Easing Cancer Survivors’ Anxieties with Mindfulness and Meditation
by Gabrielle L. Wheeler
“We breathe 21,000 times a day, so we have the opportunity all day long to have a tool right there to keep coming back to the present moment.”
~ Rick Lynch, yoga instructor
“Mentally and emotionally, your life is changed forever once you receive a cancer diagnosis.”
~ Cindy Dykes, breast cancer survivor
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 239,000 women and men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 (the most recent data), and each year almost 95,000 women are diagnosed with a gynecological cancer. Those given such a diagnosis are then faced with fears and anxieties of what the future may hold, the tasks of putting their affairs in order, a life filled with doctors’ appointments, and the negative side effects of treatment. Being physically sick can be overwhelmingly difficult, even when surrounded by the love and support of friends and family. Luckily for residents of Upstate New York, the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester includes mindfulness and meditation classes in their program offerings to help survivors live each moment to its fullest.
At its Rochester location, the coalition has long been offering a plethora of support groups and activities aimed directly at women and men with breast cancer. Since 2004, offerings have included what the coalition terms “Healing Arts”: mind-body-spirit classes such as gentle yoga, mindfulness and meditation, plus Tai Chi, Qigong, and writing workshops. “There is so much that is out of the patient’s hands when it comes to treatment for cancer … surgery, chemotherapy, radiation … depending on the stage of disease, but guidelines for how to medically treat the disease are well-established,” says Holly Anderson, executive director. “Offering patients the opportunity to augment these traditional treatments with a Mind-Body-Spirit approach is empowering.”
But not everyone in the Finger Lake Region with a breast cancer diagnosis lives close enough to travel to Rochester on a weekly basis, so the coalition has set up satellite locations in recent years with local instructors offering gentle yoga, and mindfulness and meditation classes.
Rick Lynch, the soft-spoken owner of Finger Lakes Yoga Center in Canandaigua, began his own yoga practice in 1978 when he took a class because he had a bad back. Quickly realizing that yoga was much more than just poses, it became a way of life for him. After becoming certified as an instructor in 1989, Lynch took continuing education credits to become a master yoga instructor. Once he held the highest level of certification, he headed to Colorado to become certified in mindfulness and meditation with teacher David Nichturn. “It appeals to me: just a simple practice of the breath. I wanted to go through the certification process that they had so that I would feel comfortable and I would feel like I really understood,” says Lynch. Knowing that he had this certification under his belt, when the Breast Cancer Coalition decided to add mindfulness and meditation classes to their satellite line up, Lynch was the one they reached out to.
Being Aware of the Breath
Throughout his years working as a yoga teacher, Lynch has seen many women going through breast cancer. Some of the women in the mindfulness and meditation classes are regular participants in his yoga classes. For a person currently battling breast or gynecological cancer, or a survivor of a past diagnosis, there are many fears, anxieties, and feelings of anger to work through. “The meditation practice is just to learn how to be present in a way that we can identify and just say ‘hi’ to what’s in our mind, and keep coming back to the present moment, which is using the simple technique of watching your breath,” Lynch says. Being present in the moment can be helpful in letting some of the fears and anxieties feelings go.
Lynch encourages participants to begin with focusing on the breath for three to four minutes a day. Cindy Dykes, breast cancer survivor and participant in Lynch’s class, says, “I definitely am more aware of my breath and how I can use it to calm my mind; even taking a few mindful breaths when stopped at a traffic light in my car. I am also using these tools to help me go to and go back to sleep, as I struggle with that often.”
Lynch tells another story of a class participant who was very high-strung and always on the go; stressed out with life, work, and family. After surviving stage 3 breast cancer, an advanced form of invasive breast cancer, she began to attend the coalition’s mindfulness and meditation classes. Beginning with spending three to four minutes a day practicing mindfulness and meditation, this survivor worked up to 15 minutes a day to help keep herself centered. “She’s a totally different person,” Lynch says. Making an undulating movement with his arm, he continues, “Life goes like that.” He feels that the mindfulness and meditation classes have allowed her to center herself and find a sense of tranquility.
Yes, life is full of ups and downs, but practicing mindfulness and meditation can assist survivors and those currently battling breast and gynecological cancers to get through them. Luckily, Lynch and the entire Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester are guiding survivors across the Finger Lakes Region to a place of calm within by helping participants learn to focus on each moment’s breath.
For more information contact the
Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester
1048 University Avenue Rochester, NY 14607
Finger Lakes Yoga Center
90 South Main Street