Written by Carol Traulsen.

Breathe. You'd be surprised at how difficult that is, despite the fact that it sounds so simple. The breath is one of the cornerstones of yoga practice. Breathing properly seems like it should be natural and easy. The truth is there are times when our breath is taken from us and it's not always a moment of joy or exhilaration. One such moment was when I learned I had breast cancer.


Five or so years ago my sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she called to tell me to get a mammogram. My husband finally had great insurance coverage and as a woman of 43 I really had to take charge of my health and get a few things checked. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure first and while I wasn't excited about it I felt glad that it been discovered. My mother had high blood pressure and so did many members of her family. There didn't seem to be any reason for it. There were no weight, or diabetes issues and I had none of those either. The next thing to tick off the list was a mammogram. I had one and then received a letter in the mail asking me to come in for another. I had lumpy, fibrous breast tissue and it seemed logical that they needed to get another view. But with my sister's diagnosis running through my mind I couldn't be calm about it.

I went in and the extra two or three views of each breast taken. Then came the worst part. The wait. By then it was the 4th of July weekend and I knew I wasn't going to hear anything until the office was open again after the holidays. The wait was agonizing. I couldn't sleep. Then came the news. I got a call asking me to come back in. I asked my husband to come with me for moral support. He was in the waiting room when the news was delivered.. Stage I Ductal Carcinoma In Situ DCIS as it's known. My worst fears had been realized and my breath left me. My throat tightened, and tears ran down my face. I raced from the room and the office, my husband was chasing after me. He stopped me as I leaned against the wall crying to ask me what was wrong. I told him I had cancer.

What followed were months of treatment, three surgeries and four years of daily medication and its side-effects. The biggest thing I had to learn to do was to get a grip on my fear and anxiety. I had to learn to breathe. It was much more difficult than it sounds. I turned to the practice of just sitting still, in rock pose for a few minutes in the morning before I started my day and sometimes at the end of the day I would lay flat on my back in corpse pose (ironic huh?) and listen to my breath. I'd heard deep breathing could lower blood pressure and I was desperately seeking a way to control the panic. It seemed to be helping.

I knew I wasn't going to die. But I made things harder on myself than they had to be with all the time I that I wasted worrying. Once I let go and allowed myself to breathe, I could get through it. When the anxiety welled up before radiation treatments I had to remind myself to relax and breathe. It would be the same as it was the day before. There was no reason to be afraid. I would center myself and as I looked around I felt grateful. I knew I was going to survive.

Breath is sacred. I still use one word as my mantra. Breathe. I even have a T-shirt with the word emblazoned on the front. Breathe On the back it reads: breathe release expand align heal exhale. Very good advice. I try to use it throughout my day and sometimes it's still harder than it sounds.

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