A Cancer Survivor’s Tale – Isha Yoga for Health
Hearing the doctor say, “We will try… wish you had come earlier,” Jayalakshmi realized that the problems of her already traumatic life had just compounded multifold. But she wasn’t afraid! She had something that she knew would surely see her through. What was that?
“Health is a side effect of spirituality. If you are complete within yourself, being healthy is natural.” – Sadhguru
A few minutes before 9 AM on January 8, 2017, as I took in a few shaky breaths, I had no idea what was happening within me. All I was aware of was, “I am running.” At the ripe age of 66 years, I was running a marathon for the children of Isha Vidhya schools. A moment after I crossed the finish line, I took a deep breath and sat down on the ground. It was then I realized that it wasn’t just my lungs that were about to burst… my heart was also bursting with joy and pride. I had bettered my timing by 20 minutes from last year’s run! But this wasn’t the main reason for this unbridled joy.
Flashback to 2004
“You are late, Jayalakshmi,” said the doctor solemnly as he read my biopsy results aloud in 2004. At 52, I was diagnosed with Carcinoma stage IIIC in my left breast – the cancer had spread to many lymph nodes beneath my collar bones. “We will try our best now… wish you had come earlier,” the doctor added, trying not to directly address what it meant to have cancer. Though my heart clenched, I took this gracefully. But I knew that the problems of my already traumatic life had just compounded multifold.
I was struggling with the fact that my husband, who otherwise is a wonderful person, take to drinking because of the loss of his job. I was seriously emotionally affected by this situation, and would have gone into serious depression but for the daily practice of Shakti Chalana Kriya – these practices kept me afloat. Now, discovering that I was host to a serious life-threatening disease that could incapacitate me in so many ways even if I were to survive it – my husband was shattered. But I wasn’t afraid. With one child in school and another in college, all I knew was I had to live – I had to live for my children.
The schedule was set. My doctor planned six chemotherapy sessions and 21 radiations in the first phase of the treatment. Before my chemotherapy began, somehow I knew I had to religiously stick to my yoga practices. So I started doing them twice a day. My regime was to do one round of Shakti Chalana Kriya before the treatment, and another round in the evening. I hung on to this routine like a drowning person to a piece of wood in a stormy sea. And it paid off! It paid off wonderfully beyond my wildest imagination, and far beyond my doctor’s expectations too.
Within just one chemo session, the lesions beneath my collarbone disappeared. Except for a bit of cramps following the session, and the loss of my hair, I had no side-effects at all throughout the treatment. I ate normally, I slept normally, and I never had to cancel any chemo session because of inadequate blood cell count. Most people I saw in the hospital going through similar treatments were vomiting, losing their appetites and beginning to appear like skeletons. I, in contrast, was totally fine. There were times when I clearly felt the presence of some inexplicable field around me during the chemo and radiation sessions. Within four months’ time I finished the treatment and returned to my teaching job in Kendriya Vidyalaya, for which I travelled 15 KM daily.
Later in the year, the doctors found that a stubborn swelling in my breast hadn’t responded to the treatment, and recommended a surgery. I underwent a mastectomy late November – until the last hour before my surgery, I did my practice. My recovery was nothing short of a miracle. I joined the school back after the winter vacations on January 2. By 2006, my regular visits to the doctor had reduced to once a year.
Fast-forward 12 years
Here I am, reminiscing about that painful time in my life on this lovely, cool Sunday morning, having just run 10 kilometers. I’m off all medications since 2007, and have not visited the doctor for the last two years. I regularly volunteer for Isha programs – the bliss of which I discovered only six years ago.
I remember being amazed by the people who organized and supported Isha programs. Silly me, at the time I just assumed that they were paid people, or were assigned this task by the organization. Only after I was initiated into Shambhavi Mahamudra in 2011 along with my children, did I find out that this opportunity is open to everyone. All volunteers are actually meditators like me and support the programs because they have been touched in some way by the practices that Sadhguru offers.
I slowly began to taste the ecstasy of this amazing process called volunteering. And there was a clear turning point. After volunteering for the Chennai mega program in 2013, my life changed forever. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Not only have I survived cancer, I have also come out of the pit of suffocation and dejection that I used to feel trapped in – even before this deadly disease fell upon me. Today, my husband, who quit drinking completely after my surgery, fully supports my involvement with Isha. My children are also practicing Shambhavi regularly, and love being involved with Isha.
I have no words to thank Isha for making my life wonderful and meaningful, and I humbly bow down to Sadhguru for his grace and compassion.
Jayalakshmi lives in Chennai. She retired from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Meenambakkam in 2011, but continued to teach until 2016.