October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yogaia + Manduka have teamed up for Project: OM, a mindful movement to drive positive change and battle breast cancer in partnership with Susan G Komen®. Yogaia + Manduka Ambassador and breast cancer survivor, Jennifer Winther, shares how her yoga studio became her sanctuary during chemotherapy treatment.
When did you first learn you had breast cancer?
I was diagnosed on March 25th, 2011. At the time, my son was in kindergarten, just starting spring break, and my daughter was in pre-school. My mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer when she was around the same age as I was. She died within a year, so it was a terrifying diagnosis.
How did your yoga practice support you through your breast cancer treatment?
I was already practising daily when I was diagnosed, and my yoga community was a big part of my support network. My teacher was determined to get me as strong as possible before treatment started, and took such good care of me. My neighbourhood studio was a wellness centre with very dedicated healers. The owner, the staff, the teachers, and my fellow students, held me close throughout the whole ordeal. The studio was a safe place where I could go and rock my naked head (I was completely bald for months). My practice allowed me to reconnect with my body on the off weeks of chemotherapy treatment, which was basically laying my body to waste from the inside out.
You teach yoga now. Do you have any students with breast cancer?
I have taught private clients as they go through treatment, and also have survivors come to my class after reading my bio on studio websites where I teach. Both are really challenging, but deeply moving, too, and help me to continue healing since that process is ongoing. Having lived through it, I understand deeply just how devastating a cancer diagnosis and treatment, can be. Holding space for someone to simply connect with their body during a time when it is breaking down or enduring so much is an intensely intimate thing.
How long have you been cancer free for?
Towards the end of my treatment in 2011, I asked my oncologist where I fell on the spectrum of cancer patients. He replied that I had had a brush with something very serious. Had we not caught it when we did, even a few months later may have been too late because the type of cancer cells analyzed from surgery were splitting at a mad pace. But we did catch it, and my treatment was on the lighter side, given that some people, when diagnosed, never have an end date to their treatment course. I was lucky. Remission means that cancer is present but not growing, but I learned that day that since the day of my surgery, my blood tests and imaging indicated I was cancer free.
What has been the most impactful lesson from your experience?
That I am not alone. I used to take pride in doing everything for myself, in being as independent as possible. As a patient, I learned on a very deep level, and without any doubt, that humans are meant to be connected, to support each other, to give and receive help. I learned that to ask for help when we are vulnerable takes enormous courage and strength. As a survivor, I have learned to take pride in my resiliency, and try to help others find the courage to ask for and receive the help they need.
Jennifer’s classes are for everyone, even those recovering from breast cancer. Become a member of Yogaia + Manduka to join Jennifer Winther every Thursday in October for specially-themed live yoga and meditation classes.
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