as I spread the moisturizer on my neck I felt a lump on the right side near my throat. It was a Saturday, so I waited until Monday and called to make a doctor’s appointment.
I couldn’t get in until the middle of July, so I went about my business. Owning a yoga studio through the summer is very difficult. There are instructor vacations, more injuries, lower class numbers, lower sales and with two studios last year, it was overtime times two for me as I stepped in to save costs, sub for as many people as I could, begin the stand-up paddle board yoga classes at the lake and run two teacher training programs. I was also doing my best to keep the marketing and excitement going so people would keep coming to the studio when the weather got nice outside. Did I mention I also had kiddos home for the summer who wanted things? Being a mom and wife is tough when work demands so much but I was used to the juggle.
But this time felt different. I literally felt like I was dying…with a million people around me smiling and telling me about their fun weekends and vacations. I felt so alone. I know people got tired of me talking about feeling poorly and I didn’t want to put my problems on my students so all of this was totally my choice. None the less…I was miserable. Right before my appointment with the doctor, I told my husband that I hoped they could help me but if they couldn’t…or wouldn’t, we had to find someone that would because something was really, really wrong.
During my appointment the doctor told me it might be a goiter and that many people experience swelling. Just a quick note that for the last five years I have been telling the doctor that something was wrong with my thyroid, but of course, no real testing ever got done and I was left feeling like I was the crazy one every time I brought it up. After palpating the swollen area again, she asked me if I wanted further testing or if I wanted to come back in a month if it was still an issue. My answer of course was TESTING!! So we scheduled an ultrasound. Thank goodness…progress. That was on Monday.
It was Friday when she called. My husband and I were just getting ready to leave so I put her on speaker and we sat in the stairway to listen. Upon review, there were a few suspicious nodules found on my thyroid. She let us know that she was referring my test results to the endocrinology department and they would need to review it and let me know what they thought and she also let me know they might recommend a biopsy. Great…needles – Uck!! But at this point (no pun intended), I was up for anything that helped me feel better and squishing an extra 30 pounds into my yoga pants every day was not helping with my depression so let’s get this show on the road!
The weeks I had to wait for my biopsy seemed SOOOOOOO long. But, as I said, the summer is so busy and while I was waiting, I was also working on getting the kids ready for the school year and back into their Monday through Friday school schedule. My biopsy was on Monday, October 1st and I was looking forward to getting it over with. I am a huge crybaby when it comes to needles, but honestly, I was more scared of feeling so horrible than I was of the giant needle he would be poking into my neck. That’s saying something. The doctor and I had a short conversation before the procedure which was while I was drugged and nervous. He asked me about all of my symptoms and then dismissed half of what I said very rudely. When it was over, I realized two things. First, this doctor and I had very different ideas about health and second, that I really was scared.
The next Monday I was on my way to work in Vancouver and planning to teach at 9:30 that morning. My Endocrinologist called me about 8:40 that morning, just as I was pulling into downtown. He told me three things. He said first, that I was going to be okay. Second, that I was going to need surgery to remove my thyroid and third, that I had thyroid cancer. I thanked him for letting me know, pulled into the parking lot at the studio and started shaking.
I wasn’t crying and my mind wasn’t even really able to process the news, but my body knew and it was like there was an earthquake starting at my center and working it’s way into my arms and legs, and then my feet, hands and even my lips. In that moment, I felt so absolutely alone, helpless and scared. For a minute I tried to get myself together so I could go in and teach my classes, but unfortunately, my body was having none of that, so I started calling around to find help. Kelsey, my studio manager in Vancouver, was the first person to hear the news and she immediately started for the studio to teach my classes. I’m so thankful she was available.
As I started to drive home, I couldn’t get in touch with my husband and briefly contemplated going to his office. Then, after imagining myself busting in and announcing my cancer, I abandoned that idea and headed for home. I just wanted to feel safe for a minute and curl up in my bed. Not long after getting home and curling up on the couch, Drew called and told me he would head home to be with me. Thank goodness. I was literally going crazy in my head wondering how this could happen! How, when I eat well, exercise, meditate and work so hard to be healthy, did I end up with CANCER?!? It seemed surreal…and by that I mean like a bad fucking dream.
When he got there, he sat down beside me and asked what the doctor said. I let him know that I had a phone consult scheduled the next day with the surgeon and that I didn’t know what to say or how to feel just yet. So, he decided to scoop me up and take me to the mall. He said we could shop, talk and figure things out. I agreed – begrudgingly – but it turned out to be just what I needed. By the end of our trip, I felt good enough to let the kids and close family know and try to figure out how to move forward at the studio. So many people knew I wasn’t feeling well and also about the biopsy since it’s hard to hide a swollen and bruised neck in yoga clothes. So far, everything had been so transparent, but telling everyone about the cancer didn’t feel so easy. It was such a personal thing and difficult to wrap my head around.
I decided to make the announcement via Instagram. I didn’t want to tell the story over and over and in a way, my community has become my family so after my phone calls to close family and friends, I put the verdict on social media. The support I received was overwhelming and I truly felt loved and held through some of the scariest parts of my life, but there were other things to consider when it came to showing up day after day between the announcement and surgery and even after surgery.
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was stand in front of a room full of people and hold space for them when I felt like I couldn’t even hold my own world together. The day I found out was demolition day and every day after was filled with the rubble and mess that those words created in my life.
People kept trying to be positive for me, telling me that it was the most treatable type of cancer and assuring me that if anyone could handle it, it was me. While I appreciated the support, please know that no one should EVER tell someone that “if you are going to get cancer, this is the one to get.” It made me feel like I didn’t have permission to grieve what I needed to grieve or feel what I needed to feel. It minimized the biggest thing that ever happened to me and that isn’t fair to anyone. For this reason and because I am very good at compartmentalizing my emotions, it took me a ridiculously long time to process how I felt. I’m still not sure I have worked through it, but I am finally willing to try.
Hopelessly hopeful? No, not at this moment, but I would venture to say cautiously optimistic. It’s about the best I can honestly do right now. Over the next six months, I will be writing about my experience, what I have learned along the way and updating where I am now. I know there are other people going through some of the same issues that I have faced and I want them to feel empowered. Getting dismissed for years and ending up facing cancer has taught me to advocate for myself and I hope I can help others do the same.
Until next time…