LOOKING INWARD: MY BATTLE WITH BREAST CANCER

This is the year I get better. I’m a little over halfway through treatment for breast cancer. It’s a year-long process, though diagnosis actually took much more time. I’m a healthy eater. I was young. I didn’t have any family history, and I’ve never smoked. I was extremely fit, exercising and practicing yoga six days a week. Even the doctors I regularly saw could not believe the lumps I had found were tumors. It wasn’t until my symptoms changed that I insisted on seeing a different specialist at a different hospital. It was cancer, and I found out the week I turned 40.

A year is a long time, and it can feel even longer when each week brings a new cancer protocol. I’ve had six rounds of pre-surgery chemotherapy, a mastectomy (with six lymph nodes removed along with my right breast), and 12 rounds of weekly Taxol. The next phase of treatment includes four-to-six weeks of daily radiation, and an infusion of Herceptin every three weeks until I reach the point of being a year out from when care started. I said good-bye to my hair in the fall. I feel pretty terrible most days of the week. A good cry is a good friend to me now.

A few years ago, I often passed the same mother while walking my kiddos to school. She was always pushing a double stroller. She was also bald and obviously battling cancer. She was doing it – taking care of her young kids when she probably felt incredibly unwell. I remember feeling for her, thinking to myself, “thank goodness it’s not me because I could never handle being a mom with cancer”. I’ve never spoken to this woman, and I don’t even know her name. I had no idea she was a foreshadowing of my future self.

And now here I am, in it – handling it – doing it. I’m fighting cancer, raising two young boys with my husband Paul, and I opened Kodomo’s doors a short three months after my diagnosis. I am often asked: how are you doing all this?!” The truth is, “all this” is what gets me through my day. Otherwise it would be all good cries. Life goes on, like a mother pushing a stroller.

When I feel my worst, I think to myself, “I might feel better if I get out of bed and take a shower.” If that works, I get dressed and put on my makeup. And then the inertia kicks in. I’m suddenly on the way out the door to take the kids to school; to grab a coffee with a friend; possibly en route to a yoga class; and off to the shop. I’m engaged in the day and distracted from the feeling of feeling like crap, which would have been all-consuming had I not gotten out of bed. My focus shifts to each task, and little events of my day.

I’ve been practicing yoga and studying its philosophy for several years now. I’m always drawn to a particular aphorism in the ancient yogic texts, “hatha yoga nusasanam”. It directly translates to, “now begins the exploration of yoga”. The exploration is not just a study of the yoga postures, but also a practice of self-study, and a practice of seeking our truth. The “now” is always, every thought and action an opportunity for us to reflect on. When faced with life challenges, it’s common to create stories and start to identify with those stories. We think, “I am…” and end with, “therefore, I can’t”. We forget our true self in the story line we create. We forget that everything else around us is in a state of constant change and that life is a series of impermanent events.

Starting a small business as a mom battling cancer may seem absolutely insane, and for me at times, impossible. But I need to explore. As with my morning routine, I take my tasks one at a time. Maybe today I just get out of bed. Maybe tomorrow is different. Things around me will shift and the story line in my head saying, “I can’t” is just that: a story without any truth. So how am I doing this all? I’m taking the small steps. I’m letting go of results. Now – always – begins the exploration.

ABOUT JASMINE

Jasmine Punzalan is the mother of two children and owner of KODOMO, a gorgeous, ethical children’s store in the South End of Boston. She is currently battling breast cancer. Follow Jasmine + Kodomo on Instagram.

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