The post below was written by one of our core teachers, the wonderful and talented Jessica Hicks. Jess is a gifted teacher: in fact, she is gifted all around. She is the mother of three incredibly smart, compassionate, interesting children, and part of our organization's heart. This post about her cancer diagnosis is reprinted with permission from her blog.
The Throat Chakra (Vishudda)
There has been a lot of waiting and not knowing during the past month since the biopsy found the cancer. There was a lot of waiting prior to that, when I knew something was wrong but my doctors and dentists would not listen to me. I have known that there was something going on with this area of my body for about a year. The doctors could not see the sore on my tongue that I could feel for a few months, then the doctors were just certain that the sore that they finally could see was from me biting my tongue or rubbing it against sharp parts of my teeth in my sleep. I tried to believe them, but there was always this nagging knowing in the back of my mind.
Just so you know, if you ever have a sore anywhere in your mouth that does not go away after two weeks, you should get it checked. Oral cancer is a rare but aggressive cancer, and the prognosis is usually not as good as it is in my case. If you catch the cancer early, you have a chance. 1 in 4 people who get oral cancer have absolutely no reason besides bum luck for getting it. In other folks, it is sometimes from heavy drinking or smoking or from HPV.
Eva Grayzel has fought this battle already, and she speaks beautifully and blogs about it a fair bit. She's even made a rap video. I will speak and write about it, but I promise now that I will never make a rap video about it.
During all of the waiting and not knowing how bad things were going to get, there was a lot of fear. I was afraid of leaving my children motherless, most of all. I was afraid of disfigurement. I was afraid of losing my voice forever. These are all very real possibilities with this particular brand of illness. I did not realize until this illness and this fear showed up how much I rely on my voice and how much I want my voice - for teaching, for parenting, for self-expression. I have spent the last couple of years working on learning to sing, and the joy that I got from that brand of newly-discovered and hard-fought self-expression was going to be greatly missed if lost so quickly after gaining it.
Through this time of waiting and not knowing, good things happened as well. My family and I have been overwhelmed by the good intentions, love, and support shown to us by our communities - our neighborhood, our friends and families, and our online communities as well. The outpouring of compassion has surprised and enfolded us and brought us strength when it felt like we were losing our will and our way.
It is interesting how the entire family is affected by Big Things like cancer. My kids are brave little ones who want to help and take care of me even when they are hurting and scared themselves. There is a beautiful blog about this by Dana Jennings, titled, appropriately, "When the Family Gets Cancer". We have been lucky, or blessed; this is the first Big Thing that our family has had to face. I am surprised and empowered by the resilience of my children. They amaze me with their compassion and strength every day. My spouse is incredible as well, but he also is very shy, so we will leave it at that.
Yoga practice and meditation have both been sustaining and absolutely necessary during this time. There have been times when I have been so worried and scared and angry that I have struggled, and in those times, the practice of lovingkindness has been a healing nectar. There have been times when, wracked with anxiety, there was nothing that could help but wrapping myself up in restorative yoga and breathing slowly and deeply. Other times, the need to do something, anything, to fight back, even though there was nothing that could be done, required a strong, physical asana practice. When my circulatory system was shot through with radiation, and I had to hold still inside a PET scanner for a very long time, I was able to tap into my practice to use that time for a surprisingly peaceful and not at all unpleasant meditation. If you do not practice yoga or meditation, there is no better time to begin. There are so many avenues to bring the practice into your life even for short bursts when you have time. Steady, regular practice, even for short durations of time, can change your life and give you the skills you will need to get through times like these. In an unabashed act of self-promotion, I can highly recommend Yoga by Numbers as one way to get started today. I lead a few asana practices and guided meditations on that app that are accessible for just about anyone.
This is the very short version of this story. Get your regular dental checkups. If you have a sore that does not heal after two weeks, get it checked. And listen to your body. When you know there is something wrong, find someone who will listen to you and who can help.