Have you been touched by breast cancer? Either yourself, a friend or a family member? According to the statistics on breastcancer.org, 1 in 8 women in America will be diagnosed in her lifetime with invasive breast cancer. And honestly, 1 in 8 doesn’t feel like a lot until you or someone you love becomes one of those eight.
I always assumed I’d be one of the 7 who didn’t get breast cancer.
We have no family history of breast cancer and my mantra was…I don’t do sick. I’m a type A, multi-tasking, entrepreneur raising 4 children with my husband… I don’t have time to do sick.
So, as you can imagine, I was completely shocked, when the doctor called to tell me I had breast cancer. Yes, I was told, over the phone, that I had breast cancer but we’ll save that story for another day.
I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to get that phone call. When I turned 40, I reluctantly scheduled my first mammogram. I really didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to smash my mosquito-bite boobs between two cold plates of glass and second of all I knew it was a waste of my time considering my health history. So when they found something suspicious and told me I needed to come back for more testing, my stomach dropped. And things got progressively worse when they told me that THOSE tests looked suspicious and I needed to come back for a biopsy. But nothing in the world, nothing, prepares you for the moment that you hear: You’ve got cancer. My heart sank.
What was I going to do? What about the kids? What about my business? I didn’t have time for cancer. And like everyone else I knew, I had already weathered my fair share of turmoil, yet this one felt different.
I had CANCER.
My diagnosis took a toll on my friends and family as well. On the one hand, I had my hippie best friend urging me to heal my cancer with herbs and meditation. And on the other hand, I had my brother, a physician, recommending the most minimally-invasive medical procedures possible. I found myself stuck between these two dissenting opinions and my mind was swimming. Honestly, this was the first time in my life that this type A woman had no idea what to do.
In order to quiet the different voices, I listened to my hippie best friend and attended a “woo woo retreat” in Savannah. I hoped that either the crystal light bed or the gong therapy or the tarot reader would give me the answers I needed. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the laughter yoga session that changed my life.
Laughter was something that I hadn’t done in a really, really, REALLY long time. And to be honest, I didn’t laugh much that day.
And on Monday, July 27, 2015, as I traveled to Atlanta to say good-bye to my cancerous little boobies, I wasn’t laughing. And I definitely wasn’t laughing when I woke up cancer-free and boobless 8 hours later.
Prior to my surgery, I got a lot of support from friends and family. But once the bandages were off, everyone went back to their lives. Everyone except me.
My best friend recently admitted, in a very candid moment, that I navigated my breast cancer so well that she almost forgets that I even had it.
Well, I never forgot.
Every time I try to hug my kids, I’m reminded. Every time I see myself naked, I’m reminded.
And my head swims incessantly with questions like “will I ever feel good again?” and “will the cancer come back?”
After surgery, doctors told me I needed to make changes to my lifestyle: I needed to improve my diet, I needed to exercise more, I needed to manage my stress better and I needed to learn to care for myself.
How was I supposed to do all of that?
Luckily for me, that’s when I saw a flyer promoting a Laughing Yoga certification at GSU and I was whisked back to that day at the woo woo retreat in Savannah.
Intuitively we know that laughter is good for us. We even have proof that laughter has the power to heal. If you’re like me, you waited impatiently for your babies to giggle for the first time. And if you’ve ever traveled internationally, you know that laughter is a universal language and sometimes the only language you share in common.
Laughter yoga takes all the goodness of standard laughter and elevates it to the next level. And rest assured, it isn’t something random I made up. After extensive research Dr Kataria, an Indian medical physician, founded laughter yoga international in 1995. His scientifically-based Laughter yoga program is not based on humor. Instead, we engage in deliberate childlike playfulness in order to self-induce laughter. Yes, we fake it til we make it. Once we’ve tricked our brains into laughing, our laughter becomes authentic and contagious and we experience a wide array of health benefits.
Laughter releases endorphins in your body, giving you the runner’s high. Laughter improves creativity, strengthens relationships and enhances your overall well-being. Both Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins agree.
So, yes, laughter truly is the best medicine. And I know it was for me.
After certification, I knew I needed to share my newfound love for laughter with others. I began relentlessly promoting myself to every organization in town. Some groups politely turned me down and others were willing to take a risk and give laughter yoga a try. I did laughter yoga with women’s groups, daycares, assisted living facilities, domestic abuse victims, sexual assault survivors, corporate engineers, cancer survivors and yogis.
Then one day the light bulb went off…instead of leading one hour sessions locally, women, particularly breast cancer survivors, needed to get away for a full weekend to not only experience more laughter yoga, but to explore the topics like self-care, nutrition, exercise and stress management. So, 18 months after that fateful phone call and 9 months after my laughter yoga certification, I assembled my tribe and we launched inSUPire: A retreat designed by a breast cancer survivor, for breast cancer survivors. And I like to point out the spelling…in – S-U-P- ire. We’ll get to the SUP part in a minute.
At our inSUPire retreats, we expose women to new foods in abundance. All of the food is whole, natural and healthful. This allows each participant to make personal and informed nutritional choices without having to navigate the options on their own and without having to spend their own money to try new things.
At our inSUPire retreats, we offer five different types of yoga: Yin, laughter, SUP, power and Thai massage. Our yogi is fully aware that bodies after breast cancer are different and may or may not respond the same way. She knows how to modify poses to make yoga comfortable for our breast cancer survivors.
At our inSUPire retreats, participants are exposed to new activities like Standup paddleboarding (hence the name inSUPire), SUP yoga, hoola fit, horseback riding, and laughter yoga. That way the “I can’t do this the way I did it before breast cancer” gremlin stays silent.
And finally, although I am a life coach, we don’t do group therapy. Personally I don’t like to talk about my stuff to a group of new acquaintances so I don’t expect the participants to want to do that either. We do lead group activities but participants privately process their thoughts. If they choose to talk about their ahas, great! If not, great! It’s their experience. It’s their retreat. It’s their life.
When women leave the inSUPire retreat, 3 amazing things happen:
1) they have new resources like healthy recipes and an enjoyable yoga practice where they feel empowered;
2) they have an expanded network of support;
3) they have a new story to tell about themselves that doesn’t include breast cancer.
And although it took multiple iterations to design inSUPire perfectly for breast cancer survivors, we know that all women benefit from these experiences. And gentlemen, we don’t want you to feel left out. We are currently designing retreats for couples and families as well so stay tuned for inSUPure v2.
My hope is that by sharing my journey with you today – a journey that started with breast cancer then moved through laughter yoga to designing inSUPire retreats – that you will not only see that good things can come from unexpected situations but that hopefully it sparks an idea in you of how YOU can connect creatively with others and live inSUPired.