Over a decade ago Dr. Beth Dupree saved my mother’s life with a bilateral skin-sparing mastectomy after a diagnosis of multifocal ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her left breast. Her guidance during that pivotal period has truly shaped who my mother has become in the years since. Not surprisingly, my mother has largely shaped who I have become in the years since as well. Her breast cancer journey is what led me to research how Yoga Tune Up® and Roll Model Method® practices and techniques can be utilized to best serve women after a breast cancer diagnosis, and that is what led me to write this series of articles for the Tune Up Fitness Blog.
This first one will summarize key takeaways from my consultations with breast surgeons and medical professionals about the processes of breast cancer treatment. The second will discuss my approach as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher and Roll Model Method® practitioner in working with clients who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer. The third will offer specific YTU corrective exercises and RMM Therapy Ball practices to support some common challenges during breast cancer treatment.
Re-reading Dr. Dupree’s book The Healing Consciousness, and reaching out to her Healing Consciousness Foundation were among my first steps in researching for this project. I was also fortunate to interview Dr. Benjamin Lam, the plastic surgeon who did my mom’s reconstruction, and consult Dr. Renee Quarterman, Director of the Breast Program at St. Mary Medical Center where she currently volunteers.
Dr. Dupree’s book has a chapter entitled “Fear Paralyses, Knowledge Empowers.” Many of the women I surveyed were frustrated by feeling like they had unanswered questions and incomplete information during the treatment process. Dr. Lam agreed that patients need to feel informed about their options and confident in the course of treatment and the medical professionals overseeing it. Knowledge is power, and Dr. Quarterman introduced me to a valuable resource, Breast360, which is dedicated to educating breast cancer patients with material written by members of The American Society of Breast Surgeons. Since I do not have space to go into specifics in this article, I feel compelled to share this resource which is filled with suggestions from breast surgeons particularly related to specific diagnoses, courses of treatment, and current research.
Identifying the Challenges
Going into this project, I was primarily focused on tissue damage and mobility issues, and with good reason. Tissue trauma can be a significant factor, though the extent of the damage is largely dependent upon the individual’s diagnosis and prescribed course of treatment. Every body, every diagnosis, and every treatment process is unique.
Some patients will have the option of a lumpectomy — a breast-conserving procedure to remove the cancerous breast tissue along with a “clear margin” of normal tissue, often during an outpatient procedure. This is frequently followed up with radiation. Other patients may be advised to have a mastectomy, a complete removal of the breast tissue. There are many types of mastectomy and many modern techniques, which can strive to save the nipple, breast skin, lymphatic tissue, and pectoralis muscles when possible.
With so many patients dealing with significant tissue trauma, I expected the surgeons I spoke with to focus on pre-hab and re-hab. They did recommend adopting a healthy lifestyle and endorse movement and exercise after a certain stage of recovery, but to my great surprise every medical professional I spoke with seemed to place most of their emphasis on the patient’s mindset after a diagnosis of breast cancer and throughout any treatment process.
Surgeons Recommend Sankalpa*
In Yoga Tune Up® we can define sankalpa as an intentional mindset. It is a conscious lens through which we can refract and reframe unhelpful and habitual thought patterns, and focus our energy on the inner resolve of our choosing. The sentiments the breast surgeons shared with me translated into several sankalpas that I’ve since adopted for my own in recent times of need. They came as parts of readings that resonated or statements that gave me goosebumps during an interview.
The primary challenge of women I surveyed — all of whom were either awaiting, undergoing, on the other side of, or unable to receive treatment — was fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of diagnosis, fear of telling loved ones, fear of treatment or of making the wrong decision about it, and fear of recurrence. Most women are terrified from the moment of diagnosis onward, vacillating between being numbed by the shock and magnitude of it all and overwhelmed by the number of life-altering decisions they need to make. How synchronistic that my research churned up a list of sankalpas focused on empowering women to shift their mindset to move beyond fear. This practice is not about reciting empty platitudes every morning to maintain a smiling face for the outside world. It is a tool to carry with you in darker moments, a spark of a phrase that ignites the deepest parts of you. It beckons you to embody the most inspired versions of yourself.
Next week, I will discuss techniques for crafting a sankalpa to serve as an important reminder of strength and determination during a difficult time.
*Full Disclosure: None of the breast surgeons referenced actually used the Sanskrit term or spoke of any inclination to recommend one to their patients. “Surgeons Recommend Sankalpa” is perhaps too cool a heading to be entirely accurate.