Bikram Yoga for Cancer Recovery: Tegan C.

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Bikram Yoga for Cancer Recovery

26-year-old Tegan took up Bikram Yoga just as the first rounds of chemotherapy to treat her brain tumour were beginning. Now she’s gearing up to participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer (R2CC) – an epic cycling event taking place June 15-16, 2013. In thanks for sharing her story with us, we want to help her raise funds to benefit lifesaving cancer research. Find out how to make a donation to Tegan’s cause at the end of this blog post.

How has cancer changed your life?

I was first diagnosed with a benign brain tumour after graduating from UBC in 2010. The news changed my world, but I did little to show it, returning to the regular routine of “ordinary life” soon thereafter. I was given meds to prevent seizures, and doctors told me surgery would happen either when it was deemed necessary or when I so pleased. I took some time to travel throughout India and, upon my return, called in to schedule the operation; I knew there’d never be a definitive prognosis until it was done. My brain surgery, which took place in April 2011, removed about 90% of the tumour (the rest was too close to my brain stem). I was up and running a week later.

In August 2012 I met with my neurologist to see how things were going. That’s when I found out my recent MRI was not congruent with one I’d done six months earlier. The news came as a bit of a shock, but it was nothing I wasn’t prepared for. My doctor took my case before the BC Cancer Agency’s neuro-oncology board in order to gain various opinions about the best course of action. That meeting happened to fall on my birthday; it was also the day I took the “plunge” and went skydiving for the first time! A week later I met with the board myself. At some point during that meeting I said, “I don’t want to wait for it to make the first move. Let’s kick this cancer’s ass!”

Though brain cancer still stands as one of the incurable forms of cancer, plain and simple, leaps and bounds have been made in the past few years regarding the life expectancy of those who suffer from certain types of tumours. Mine, an oligodendroglioma, has shown significant improvements in this regard. I fit into this wee little DNA group of people that adhere extremely well to a form of chemotherapy called temozolomide, which I’m currently taking.

How does Bikram Yoga fit into the picture?

I decided to take my first Bikram Yoga class in October 2012, parallel to my first cycles of chemotherapy. Chemo was starting to take its toll on my normally active lifestyle – my recovery time after a workout was slowing down and fatigue was starting to set in – and friends urged me to give Bikram Yoga a try as an alternative to hiking up mountains or cycling for full days. So off I went to BYV’s Cambie studio to give it a go. I’d been told the best way to prepare for class was water, water, water, but was still caught off guard by the heat and the “bendiness” of the postures. As a cyclist and athlete (I’ve participated in team and individual sports since preschool), Bikram Yoga showed me the extent to which I’d been straining my body over the years. I was incredibly inflexible. As challenging as it was, I left class that day determined to return – I loved the way my body and mind felt after 90 minutes in the hot room. Since that day I’ve done classes with a number of teachers at BYV; each one has pushed me – mentally and physically – to my edge, making every class feel like the first.

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How do the cancer and chemotherapy affect your practice?

Hydration is key, as chemo tends to want to repel most nutrition from entering my body. I’ve become a water-guzzler – and I love it! Mentally, I try to remember that “this 90 minutes is for you.” When I enter the yoga studio I try to let go of everything else that’s happening and really concentrate on my mind, my body and my breath. If I could, I’d practise Bikram Yoga every day. But, being faced with a life-threatening disease, I make it a point to live a busy lifestyle (besides biking everywhere, I play hockey, slo-pitch and volleyball, plus guitar, and train for half-marathons here and there; my motto is “make the most of the time given to you”) and may only make it to class once a week. Since the weeks that I’m on chemo are write-offs, I try to make the most of the days leading up to and following treatment.

How has Bikram Yoga helped your fight against cancer?

In terms of physical benefits, I’ve developed sensitivities to many foods due to my medication, which in turn has caused problems with my digestion. Bikram Yoga has been the cure to this. Also, doctors warned me I may have trouble sleeping while on chemo; thanks to Bikram Yoga, I sleep more soundly than ever before!

The mind-body connection that can be attained through Bikram Yoga has also had a profound effect on me. Focusing all of my thoughts and energy on my practice for 90 minutes is powerful. Additionally, this yoga has improved my outlook on chemotherapy. I’ve been through 10 cycles now and, had I not told friends and co-workers about my treatment, I don’t think they would have known. During one of the most trying times in my life, Bikram Yoga brings me stability and tranquility, helping me to release stress and tension in my muscles and joints and providing an escape from the thoughts that run through my mind with continuous momentum. I never knew stillness could be so rejuvenating!

Tell us about your participation in the Ride to Conquer Cancer…

The ride, the fundraising – it can all be strenuous at times. Then again, so can cancer, chemo, the future, the uncertainty. When I get on my bike all I see before me is the open road; it’s very similar to the stillness I gain through Bikram Yoga. The R2CC gives me a way to tell people that, while my health has gone down this path, it hasn’t changed me as a person. It’s like saying, “Hey! Guess what? I have cancer, I’m on chemo … betcha wouldn’t have guessed it!”

Is Bikram Yoga part of your training leading up to the ride?

Yes! Our training rides, which can be up to 160 kilometres long and last eight hours, leave my body feeling pretty angry. I may walk into the hot room a day after one of these rides with little mobility, but I always I walk out feeling like a million bucks! There’s nothing more soothing than stretching my back, neck, quads and hamstrings in perfect unison with other students at BYV.

How can we support your fundraising efforts?

Any support in my fight against brain cancer – from a warm wish, a smile, a hug or a cold bottle of water – is welcomed with humble and gracious arms! But if you’d like to make a financial donation, please visit my R2CC fundraising page.

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