Sharing the Light
A breast cancer survivor finds peace of mind to reclaim her life
Yoga had been a part of Flora Migyanka’s life for years, but after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, yoga became her go-to therapy for relieving stress and pain.
"I was doing OK, but when I had my one-year checkup with Dr. Newman, she said, 'You have to let go of the stress in your life because it will increase your inflammation markers.' For her to say that to me, I knew I had to change something," Migyanka says.
But just deciding to lower your stress level is easier said than done, especially when you're a wife and mother of two young children and you hold a full-time job. In addition, Migyanka had issues with her arm and back, some muscle wasting in her back and some painful scar tissue. She also has lymphedema or swelling in her arm from having 11 lymph nodes removed.
Excuses aside, she took her doctor's advice and dove back into her practice of yoga and participated in a six-week support program for cancer survivors and their partners: the FOCUS Program through the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor. The program emphasizes improving communication, emotional support and quality of life for people with cancer and their loved one.
"Being in a support group with your significant other helps you and helps grow your relationship." Migyanka notes, "My life is different now. It will always be different. But yoga has given me the keys to accept the situation, in being present and being able to breathe."
She is still in occupational therapy for her arm, which she says is a constant reminder of having cancer. "It's like the ebb and flow of life. Sometimes the pain is there and sometimes it's not. Yoga helps me listen to my body."
And, like many cancer survivors, the recurrence of cancer is on her mind. "I think it never goes away, but it dissipates over time," she says.
Migyanka’s surgeon, Lisa A. Newman, M.D., former director of the University of Michigan Breast Care Center, says, "Many women are haunted by fears of recurrence or of developing a new cancer. The ongoing, routine demands of daily work and personal responsibilities can actually be a welcome distraction for our patients as they move beyond the acute phases of the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment experience. It also helps if you find new distractions as well."
She adds, "It's essential for patients to remember that after treatment, most women will indeed continue living long, productive lives. However, patients have to reclaim their lives after completing breast cancer treatment."
Migyanka says, "Yoga has helped to give me back my life. It's given me peace. I feel that once you have peace, it's almost an inner attitude that helps you to calm yourself and silence your mind. This, in turn, has diminished both the stress and the pain."
Two years into her survivorship, Migyanka wants to help other cancer survivors. After taking a 200-hour teacher-training program and engaging in intense yoga practice of 15 hours a week, she is now a certified yoga instructor.
"There's a silver lining in my story," she says. "I've been given a light that I want to share with others. I find love and peace in that. It’s really my happy place."
Coping with the Fear of Recurrence
Lisa A. Newman, M.D., says, "Patients should be aggressive about reaching out and embracing any strategy that helps them conquer the psychological baggage that might be weighing them down. For some patients, these strategies might include yoga. For others, it might be some alternative exercise regimen, or professional psychotherapy, or a hobby or social activity, or even a pet. For many survivors, being able to provide guidance to other, newly diagnosed patients can also be an effective coping strategy."
- Education is key. Talk with your doctor for a list of common signs of recurrence for your type of cancer. Make sure you understand the frequency and type of follow-up care you need, as well as the likelihood of recurrence given your condition.
- Talk with your friends and loved ones about your concerns.
- Find a cancer support group.
- Focus on wellness and what you can do now to stay as healthy as possible. Try to make healthy diet changes. If you are a smoker, this is a good time to quit.
- Be as physically active as you can.
- Control what you can.
- Work toward having a positive attitude.
- Take in the present moment.
- Find ways to relax and feel peaceful.
Continue reading the Fall, 2014 issue of Thrive