“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” –Rumi
It began with the purchase of new running shoes. My feet are far too sensitive to wear anything else, and the single pair I’d been using for the last year were breaking down. Yet the new pair soon began to feel uncomfortable for some reason.
Turns out the orthotics were the problem: my feet did not need them anymore. Whatever role they’d been playing in helping to realign my feet? That job was done, and I was free to use the shoes without them.
It didn’t seem a big deal, at first, until I began to notice that my heels were actually less painful. The nails I’d been living with? Gone. The tingling that accompanied my every waking moment, from the tattered nerves misfiring all the time? Almost entirely absent.
I was startled and unwilling to trust this new state of affairs. The CIPN had proven itself to be a wily adversary, and with each step forward, I’d also experienced a slide backward at some point into flare up territory. Yet each morning, as I took stock of my body before arising, I noticed that the dominant pain was in my upper body, rather than my legs and feet. To be sure, the neural damage in my lower limbs was not completely absent – but it seemed placated, having settled into its lowest level of discomfort for years.
It was exactly as Mike had promised: if we focused on slow, gentle treatments, allowing my nervous system time to untangle and calm itself, I would begin to see progress. When we first began, after a week of yoga/massage/physiotherapy, and a yoga therapy treatment, the best I could hope for was 24 hours without intense pain signalling from my heels. Eventually 24 hours became 48 hours, and then we could string relief together for a few days in a row before symptoms flared. Finally, I was able to go a full week with my feet settled into a new baseline – provided I kept up with the treatment schedule, and kept my awareness on my body, living in harmony with its needs, my feet stabilized.
I was not healed nor cured – but holy shit, this was the best I’d been since cancer moved into my life.
My healthcare team had been working on my broken body for eighteen months. Eighteen months of yoga, and finally surrendering to the Soft Kitty Chair. Eighteen months of learning to breathe properly, to sit and move mindfully. Eighteen months of grieving, incrementally letting go of my old life and that identity. Eighteen months of peeling back the layers of damage, until we saw in clear view how fully my entire body was affected by the nerve damage. Eighteen months of building space inside my mind and heart to accommodate this grim reality -without being entirely shattered by seeing the “new normal.” Eighteen months, perched on that damned internal ledge, surveying the bleak landscape of my life.
The view was different now. Sunlight tinged the panorama in warmer hues, softening the jagged terrain of broken dreams and expectations. Hope began to creep in, sidling alongside the sorrow, shifting the balance ever so slightly. My brain was finally flexing neuroplasticity to my benefit. It had learned, over time, to amplify pain – until something else overrode that tendency and my brain decided to place less emphasis on pain messages from my feet.
It appeared that the yoga therapy had been the tipping point, the tool which re-patterned my nervous system, by gently reminding it to move in harmony with the correct muscles, and in sync with my breath. Ever so quietly, my brain was remembering, reorganizing, and toning down some of the sound bytes lobbed at it by my nervous system.
When I’d first arrived at the studio, Mike had said that I would improve, that my body could heal if we found baseline – and if I simply stood in the geometrical pattern of each pose, and breathed. When we’d begun yoga therapy, he’d told me the day would eventually come where my body would remember how to move without pain. I just needed to trust its desire to heal, to be patient and give it the tools it needed to awaken.
Here we were. I knew, looking back on the last year and a half, that I was not the same person as I was when I first arrived at Breathe into Motion Yoga Studios. The old me had arrived, unconscious to the extent of the damage in my body, and determined to override the pain, period. This different version of myself was battle weary, and scarred, knowing that the path forward was deeply challenging: but now pain was a wise companion, not an enemy to be vanquished. The old self was hanging around in the background, chirping its displeasure and wrapped in a cloak of grief. But for the first time, I had hope that someday I would be able to embrace the new person that was evolving inside. It was the only way to climb down off the ledge, and begin the journey of building a new life as a totally disabled cancer survivor.