How did you first find out you had cancer?
At the age of 56, I felt a lump in my right breast. My doctor recommended a biopsy. It was in a location where I had had several benign cysts before – so I was not nervous. The surprising results came in two days after I won a cross-country ski race for my age group. It was Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.
How did you react when you heard the news?
I got the call when I was alone in my office. I stopped breathing and said “oh boy (or the less polite version), I don’t have time for this. There are too many things I need and want to do with my life. Cancer is not on the agenda. How can this be happening to me? And why now?”
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I wasn’t prescribed anything… the doctor suggested that I could choose between a lumpectomy or a mastectomy and that I would benefit from chemotherapy and radiation. I did research and all indicated that a mastectomy did not increase my chance of survival and would impact my recovery. So I chose lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
One fact that caught me off guard was how it made me feel like an invalid. How it stole control away of my life. How I could go from winning a cross-country ski race to being sick, weak and powerless. But I guess this was not the most surprising part of it.
The most surprising thing was that the doctors, care-givers, etc were fully focused on fighting the cancer – seeming to forget the person – me – the patient that they were treating. Also all the treatments (not the cancer) were weakening my health, strength and happiness and no one was helping me to stay strong. Everyone said “go home and take it easy.” I didn’t do well with that. I tried to stay normal by walking, biking and, increasingly, doing more yoga.
Before my cancer diagnosis, I was a normal yogi practicing for all the ‘wrong’ reasons, largely vanity. But yoga became my ultimate prescription to cancer and living a longer healthier life. So the biggest surprise was that I found yoga – my self-prescribed solution to life – and this enables my body to stay strong and cancer-free today.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Empower yourself with knowledge. With knowledge of the treatments and solutions your doctors and care-givers suggest. Be the leader of your cancer treatment team. Everyone’s cancer is different. Everyone finds their own path on this journey. Make the decisions that are right for you.
Remember only you can keep your body strong and healthy. It is your sole job to keep your body strong and healthy. This should include exercise, community and meditation so that you manage the anxiety that will come with the ambiguities of your future and the difficulties of making these decisions.
How long have you been cancer free?
Sorry, but no one is “cancer-free.” And we are all cancer contenders. Everyone is fighting cancer all the time with their immune system. Our biggest job is to have a strong body and immune system so that it can identify and eliminate any cancer cells. The concept that after you have officially gone into remission that you no longer have to be healthy and work on your body strength is flawed. We are all survivors every day.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned to not live in fear of losing my life but rather to embrace what I have. By getting so close to losing it all, it liberated me to focus on the things and people that really mean the most to me. The lessons from my cancer have been the most powerful of my life and actually I am often thankful for my cancer. It has made me a better version of myself.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Don’t wait for the storm to pass, learn how to dance in the rain.
Tari Prinster became a yoga teacher after her battle with breast cancer at age 56. Twelve years ago, during her cancer treatments, she discovered yoga was a powerful tool to manage the daily challenges of cancer treatments, as well as the side effects and life-long vulnerabilities they create. Since then she has developed a unique, carefully constructed system of yoga poses and sequences based on the specific needs of cancer survivors.