Balancing Act

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
the Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


Name: Betsy Warner

Location: Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Insurance Agent

Photo by Flickr User john.schultz.

I used to think I had a stressful life. After all, I was busy. I was running a small business, I had a wife and two kids, and my 85-year-old mother-in-law had recently moved in with me. As I aged and added more layers of stress to my life, I managed to juggle a little faster and beat myself up a little more because I felt like the worst multi-tasker on Earth.

At the end of last year, my life changed drastically. Suddenly I wondered how anything that had come before had ever felt stressful.

Let me preface my story by saying I have an amazing wife. She’s a runner, she meditates, she eats well, she’s joyful, she’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s taught me an immense amount about enjoying life. So it was more than a shock when we learned last November that she had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Without notice, we were thrown into a world that is known only to those who have been there; a world of more questions than answers; a world of Western Medicine and more appointments than I thought possible; a world for “other” people. Yet here we were.

Photo by Flickr User TipsTimes.

First, the shock was so intense that neither of us could function very well. We went from appointment to appointment, but the rest of our life was on hold. We sat down with the doctors and set up a schedule for treatment that would take us through most of the year. We had no idea how horrid the treatments would be, and how much suffering she would go through. It was all so incredibly overwhelming that finding anything normal about our days seemed impossible.

I’d heard over and over again that the “caretaker” has to take care, and it didn’t take me long to understand why. So I went back to my on-again, off-again yoga practice. It brought a needed respite in an otherwise chaotic existence. My wife hadn’t been able to work since the diagnosis, so I took advantage of some free classes I was able to find, and supplemented with a home practice and one class a week at the Atma Center. I don’t think I was feeling able to cope, but I was feeling able to be present.

And then, before the shock had worn off, we had more news that seemed so improbable it was absurd. I found a lump in my own breast. The lump turned out to be nothing, but the mammogram revealed some calcified cells that worried the doctors. After an inconclusive biopsy I had a surgical biopsy. Waiting for the results was torturous, and when the news finally came I learned that I, too, had cancer. We would need to proceed with a lumpectomy to look for “clean margins.”

Had this happened six months earlier, it would have been the most stressful thing to happen to us in years. As it was, I just wanted to get through it so we could put that behind us and focus on my wife’s treatment. Oddly, we laughed about mine being the “good cancer.” It was detected early, and needed very little follow up. But after surgery I was unable to bear any weight on my arms or lift them over my head for weeks. So I kept it simple. I remembered the breathing practices and started doing them daily. I was able to do some restorative poses. Then I remembered the balancing poses, and I worked whole practices around them. The metaphor was so obvious, but those were the poses that made me feel like I could keep my life on an even keel. Gradually I was able to get my strength and flexibility back, and I resumed classes.

When the Atma Center offered a special on summer passes, I snatched it up. I’ve been to 2-4 classes a week since I bought the pass, and I still do at least a brief home practice most mornings. Through all of the insanity that has transpired in my life in the last eight months, I’ve actually felt less overwhelmed than I was before this all happened. I’ve been able to give up the idea of multi-tasking rather than beating myself up about it. I’ve managed not to stress out about the ridiculous stack of medical bills we have compiled. I’ve been able to appreciate what amazing gifts we have in our life. I’ve been thankful beyond words for the help we’ve received from friends and family.

By the time you read this, my wife will have finished what we hope is her final treatment for cancer. And I can’t imagine going back to my pre-cancer “normal.” I can’t say all of this is due to yoga, but I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through this year without it; and not just gotten through, but be in it and appreciate it in all of its complexity. And though I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, through it all I have learned and grown and come to know joy in the midst of intense sadness. I have come to really appreciate that each day is truly a gift. As I continue to evolve on so many levels in my life, I am grateful to have yoga to help keep me grounded, present, and yes, balanced.

Betsy Warner is an insurance agent in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She lives with her wife, two daughters, and her mother-in-law. She likes to walk her dog, hike, bike, camp, garden and sing. She’s been practicing yoga since 2004, both with a home practice and a variety of classes, mostly in the Satyananda style. Betsy can be found here on Facebook.


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