As my fingers begin to type this, I take multiple deep, cleansing breaths to settle the feelings that arise in my body, the thoughts that arise in my mind, and the emotions that arise in my heart. I need these breaths, because I have never before told my story in such a public way, and that causes me a lot of anxiety. Moreover, I am beyond grateful for these breaths. You see, I was diagnosed with lung cancer in April of 2015.
At the time, I was a healthy, active, 45-year old, mother of three children who had never smoked a cigarette in my entire life. I went to the emergency room with a serious case of pneumonia that, in the words of my general practitioner, “was a game changer,” given the fact that lung cancer rarely becomes symptomatic until it has progressed to an incurable stage. After multiple days in the hospital and many tests and procedures, it was confirmed – lung cancer. What? How? And the biggest question, WHY? Even my oncologist at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital didn’t have an answer for that one, which truly annoyed me for a while, but I’m over that now. With guidance from a lot of sources including yoga, I began to open myself up to living in the question, and I realized that often that’s where the answers lie. They may not be the answers I thought I was looking for, but they are the answers that brought me to here and now. And here and now is just where I need to be.
After surgery to remove the majority of my right lung and four months of intense, weekly chemotherapy – which can be described most accurately with these two eloquent words: it sucked – I can happily and gratefully say that I am cancer free. So, now what? I always knew I had to do something with this experience; that the whole story couldn’t just be that I had cancer and now I don’t. I lived in the question, and it directed me to a life-changing yoga practice with an incredibly talented instructor, Melody Clark. Through my work with Melody, I learned the vitally important role that “pranayama” plays in yoga and in life. Pranayama is defined as “the conscious awareness of breath, which is the life force that both energizes and relaxes the mind and body.” The simple act of breathing is fundamentally one of the most powerful functions our bodies perform. To someone whose ability to breathe was threatened by cancer, I can’t explain the joy I get from just being able to draw air in and out of my lungs.
Melody has since become more than only my yoga instructor. She’s a true friend and now a business partner in Aluma Yoga, which we opened in December of 2017 with the intention of helping others heal, transform, and connect. It’s the start of an answer to my “now what?” question.
In the few short months since Aluma’s doors opened, we’ve been rewarded with the gift of seeing our “heal, transform, and connect” mission touch our clients’ lives with our yoga classes and wellness workshops. And now this: Aluma Yoga has been graced with the opportunity to be a sponsor in The Lung Cancer Research Foundation's Free to Breathe Yoga Challenge. This is an event where teams fundraise to earn their spot in a five-hour yogathon, held in Baltimore on June 30. It honors those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, while celebrating wellness initiatives and the connection between yoga and the breath. Most importantly, it raises critically needed funds for increasing lung cancer survival.
While we have made advances in lung cancer research, here are just a few staggering facts that illustrate how lethal this disease still is:
Lung cancer is the deadliest of all cancers. More people die from it than from colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
The five-year survival rate of those diagnosed with lung cancer is just 18%.
60% to 65% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers.
Despite lung cancer’s wide-reaching effects, only 6% of federal government dollars spent on cancer research are spent on lung cancer research. Lung cancer research needs a level of investment that matches the impact of the disease, which is why I refuse to think small. Aluma’s fundraising goal for the Free to Breathe Yoga Challenge is $100,000.00! We need everyone’s support to reach this goal, and I’m asking you to please help us. There are several ways you can do this, including making a direct donation, joining Aluma Yoga’s team at the event on June 30, sharing the link to this page on your social media, and tuning in for upcoming big announcements – and I mean big.
Like the rest of us, I don’t know what the future holds. I will continue to live in the question, but I know that right now, Aluma Yoga and the Free to Breathe Yoga Challenge are something I can do, and I would be humbled and honored if you would consider supporting this cause that is so close to my heart (and my lungs.)