Warrior Won

N Magazine Feature

I am so grateful to N Magazine for this generous feature in the May 2015 edition. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to honor my fellow cancer warrior, Natasha Grosshans, in this very public, very special way. A big thank you to Katie Kaizer for all her beautiful photographs, and her always happy and very luminescent spirit.

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Electric Flow @ The Whaling Museum

Electric Flow Yoga at the Whaling Museum

Support the Nantucket Historical Association and see what it feels like to practice yoga under the Whaling Museum’s famous 46-foot sperm whale! Join yoga teacher Caitlin Marcoux and Nantucket’s own DJ Pete Ahern for an electrifying and dynamic 90-minute vinyasa practice. Caitlin, who’s roots are grounded in modern dance and PranaFlow will encourage you to dig in deep, let go even deeper, tap into your inner primal rhythms, spiritual prowess and creative juices. Use mantra, meditation and creatively sequenced waves of energetic vinyasa asana to explore your physical and subtle body. Let yourself be guided by the music and embody the collective consciousness. Proceeds will benefit the NHA directly.

Advanced tickets will be available soon.

A beautiful departure

Team Tasha Vinyasa B&W group photo

Tasha was so excited. Her famous smile would light up every time I’d mention the event. You know the smile I’m talking about. The one that would force anyone in her general vicinity to smile back, even if they didn’t know what they were smiling about. Tasha’s energy was like that. She had generous bounds of contagious happiness.

From the moment we began working together I felt like we were sisters. It was an immediate bond. One that is forged in the initiation fires of cancer, but one that could also have developed without cancer’s help. I immediately felt like I could tell her anything. She had an curious mind and a hunger for experience and knowledge. She ate up anything I shared with her about my own experience with illness, and voraciously took in whatever yogic philosophy I brought to light.

Some times we saw each other several times a week. We’d practice basic yoga poses at the studio, or focus on restorative yoga and body work. Sometimes we went for coffee instead. Once I brought her to my house and I passed on all my medicinal tools for mitigating the side-effects of chemotherapy and she wouldn’t stop talking about how much she liked the 50s motif in my kitchen. It’s strange like that with cancer: in one breath we find ourselves talking about how to survive, in the next we’re talking about interior design. We trying to find balance in a world thrown up-sid-down by treatments and tests, protocols and procedures.

Tasha did a fantastic job at keeping one eye on the cancer ball, and one eye on the rest of her life. And instead of wallowing in the unfairness of the hand she’d been dealt, Tasha was fully present in the moment, and willing to engage with anyone asking for her attention.

When I first mentioned the idea of a class in her honor she looked as if I had invited her to the Oscars. I told her about the positive energy we could create as a collective whole and whereas a less open minded or mature young person might roll their eyes, she nodded enthusiastically. I knew right away she was picking up what I was laying down. She got it.

Back in December we thought there was a good chance Tasha might still be well enough to attend the event, but as we rolled into January we realized that was not longer the case. Technology came to the rescue though, and she and I got almost equally excited when we realized she’d be able to watch the class from the comfort of her own bed via Skype.

At various points in our relationship, I shared with Tasha small pieces of yoga’s ritualistic heritage. I taught her a few sanskrit words, told her a little bit about mantra (the repetition of a word or phrase with a focused intention) and shared with her a few ideas about dharma and karma. I gave her one of the malas (prayer beads) that had been gifted to me when I was sick, and she wore them at the hospital. These were little things, little tools, but I could tell they interested her.  So when I told her that for Team Tasha Vinyasa, my intention was to get everyone in attendance to chant mantra in her honor she was stoked.

My partner, Burr; always the creative production force behind my classes, created a giant, 80-foot aqua mala as a back drop for the event – and I shared with Tasha, photos of it’s creation. “Tell him I LOVE it” she said, when she saw a photo of Burr’s crew drilling holes in the oversized Christmas balls.

Team Tasha Vinyasa

The day of the event, Tasha was in and out of consciousness. She had gone to sleep on Thursday night, and slept through most of Friday morning. She woke up at some point in the middle of the day, for about 15 precious minutes, and her mother was able to show her a photo I had posted of Mary Michetti and I cutting hundreds of aqua ribbons. Again, she perked up and talked about how excited she was to watch the night unfold later on her laptop. Shortly after, Tasha said she need a nap, so that she could be up with us later.

And what an event it was. I have never been prouder of our community. 120 people poured into the Studio Theater at the Dreamland that night, many of whom had never done yoga before in their lives. I had promised after all, that it wouldn’t be hard.

Men and women, young, and old, humans with spiritual beliefs as different as the color of their hair. It was an incredible representation of our island. Clearly, people from all different pockets of our community had been touched by Tasha’s story and wanted to be a part of sending her love.

Team Tasha Vinyasa

I can’t say that I kept my promise. At some point during the practice it occurred to me that life is so beautiful, but really, really challenging. So… I turned up the heat a little. I couldn’t help myself. I thought of how gracefully Tasha had navigated pneumothorax, chemotherapy, plural taps, and port implants. I thought about what a miracle it was that we were all there, with fully functional bodies with the ability to do challenging things. I remembered how hard it was for me personally when cancer kept me from my own physical identity… and I remembered a conversation I had with Tasha back in November.

She had expressed her frustrations to me then, at watching her muscles atrophy. Remembering all too well what that felt like, all I could do was empathize. I didn’t tell her how strong she still was, or try to deny what was blatantly obvious to both of us. But I did promise her that I would bust my ass physically so that she wouldn’t have to. A brilliant smile, of course, flashed across her face.

So in that vein, I invited students that night, to hold poses longer, to go deeper, to do it for Tasha – who so badly wanted to, but could not. To feel that solar burn in your thighs, what a privilege, I said. Some people laughed. Some people groaned. But you know what? They all held it together. The 60 year olds and the 5 years olds, and every one in between. They put in an effort, perhaps like never before, because they wanted to do it for Tasha.

Team Tasha Vinyasa

That night I witnessed our island come together for Tasha in a way I’ve never seen before. The studio was packed from wall to wall with bodies focused solely on one purposed: to open their hearts to Tasha. Collectively these diverse individuals created one huge mass of love.  Tasha’s family gathered closely around her, inside her newly finished aqua bedroom sanctuary, and watched the entire event from start to end. Tasha’s mother Tina, sister Allyssa, brother Timmy, step-dad Brendan, aunt Lisa, cousin Heather and best friends from California Sydney and Micha, snuggled around Tasha like a blanket. And Burr, with laptop in hand, ran from one corner of the studio to the other, doing his best to capture the depth of the magic being created for them to see.

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Even though she never opened her eyes again, I am positive Tasha heard every prayer this community offered and felt every ounce of love we generated. When my phone rang 4 hours later, I knew instantly that Tasha had left her body, and I felt as sure as I’ve ever felt anything that we helped her transition and guided her to the light.

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Tasha often thanked me for being a part of her life. But honestly, it is I who should be thanking Tasha. She has taught me so much about my own capacity to love and in a time when the world seems bitter and cruel, she has reinforced my belief in mankind’s ability to love one another.

Team Tasha Vinyasa

 

I fell in love with Tasha the way mothers fall in love with their babies the first moment their skin makes contact. Instantaneously. I think she had that affect on a lot of people.

And right now, in this very moment, Tasha is teaching every one of us the power of community, for even in death, her spirit has united an entire island.

#teamtasha

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Below are a few more photographs from Team Tasha Vinyasa Electric Flow, taken by my friend and very talented photographer, Katie Kaizer. In her words, Katie says “I am so thankful to be part of this community and to photograph such a moving and emotional evening. I am in awe of the energy that forms throughout the night and holds everyone together offering comfort and understanding. The entire room was radiating peace and love as we all sent prayers to Natasha and her family.”

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

TeamTasha_035_KatieKaizerPhotography

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Team Tasha Vinyasa

Many thanks to Floyd Kellogg and Pete Ahern for donating their time. We love this town.

Why I ride and how surviving cancer is easier on a bike

I love cycling

“Cyclers see considerable more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to.” ~ Dr. K. K. Doty

Neophyte. Rookie. Novice. Beginner. Green Horn. These are all terms you could use to describe me and my current place in the cycling community. But despite the fact that I am the newcomer with the shaky handlebars, and inconsistent pedal stroke, I am having the time of my life. In fact, I have never felt so alive.

I’m sure that it a lot to do with recently overcoming invasive breast cancer and wrapping up 16 months of chemotherapy. I literally have a new lease on life and I’m so amped to live this one to the fullest.

For the record, I have no problem admitting I have no real place keeping company with the stallion-like riders I’ve been chasing. But so far anyway, my ego hasn’t gotten the better of me, and Im well satisfied with my view from the rear. Every moment I spend in the saddle is a moment I’m not in a hospital. Every time I feel my heart rate rise I smile knowing it’s because I am physically exerting myself and not because I’m having a chemo-induced panic attack. I don’t care if I ever win a bike race, because I’ve already beat the biggest competition I’ll ever have to face. Sure it would be nice, but right now I’m just happy to be here.

So many things change after a cancer diagnosis. But one of the things you realize right away, is that your life will forever be divided into two distinct chapters: Life Before Cancer and Life After Cancer. I’ve heard over and over again that many cancer survivors go onto change their lives radically when they’ve overcome the disease. Some survivors totally rework their priorities; quit day jobs to spend all their time with their families, jump out of planes, climb crazy mountains, leave their relationships, get divorced, or move to a foreign country.

Now I was pretty happy with my life before I got diagnosed, so I’m not looking to make any radical changes – BUT I will say this, the fear that used to hold me back from doing things that intimidated me is gone. Having looked at death in the face and come out the other side, there’s not a lot I’m afraid of anymore. I have however found myself wanting to make up for lost time, to push my body harder than ever before, to test my limits, to live bigger, louder, and stronger. I have a voracious appetite and throw myself into things with a gusto I think I lacked in the time before cancer. One of the ways I’ve been doing this has been on my bike, 4-6 mornings a week, since the beginning of June.

I’ve caught the cycling bug the way I see some of my students catch the yoga bug… I think about it constantly. I read about riding. I dream about riding. I feel agitated and incomplete on my rest days. Yoga and I have been married a long time. We will continue our mostly monogamous and steadfast relationship until death do us part. However, cycling has showed up this year out of no where, and all of a sudden I have a most unexpected and tantalizing lover on the side. Admittedly, I’m a little obsessed, as one is when a new passion is ignited. But if you have to be obsessed about something, I figure this is a pretty healthy obsession.

Nantucket Velo

The back story to the cycling piece is this: I lived in Chicago from 2002 until 2007. During that time I was madly in love with a man whom I would ultimately marry just 8 weeks before he would die of a rare and shockingly brutal kind of lung cancer. Ironically during our time together Aaron constantly pressured me to get on a road bike. He loved it and rode all over Chicago on a wickedly fast Bianchi. Even the thought of riding though the city streets on a tiny, delicate looking frame with spaghetti thin wheels terrified me. And I refused.  He eventually bought be a Marin Muirwoods hybrid bike, which was basically a road bike but had a steal mountain-bike like frame and wheels that were slightly wider than those on his. It was a manipulative gift, but a beautiful one, and over time, I caved to the guilt he laid on in heavy doses.

It was right around the time I finally started tentatively riding the bike, that we found out Aaron had terminal cancer. He was gone just 2 months later. Everything after that got really blurry for me. I was 27, I was devastated. I was a widow. I put the bike down and didn’t ride it again until I moved home to Nantucket in 2007, and even then just looking at the Marin brought up such pain and loss, I barely rode it.

In another ironic twist, I got hooked on spinning just a few months before my own cancer diagnosis. I’d often take the 5:30am spin class at the NC+F studio, and then head over to the Green for a post-workout coffee. It was Jason Bridges, who started suggesting I take all my spinning energy and put it on the road. No way, I’d think to myself. That shit is scary.

But wouldn’t you know that in December 2012, just 3 months before my life would be turned up-side-down by a needle biopsy, a beautiful titanium LeMond road bike arrived. A gift from my partner – who knew how much I was enjoying spinning, and just couldn’t help but pick up where Aaron had left off.

The gift simultaneously thrilled and freaked me out. Luckily for me, I wouldn’t have to test drive my new steed for quite a while. My needle biopsy revealed an aggressive triple-positive ductal carcinoma, and subsequent MRIs showed that the cancer had spread throughout 3/4th of my entire right breast. My breast surgeon was saying things like “we’ll do everything we can to save your life”… I had an oncologist asking me things like did I want to freeze my eggs in case we had to remove my ovaries and uterus. Someone stuck a huge fucking needle full of radioactive dye into both my breasts and told me it would feel like a bee sting (clearly she had never had the procedure herself). The bike starred tauntingly at me from our enclosed porch while I threw up into a plastic bowl and kept swapping out ice packs on my itchy, hot, bald scalp.

I made a vow to myself, that if I beat cancer, I would get on that bike and RIDE it. I’m not sure if I was bargaining with God or with Aaron, but I also vowed that if I came out the other side, I would even race it. So in November of 2013, when I had gotten over the worst part of my treatment (Taxol, A/C and the double mastectomy) I realized that I was going to have to make good on my promises.

“The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it.” ~ Doug Bradbury

My partner and I had thrown around the idea of forming an Iron Teams Relay team, an annual race here on Nantucket that has a number of different legs, including a bike leg, but it had seemed like theoretical banter at the time. Once it started to look more like a reality, I wasn’t sure what was more frightening, cancer or riding in the Iron Teams.

I took the LeMond out for the first time on the 15th of November. I had no hair, no energy, certainly no cycling apparel, and felt like a big bald idiot as I awkwardly tried shifting up and down on the completely foreign apparatus. It felt very unstable, and scary to be clipped into something that moved in a forward trajectory, but part of me loved it right away.

November 15th, 2013: First time on a road bike.

A little post ride yoga selfie. November 15th, 2013: First time on a road bike.

Somehow between endless infusions and visits to Boston to see my oncologist, the winter flew by, and with spring arrived cycling season. My fear of road biking was dissipated by a couple of dear friends who took the time to explain the rules of the road, and in May took me out a few times at a pace I could handle. After a year and half of treatments, my energy level was at an all time low. My lungs were sluggish. My legs felt like they were moving through quick sand and my heart rate skyrocketed almost as soon as I left my house. The first time I did the Polpis-Sconset Loop with triathlete, friend and yoga student, Eddie Roberts, we went around 12mph.

Paint probably dries faster.

Even so, it didn’t matter. I was hooked. While riding I felt tingly from head to toe. Any speed I went was still faster than no speed at all, and faster still then the snails pace which I had averaged walking anxiously through the hallways of the Mass General Cancer ward. Riding made my entire body buzz. Riding made me feel alive in ways I’m not sure I’ve ever felt. And most importantly, it made returning to Life After Cancer seem like a tangible reality.

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride.” ~ Eddy Merckx

By June, I started riding 2-3 times a week: the most cardiovascular training I’ve ever done in my entire life. As far as training goes, it’s not much. But I had to start building a base if I was going to ride the bike leg of the Iron Teams Relay as promised. The goal was not win, the goal was simply to finish. I wanted my 4 year old son Griffin to see me speed down the road on my black and yellow LeMond.  I wanted him to see that the days of watching his mommy lay on the couch, too weak to play were over.

 

Iron Teams Relay: June 25th, 2014

Proudly showing off my “Kick Cancer” kit at the Iron Teams Relay: June 25th, 2014

Iron Teams Relay (photo by Shawn Monaco)

With Griffin at the end of the bike leg. Photo by Shawn Monaco

By the 16th of July, which was my last of 31 chemotherapy infusions, I had started to ride with the 6am Nantucket Velo group fairly regularly. I didn’t and still don’t often hold onto the group for long, but was happy just to be welcomed into the fold. From time to time I would be offered technical tips, or motivational aphorisms. New friends started pushing me to hold on through the “hills” of Tom Nevers, or get on somebody’s back wheel to practice drafting. I watched in absolute AMAZEMENT as my speed average increased from 12mph in May to 19mph in July.

Now some people have told me that stats and data aren’t important, and that cycling is more about how your body feels than the speed you ride or the miles you put in. But cancer patients are obsessed with numbers: blood counts and temperatures dictate whether or not an infusion can be administered. The number of days are counted  before we have to go back into the hospital and start the hell that is chemotherapy all over again. We count the number of days we throw up and the number of times we have to go in for intravenous hydration. I even counted the number of episodes I could watch of Scandal in a row before nodding out while doped up on morphine. So for me keeping track of my speed and milage has been something that I get great pleasure from. Every piece of data reminds me how alive I am instead of how sick I am (or was). Of course I pay attention to how my body feels, that’s an integral part of being a yogi, but I don’t think anything’s wrong with tracking progress. In fact, as a cancer survivor, I feel liberated by these kinds of numbers not confined by them.

On July 24th I competed in the Nantucket Hero Triathlon, on a team with Simon Shurey, who’s mother too has been battling breast cancer. We named our team FCTIAH aka Fuck Cancer There is Always Hope. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so nervous in all my life, but it was awesome. It was so much fun being on a team with Simon, who has always been so encouraging and positive whenever I see him, and my friend Laura, who had been on my Iron Teams Relay team.

In no small part because of this blog, many people who were either competing or spectating knew my cancer story and it felt like hundreds of people were rooting for me. Race Director, Jamie Raney, was over the top supportive of me and my decision to participate, and even publicly acknowledged my fight during the pre-event meeting. The race was on a Sunday. I had completed my last chemo on that Wednesday, just 4 days earlier. On that 31st and final infusion I felt like I had finally crossed the finish line of a very, very long and traumatic race. As I sprinted in at the end of Triathlon bike leg, the victory of crossing that finish line truly settled in.

 

 

Team FCTIAH at the Nantucket Hero Tri

Team FCTIAH at the Nantucket Hero Tri

Tomorrow I am racing in the Tour de Loop, a local Nantucket bike race (my first ever) that’s been around for a number of years. I have no illusions of grander or expectations to ride any faster than my personal best. There are a few riders I know I can match cadence with, and I’ll be happy for their companionship. Yes, I am the newbie. I am the one trying her damnedest to conquer her spazzy front wheel. I am the one who, just this morning, gripped her brakes dangerously when  assaulted by a piece of road kill and incited the ire of one of the velo’s senior riders (so sorry). But I’m also the happiest person on the road. That I know for sure.

Thank you Edward Roberts, Emily Molden, Jake Allegrini, Jason Bridges, Mike Allen, Simon Shurey, Mary Ellen Pender, Criss Troast, Jeff Shapiro, Michael Alpert, Seth Hatch, Shawn Monaco and the rest of the men and women who’ve allowed me to tag along this summer.

#nevergiveup

 

inspirational bike quotes

Nantucket Triathlon: Hero Tri

Nantucket Triathlon

I won’t be teaching my usual Sunday Sadhana Vinyasa Flow class tomorrow at The Yoga Room. Instead I am competing in the 6th annual Nantucket Triathlon as part of a relay team. Not that having had chemo this week, and only getting on my bike one in the last 7 days makes me much of a competitor. But hey, it’s not about winning – for me anyway – it’s about FINISHING. And this week in particular is all about celebrating the FINISH LINE. Maybe, maybe, next year it’ll be about something more. 😉

heronantucket.com

how to love a chair

Goddess pose

(photo: Larisa Forman)

16 months ago I invited you to join me on an adventure to CancerLand. Through my pieces on Rebelle Society and the more spontaneous posts here on my blog, I took you with me from the point of my initial diagnosis (terrifying), on a chemotherapy roller coaster ride (tenacious) and through my surgical recovery (triumphant). We’ve moved through the phases of my disease and healing process together as a tribe and I’ve tried not to pull any punches along the way. I’ve attempted to share my experience of cancer with you without embellishment, exaggeration or pretense. I’ve tried to be authentic: presenting my vulnerabilities when feeling weak, and my fortitude when feeling strong. Hopefully together we have demystified the big C at least a little, shed some light on chemotherapy, debunked mastectomy and embraced on the healing process.

I hope that through my writings, my FaceBook posts, and my Instagram pics, that you’ve seen just how resilient we humans are. Since I began attending the cancer support group at Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket, we have said good-bye to a number of extraordinary members. Each parting has been painful, scary and traumatic for those of us remaining. But my resolve, OUR resolve as a community to memorialize those who have departed by living the fullest lives we can live, and cherishing every single fucking moment, has grown with each grief-choked tear.

I can no better explain to you why some of us survive and others pass than you could reassure your 20-something year old daughter that after immense heartbreak, she will in time fall in love again. But here I am. And here we are. And I’m still writing. And you’re still reading. And we owe it to Jenny and Claudia, and my late husband Aaron, and everyone we’ve loved and lost to keep going.

We owe it to them to smile big, laugh lots, and love hard.

Now, as of July 16th, almost a year and a half after our disembarkation, I’ve finally  come home. I’m finished with treatment. The infusions are over. My time in the chemo chair is over. The trips to MGH are bi-annual and in just 9 days I will be able to say I am officially a year out from the removal of my tumor. 365 more days after that I will be 80% likely to side-step a reoccurrence.  Something will kill me eventually, but it won’t be cancer.

I’m sure I’ll write about my life as a cancer survivor in the months and years to come, but for today, I’d like to leave you with the following video. My heartfelt thanks to Lisa Frey for filming, and to all of you for watching.

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(10 Practical Tips for the First 10 Days of Cancer)

(Making the Breast Decision)

(Life After the Knife)

{How to Talk to Someone with Cancer)

(Let’s be Friends)

 

Nantucket: Fighting Cancer with Bikes and Likes

Bikes Fight Cancer

I don’t really know Nantucketeer Sarah Montgomery. I see her in passing sometimes at the grocery store, or during morning drop off at the elementary school, but our exchanges have been limited. So a couple of months ago when she called out to me in the NES parking lot, I was a little shocked when she asked me if she could dedicate her upcoming Pan-Mass Challenge ride to me.

At first I didn’t know what the PMC was, but Sarah passionately filled me in. Not only is it an incredible annual bike-a-thon that crosses the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but also a charity event that channels 100% of every rider-raised dollar directly to Dana-Farber Cancer Research though the Jimmy Fund, and therefore It is considered the most successful fundraising event for charity in the nation.


images-1

Participants each have their own reasons for riding, volunteering and contributing to this powerful event. Some ride in memory of a loved one who was affected by cancer. Some ride for themselves, celebrating as I am about to, a long battle finally won. Some ride to inspire awareness in their communities. Last year, Sarah Montgomery rode in memory of her father, who in 2001 was diagnosed with cancer.

As she detailed her reasons for riding, I felt that all too familiar cancer-created grief choke hold my gut. Images of my late husband, wandering hopefully and desperately through the halls of Dana-Farber, our last ditch effort to save his life, flooded my brain.

While she spoke, I could feel Sarah’s pain, her anger and her grief but also I could sense the intensity of her commitment to DO SOMETHING, to change the outcome for the next person she’d know who will be diagnosed with cancer.

With the staggeringly high incidents of cancer seemingly on an unchecked skyward trajectory, it is no longer a question of who, it is a question of when.

By the year 2030, 2.3 million people in the U.S. will be living with a diagnosis of cancer, compared to about 1.6 million in 2010.

In my own life I have lost my husband to lung cancer, my grandmother to pancreatic cancer and nearly lost my father to Stage IV throat cancer in 2012. Since my own March 15th, 2013 diagnosis, I have said good-bye to 5 fellow patients.

Sarah’s grief and anger and sense of injustice may as well be my own… and now it’s time to band together. It’s time to support as many ways to research, and refine our approach to cancer care and patient wellness. It’s time to get involved and be proactive. It’s time to eat organic food, filter our tap water, use massive amounts of sunscreen and please, for heaven’s sake, QUIT SMOKING.It’s time to join the fight, join a ride, Swim Across America and walk for awareness.

With financial support hospitals and research groups such as the ones at Dana-Farber and Mass General, can make huge strides in advancing new targeted therapies, hormonal therapies and dialing in fine tuned chemotherapies engineered for specific cancers.
As bleak as the rise in cancer may feel, there is hope building and gaining momentum around the corner of every diagnosis. More and more people are living with cancer and many, many more are surviving cancer every day. I am living proof.

Without financial support, the creation of Herceptin, my life-saving targeted therapy, in the late 90’s, I would not still be here. New drugs like Herceptin are beings created all the time.
With these new treatments, a positive outlook, diligent self-care, tenacity of spirit and community support we have a better chance of beating back this beast than ever before.

Sarah recently sent out a newsletter describing her reasons for riding. It wasn’t until reading her moving story, that I realized that through the blog I had started 15 months ago, I was reaching people like Sarah, people I barely knew. Reaching them and giving them hope.  It’s this hope, like Sarah’s hope, that assured me once again that all I have suffered and shared has not been in vain. That through soldering on, hopefully with a little grace, I have been able to inspire others to join in the fight, and for that alone, I would do it all over again.

Please join me in supporting Sarah on her ride across the Commonwealth. Please make a donation to the PMC for Sarah.

If you cannot make a donation please spread the word about her ride, her campaign, and her journey. Share it with you friends on FaceBook and Twitter.

Maybe next year I’ll be strong enough to join her!

#NeverGiveUp

Pan Mass Challenge

Electrifying Nantucket: one yoga pose at a time

On September 18th 2012, I taught my first yoga class at the newly reopened Dreamland Theater. Accompanied by the internationally acclaimed yoga spin master, DJ HyFi and buoyed up by the visionary production stylings of my partner, Burr Tupper, we put together a great night. 44 Nantucket yogis and yoginis packed the Harbor View Room and I think we all felt a little high. It was a chance to come together in a new space, over looking the harbor we all love, and try something new. By the time the evening was over our hearts were deeply entrained and smiles had spread like wildfire across our faces.

I knew we had to do it again.

I’ve always thought fondly of my fellow NHS alum, and music aficionado, Pete Ahern. So after watching his career as a DJ build steadily, especially in the last few years with steady gigs at Pazzo and the formation of Audio Architects, the production team he and Billy Desmond spearhead, he seemed like an obvious choice to collaborate with. I especially liked the idea of working with someone else local, someone who had roots here as well, someone I knew I could build an ongoing partnership with.

Pete was game, and on December 4th, 2012 Electric Flow was born. Once again, I rented the Harbor View Room at the Dreamland – and 39 yogis showed up for a challenging 90 minute practice. And again, my always supportive and artistically inclined partner came up with a few visual surprises. Burr enlisted the help of local filmmaker Kristen Kellogg, and they put together a black and white montage of vintage yoga footage and an animated beating anatomical heart. The footage played on a makeshift screen, Tupper had created seemingly out of thin air, at the beginning of the practice, and as the beat of the heart faded into the distance, Pete’s electronic grooves steadily built. It was magical.

Electric Flow: December 4th, 2012

I knew right away Pete and I had a great chemistry together. Even though it was our first time collaborating, I felt we got each other. Clearly in tune with bodies in motion from years of spinning at parties and in clubs, Pete had an immediate knack for supporting the yogis during their vinyasa practice. We came up with ways to communicate to each other silently (hand gestures for take the tempo down, take it up, cool us off, heat us up, etc.) but mostly the evening flow took care of itself. I took queues from Pete, he took queues from me and the crowd was buzzing.

Due to overwhelming demand, two months later we decided to try it again – this time with a little help from our friend Floyd Kellogg.

Maybe you know Floyd from You Scream, I Scream, the band he heads up with his partner Audrey Sterk. Or maybe you know Floyd from the Brewery, where he plays in the crazy punk rock/rockabilly/alterna comical music  duo Lance Mountain Dance Party. OR maybe you know Floyd because his new project, Violent Mae is awesome, and now available on iTunes. In any event, Pete and I met up with Floyd, who had collaborated with Pete a few times at Pete’s regular Pazzo gig, and asked him to play percussion. The resulting three-way was killer. The guys played off each other and the yoga nearly took care of itself. with 40 beating hearts in the room and the thumping pulsation of the music I thought the roof might blow off the theater. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about volume, I’m talking about vibration. It was epic.

Students lining up for Electric Flow: February 6th, 2013

 

Electric Flow: February 6th, 2013

It was so much fun working with Floyd and Pete together we almost immediately booked the next gig. Then I got cancer

I thought at first that I should cancel our April 25th reunion; after all I was getting chemotherapy ever week, my hair was falling out, I felt sick as a dog, and part of me wanted to hole up in my house and hide. But then I realized that if I was going to survive, I had to keep teaching. Cancer takes so much away from you – it is one big practicing in non-attachment – that teaching more than ever helped me to stay present with myself. So after much debate about how’d I’d hold up, we decided to go for it.

On April 25th, 2013 nearly the entire Nantucket yoga community showed up at the Dreamland and turned our Electric Flow into a fairly spontaneous fundraiser. With the Dreamland’s generous support, we were able to cross the hallway from the Harbor View room and occupy the Studio Theater, filling it to the brim with over 90 students. Pete and I were join by both Floyd, and his partner Audrey on stage. Floyd played upright base, Audrey joined him on percussion, and Pete spun the sexiest electronica and ambient grooves. To make an incredible evening even better, Burr and Kristen Kellogg collaborated on a video installation, which was projected on the screen behind me.

Electric Flow: April 25th, 2013

It was one of the most powerful, magical and profound moments of my life, and I will cherish it forever.

Electric Love: March 27th, 2014 6-8pm

This week, Pete and Burr and I are collaborating once again. This time we’ve enlisted help from local yoga teacher and mindfulness meditation instructor, Clay Twombly as well as Brooklyn-based artist Craig Anthony Miller. And like last time, this event is a fundraiser. Only this time, it’s not for me. I am 12 months into my cancer treatment, and officially CANCER FREE. With 7 more infusions to go (the last scheduled for July 17th) I am all but out of the woods and well on my way to recovery. Healing would not have been possible though, had it not been for the support of local non-for-profit, Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket. So this time around, we’re giving all the money to them.

In 2014, there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in the US. Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.

Clay, Craig, Pete and I have all been personally affected by cancer – and all of us would like to do whatever we can to abate it’s tide of trauma. Through music, art, meditation and yoga we  believe we can heal the world, and we’re starting here, on the tiny island of Nantucket.

Please help us support PASCON, an organization who’s services have helped hundreds of Nantucketeers in times of need. Whether it’s navigating  long term-illness or the death of a loved one, PASCON exists solely to help people transition through life’s more challenging times.

Spreading the Love at 97.7ACK FM

Want to know more about this Thursday evenings Lovefest? Listen to Pete and Clay and I being interviewed on 97.7ACK FM this morning.

[jwplayer mediaid=”3982″]

Electric Love: poster by Craig Anthony Miller

 

Electric Love Charity Class: Thursday March 27th

Thursday, March 27th, 2014
6-8pm
The Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center
Studio Theatre
Nantucket, MA. 02554

Electric Love

ELECTRIC LOVE YOGA, MUSIC & ART CHARITY EVENT
A BENEFIT FOR PALLIATIVE & SUPPORTIVE CARE OF NANTUCKET

Nantucket, MA – Yoga teacher Caitlin Marcoux, local DJ Pete Ahern, Brooklyn artist Craig Anthony Miller and special guest Clay Twombly team up to offer Nantucket yoga students an evening of visual and auditory inspiration sponsored by the Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center and Verde Nantucket Green Build.

This 2 hour yoga and meditation practice will feature live music by Ahern and virtual streaming of impromptu graffiti art created by Miller specifically for the event.

Marcoux, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last March, is extremely excited to give back in this way to PASCON, where she has attended monthly cancer support groups and individual counseling. All four artists have been effected by cancer and feel passionately about supporting organizations such as PASCON who work tirelessly to care for those in need. Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket is a specialized health care program dedicated to providing excellent physical, psychological, social, and spiritual care for persons with life-threatening illness and their families.

This yoga practice will be mixed-level. All yogis, regardless of number of years practicing, are encouraged to participate. Please bring your own yoga mats and props.

Tickets here:

grief

Caitlin with cancer

I took a yoga class this morning and cried. I cried every time we came into a forward fold. I cried every time we opened our hips.I cried during cat & cow, child’s pose and even downward facing dog.

I cried for the last 8 months of treatments my family has endured. I cried for every needle stick, every blood test, every biopsy, injection and surgical procedure. I cried for every night spent writhing in pain on the couch, and every morning kneeling over the toilet. I cried for every time I was too tired to play with my son, or walk to the beach.

I cried  for the natural breasts I now miss; the ones I was born with, the ones I used to nurse my son.

I cried for the physical strength I once had, the endurance I’ve lost, and the muscle tissue that has atrophied.

I cried because plank is hard, chaturanga is impossible and cobra is painful. I cried because laying on my stomach pushes my implants into my chest and makes it hard for me to breathe. I cried because I’m not sure I like anything about these new appendages.

I cried because I’ve lost sensation in the skin across my chest. I cried because I cannot feel my nipples, and when my lover touches them I do not know.

I cried for all the days I have not recognized myself. I cried for the impermanence, the letting go and saying good-bye.

I cried for the medically-induced early menopause. I cried because I will never have another baby. I cried because last night I had my first true hot flash.

I cried because amputating a part of my body has been a big deal, though I have played it down.

I cried because for 8 months I’ve rarely let myself.

I cried because it was long overdue.

###

I am starting over with a new body. This body is softer and wiser. It has some big scars and a few little ones, and each one tells a powerful story. This body moves differently, expresses itself differently and even sits in silence differently. But as vulnerable as it may be, this body loves bigger, connects stronger, and is home to a depth of gratitude and appreciation I would never have found on my own in the time before cancer.

“When we become sick, we often take the illness personally and feel that our happiness is conditional upon getting ride of it. We forget that illness- along with aging and death- is a hallmark of our human existence, and we get angry at our bodies for “letting us down”. When we realize that illness is inescapable, realize that stress around illness increases our suffering, and that being sick is not a shortcoming – only than can we be at ease with, and even empowered by, illness.” ~ Jean Smith

May all we learn to hold ourselves sweetly, no matter where we are. May our commitment to practice compassion begin with compassion for our Selves. May we continue to show up, rise up and hold space for our own intrinsic value in sickness and in health.