“This part of my life story began 4 years ago. I was working as a practice manager at a medical office, I had a home, and was supporting myself by working three jobs. I found New Hampshire Power Yoga, and it quickly became this really amazing place for me and for my life. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2014, I had been practicing for a little while, but hadn’t truly dedicated myself to the practice.
In January of 2015, I was ruled as ‘NED’, no evidence of disease. I had completed a year of treatment including a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, 20 weeks of infusion based chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and 6 weeks of radiation 5x per week – and I was wasting away.
As part of the NED celebration I applied for participation in a “cancer camp” through an organization called The First Descents. The First Descents is an organization that sends people between the ages of 20-40 who have had or currently have cancer on outdoor adventure trips. On these trips participants have the incredible forum of new support and new friends in this life. The organization sent me ice climbing in Colorado, which jump-started a new part of my journey of which subconsciously, I always knew was missing. After returning home, my life changed. I gave a three month notice to my boss after being there for over 10 years, I put my house on the market for sale, and I decided I was going to take a year off and travel. I called it my “cancer-cation”.
Before my actual “cancercation” began after the summer, I saw an email from New Hampshire Power Yoga about a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I immediately signed up, not caring if I had the money or not. I took a private lesson with one of the studio owners, Bob, and, I just knew that this was going to be my thing. I thought to myself, “Maybe I could be good at this?” So, I went to Costa Rica with the owners and a small group of incredible people whom I still am close to today. It was one of the best times of my life. I was totally free and clear-headed in this place – one of the most spiritual places in the world. It stood as a week that was of stark contrast to the life I had been leading the year before when I was very sick: a life I had grown to know as the ‘dark place’. At this point, though, I was in remission, and I wanted to celebrate that, and I did.
That summer I traveled to Costa Rica, Iceland, Turks and Caicos, and completed a two and a half month drive through 22 states with my dog, Oskar. When I came back, it was November. I noticed I was having a lot of headaches, but I didn’t think anything of it. Two months later I was still having headaches and now vomiting, and I didn’t go to the doctor because I didn’t want to be that patient who came in because of headaches. I didn’t want drugs, I wanted to be able to stand up and see and not get sick.
I think I intuitively knew that whole time that something more was going on, but I kept pushing it away. In January, three months later, I started having vision changes, and my mom got forced me to go to the emergency room after finding me on the floor. Given my unpleasant medical history listed before the doc in the ER, I had an immediate Ct scan of my head.
After the scan my Mom and I waited in the ER and the doctor came walking towards my room, flat faced. I knew right away. He came in and shut the door took his glasses off and looked at me. He had a look of terror on his face. I knew something was really, really wrong. He said to me, “You actually have two masses in your brain, which is causing a massive brain shift.” After a few minutes of discussion we agreed with his recommendation to send me by ambulance right away to Massachusetts General Hospital. I had brain surgery that same night. That’s when they discovered that my breast cancer had come back with a vengeance, and had spread here to my brain, substantially.
I always had the inkling that I wasn’t done with cancer but, a lot of cancer patients feel that fear. I almost felt relieved in this sick sense (no pun intended) once I was given the news. They removed the tumors, I had 10+ rounds of radiation and started on the clinical trial route. My brain just kept producing more tumors. It has been 2 years with metastatic breast cancer, and I now have over twelve. I’m on another new trial, after brain surgery #2 so we’ll see soon how it’s working.
Through all of this – cancer, remission, relapse, I turn to yoga for rest; for relief; for peace. I use it at a goal for recovery. I feel so grateful when I’m on my mat. All I think about when I’m in recovery after a surgery or procedure is when can I get back to yoga? Every time I do go back I struggle the first few times, and then I’m right back to it: to the flow; to the heat; to the strength. I feel like it’s one of the best places for me to be free. And strong. There are a lot of days when I don’t feel like that. But I always do on my mat. It makes me feel powerful – like I can keep going as long as I have this balance in my life – because it’d be a pretty sad life if I didn’t have yoga.
Yoga has given me the courage to step out of my comfort zone. I started hiking 4,000 footers in New Hampshire last year. There’s 48 of those mountains and I’ve only completed 2, but it’s my goal this year to compete once a month.When I get to the top and look down at the reality of how far I’ve come on this mountain or in this life, I am so grateful and happy…that’s the feeling yoga gives me every time I practice – like I just climbed a mountain. All by myself. And I have terminal cancer. I am incurable.
I may be really really sick, but I’m okay. And there’s still so many places where I find peace and happiness, and not just the dark of the illness and of my future. This is providing me happiness now, in the present. For that hour I’m on my mat I’m not sick. I don’t have appointments. I don’t think about treatment. I just think about getting into the poses one by one. It feels incredible because I never go to class and half-ass it. There’s never a day I leave yoga and feel like I haven’t grown or gotten closer to understanding more of my own life and of my own practice.
Even in the beginning and end of practice when we’re chanting OM – and knowing the story behind it and where it comes from is spiritual in itself. When I’m chanting OM I feel like I want to put it out there as much as I want to receive it. I believe there is so much more after this life. I’m not scared of dying, I never was. In some weird way it’s something to look forward to. I think I’ll know when the time has come to say enough is enough: no more trials; just life. But I’m not there yet, I’m not done living.
In terms of religion and a belief in God, I have faith there is some guidance from somewhere. I’m not sure who’s providing it, but I’m one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason (as cliche as that sounds). Maybe I was never meant to be a practice manager at a medical facility; that was never my dream. My dream was photography, writing and travel, and cancer gave me those things. I write a blog about my cancer now, and all my wonderful travels. It used to be titled ‘My cancercation’ but now that my cancer has spread the name has changed to ‘Beauty and the Dark’. Writing, photography, and travel get me in touch with my spirit, and keep me in touch with my soul. From travel, I feel some of the most joy. When I’m deeply engrossed in the history and culture of some foreign place, it makes me want to push harder on my mat because I’m not done yet. I want more. Thankfully to make up for the lame 2017 I have a pretty awesome schedule for 2018.
This year I have already visited Turks and Caicos and am looking forward to a trip to Spain in June with some long time friends. I also started writing again and just published my first blog in over 7 months. I’m coming back to myself and there’s no place I’d rather be. At the end of July my Mom and I will be traveling to French Polynesia which has been my long time travel dream. When I finally had a stable scan just this last month, my Mom booked the trip for both of us. I was so upset with her when I found out, because I know the cost. She told me to look at it from a different perspective: like it was my inheritance from her to have while I’m still alive. I’m not going to be here to get an inheritance, so she’d rather have me enjoy it now while I can. I think it’s going to be the most amazing trip I’ve ever been on and one of the most magical things for my Mom and I to share together. Finally, in October I’m heading to Hawaii for 2 weeks. I’m really excited for all that’s to come. I want this year to be nothing like last and feel as though it will be.”
– Angela Amoroso
Follow Angela’s story in Instagram: @amoroso_angela