The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Coping in the Present

by Karrah Teruya3x Patient, Acute Lymphoblastic LeukemiaMarch 5, 2024View more posts from Karrah Teruya

As a young adult, you have your entire life ahead of you until a cancer diagnosis forces you to consider the harsh reality of your mortality. Like most AYA cancer patients, my first diagnosis was shocking, and my entire world stopped.

If I was going to learn how to survive this diagnosis and all the treatments and procedures before me, I had to find reliable coping mechanisms. The cancer t-shirts, ribbons, and coloring books weren’t enough. I needed more substance than that. During my first diagnosis, I took up a newfound hobby of running. I had never been athletic, but I had a new appreciation for my body after cancer and found that running on wooded trails or old backroads was meditative. I couldn’t be bothered by texts, phone calls, or an endless “to-do” list. It was just me and my own thoughts, and there was nothing else I could do but just listen to myself and the sound of my feet hitting the pavement.

Sometimes, my mind was empty; sometimes, it was racing with questions. But running became my safe place, a sanctuary where I could decompress and process the trauma I had been through. It became very healing to observe my body becoming stronger and running farther. I also loved pushing my limits and the self-induced suffering that comes with long-distance running. It was almost my way of “getting back” at cancer because I was in control of how far and fast I could go. I was also in control of how much pain I was willing to endure. When my cancer returned, running and athletic activities were no longer an option. My body was rejecting me, and the medications and surgeries I had forced me to stop being so active. This crushed me; activity was my way of coping. I had to find another outlet, or I would be destroyed by the anxiety and depression that started to consume me. I hated not running, not being active. But this forced me to start slowing down, and instead of being bitter about what I couldn’t do, I had to focus on what I could do. Even though I couldn’t do any high-impact activity, I started connecting with my body through yoga. This simple, steady, mindful moment started to bring me back into my body on a deep spiritual level and allowed me to connect with myself again. I started to make yoga a daily ritual. It was a place to meet the innermost parts of myself again.

As a result, it began stirring things inside me that I hadn’t noticed before. It inspired me to start writing, a cathartic experience that allowed me to begin understanding everything I had been through. I started to really see myself again and give myself credit for how far I had come instead of being overwhelmed by the long road ahead. Yoga led me to meditate and become more comfortable slowing down and spending more time in nature without an agenda. I could just be present and observe the most simple and beautiful events that had been there all along. But I was in crisis mode and had failed to notice them. I started realizing that through these slow and beautiful processes, I would relieve myself of the worries of the uncertain future. I didn’t know how many days I had left or if I would ever be cured of my disease. However, in moments of high anxiety, slowing down and appreciating the moment I was in, no matter how simple, helped me discover how much gratitude I could have for the present instead of focusing on my limitations. As a result, I felt compelled to obtain my yoga certification to share yoga with my community and bring that peace to others. Sharing these methods of approaching the present moment with reverence has brought me so much joy. I am not sure I would have found this community and outlet without my diagnosis. I am so grateful to have found something so valuable amid something that was so debilitating and life-altering.

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