Feb. 4 was National Cancer Day, so I went to yoga.
It is my year of "Making Things Happen" (thank you Lara Casey), and I am off to a blazing start. My ten goals are set, and my action steps are in progress. Budget created. Check. Closet cleaned out. Check. NPR in the car. Check. Quality time on the calendar. Check.
When 5:30 pm rolled around, I ran into the yoga studio. Little girls in pink tutus were finishing up their practice, so the other ladies waited with me as they finished. "Have you ever done yoga before?" they ask. I respond, "It's been a really long time. Too long." The girls ran to their rides and we filled the space. A lamp was lit. The overhead lights turned down. They welcomed me.
As we started the yoga sequence, it felt familiar. Warrior pose. Upward dog. Downward dog. Cobra. Mountain.
As the time continued, the vinyasa grew more intense. We were moving more quickly, and my body grew heavier and heavier. My arms felt weak. My legs trembled. Time slowed.
Our instructor walked through our class as she instructed. She was calming and gentle. "Turn your feet out. Doesn't that feel better?" "Place your hands closer together. Is this more comfortable?" Her corrections landed with no judgment; in fact, her words of instruction were comforting. I wanted more direction because it brought such comfort. I pray to be that kind of teacher.
As we moved into our last sequence before our time of rest poses, my thoughts began to lead me to quit. She interrupted my breakdown by saying, "It's just one more sequence. Don't stop. Keep going for someone who can't."
I continued for myself.
Tears flowed down my cheeks in that warrior pose as I remembered my former self who was weak. I continued for the me who was stripped of all strength by leukemia.
The final vinyasa brought images of my most staggering moments of weakness. I remembered sitting on the side of the hospital bed as my big brother leaned in to hug me. Chris told me in that moment, "Just hold on; I will do all the work for you. Forever." I hugged him as he used his strong legs to stand and lift me up. This became our practice to get me up to move to the bathroom.
I remember standing in the shower of that room at Emory on my second day there. My mom stood on the other side of the plastic shower curtain. She joined me and talked and talked because the shock and trauma overtook me if I found myself alone. In that moment, I realized I was not strong enough to bend over and wash my legs. Or my back. Or my arms. I asked Mom to help me. She continued to talk and to talk as she washed my legs. My back. My arms. Her strength allowed her to keep talking, even though it had been 33 years since I had last needed her like that. Tears streamed down my face into the running water, but she kept talking.
I remember Robert, my love and my caregiver, following my silly requests. He put shampoo on my bald head and scrubbed it, even though I was completely bald. In that moment, I obsessively hugged a towel over my PICC line that was covered in Press N Seal. The weakness kept me from washing my face. He washed it for me. Even more, he washed my head as if it was covered in hair.
That version of me couldn't dream of standing on my own, much less finishing that vinyasa. However, the me that is today finished it. My performance tonight was far from beautiful, but I didn't quit. I made it. Through tears, I made it.
The second half of yoga tonight consists of rest poses and then savasana.
That night, I was laying on the floor, completely relaxed, with arms to my side and palms up.
In that moment, I felt no pain. I felt no stress. I felt no fear. The savasana pose felt like the old me. The me before cancer. That version of me was strong. However, tonight I realized that I am moving towards strength. With each step, I become stronger. With each step, I move aware from fear.
For that girl who was so weak, I will keep going. She dreamed of a night like tonight. Those dreams are now real.
Caroline Ingle St. John is a cancer survivor, Rockdale native and the Work-Based Learning/ Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at Rockdale Career Academy. You can read more at her blog, http://carolinestjohn.com