Jean Di Carlo-Wagner, M.A., E-RYT500, yoga therapist is a 12-year colorectal cancer survivor (2003). She used yoga to help herself regain a ‘new normal’ and then became a yoga teacher to help other survivors. Her work is free to cancer patients at YogaBeing.net. Jean attends cancer conferences and speaks on the benefits of yoga for cancer survivors. Survivor, advocate, activist, teacher and friend.
There was only one problem. I had scheduled a breast reduction surgery with a private plastic surgeon. The accidental overlap of drawing blood for genetic testing, and my surgery date made, me stop and think. Would I do anything differently?
A week ago today, I had breast reduction surgery. Though not talked about as frequently as breast enhancement surgery, many friends confided that they’d love to have the procedure. They asked me how it went.
In 2001, my middle sister had stage 2b, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. She didn’t want her tumor tested for BRCA, so in 2003 when I was diagnosed with colon cancer, my HMO tested my tumor for Lynch and FAP (genetic forms of colon cancer).
Fast forward to spring 2015. I requested a ultrasound of my dense and fibrous, oversized breasts. The HMO’s response was to send me to genetic counseling. Here I met with the same counselor who had tested my tumor over a decade ago. We updated my family cancer tree, added that my mother died of leukemia, a few other relatives had blood cancers and one first cousin had died of colon cancer. The counselor recommended modified genetic testing that included the BRCA gene. There are some indications thatBRCA gene hosts have a higher incident of both breast and colon cancer.
There was only one problem. I had scheduled a breast reduction surgery with a private plastic surgeon. The accidental overlap of drawing blood for genetic testing and my surgery date made me stop and think. Would I do anything differently?
I thought about the statistics and my personal history. The genetic counselor explained every possible outcome, its associated risk, and went over every test she recommended. Still, as I contemplated delaying surgery until the results of the BRCA testing came back, I wasn’t convinced a positive result would change my decision to reduce my breasts, not remove them. In the case of a positive genetic profile for BRCA, the genetic counselor said that a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery would likely be provided by my HMO, (as well as an abdominal lift to cull fat cells for new breasts).
This makes a yoga teacher’s head spin! I share my journeys because I know that someone is reading this who has similar circumstances or questions. How do we make our decisions about health care as cancer survivors?
You’ll have to wait with me as I anticipate the results of the genetic profiling. It may take up to two months. Like many cancer survivors, we are given tests and checkups, and we have to wait with bated breath. Or as Robin Williams used to say, I wait with “a worm on my tongue.”
We wait and wonder. In between, we learn to live with the unknown. The veil of “normal” is ripped open with the diagnosis of cancer. There’s no going back to naïve notions of an impervious human. Most of us see this as a gift that a cancer diagnosis awakens. We survivors tend to be very much awake and aware. Not in a hyper-vigilant way, but the way a soldier might regard life after a battle.
In the meantime, I am recovering steadily. Within one week’s time, I can perform all the activities of daily living without assistance. Save, I ask my husband to standby when I shower. The incision areas do smart and twinge. Nerve regrowth can create prickly zinging sensations. Yoga breathing helps me tackle intermittent pain. I am no longer taking any pain medication.
Today’s Yoga Practice: I am posting pictures of Restorative Bed Yoga. I have seven pillows, including a wedge pillow to keep my whole upper body in a gentle recline. Notice the small pillows on each side of my head. When we don’t have to support our heads, our necks and backs relax very deeply. I use pillows to raise my arms to shoulder height, a much more gentle angle for recovering pectoral muscles. Pillows are used to support my knees, so when I twist, I can rotate without straining my abdominal muscles, which are also sore.