How yoga saved me during my cancer fight
Yoga, meditation and prayer kept Leigh Fernandez grounded, positive and hopeful during her fight to be cancer-free. Here, the yoga instructor, based in Tenerife, tells her remarkable story in her own words
You awaken to a sluggish, heavy, drug-fused mind; your body heavy and your heart beating at pace. Then you remember: you remember what you wish you’d forgotten and never had to endure. But it’s happened. You’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer — and you are doing everything in your power to rid the body of 'Beasty'!
Here, I’d like to share with you my own personal story of hope, from the past year or so, on a journey that has turned me into a ‘Beasty Slayer’ — with yoga on my side the whole way!
My life changed forever on 14 April 2022 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within four short weeks from that date, my life and outward appearance had changed dramatically.
But now, a year on, thanks to the power of my yoga, my inner strength has doubled, tripled, quadrupled beyond my wildest dreams. My yoga life and my spiritual beliefs have been my saviour and support to free my mind, rid my body of this beasty and get my little body fully firing once more, fully functioning, and free of cancer. Yoga has given me this, and the miracle of hope…and you can have this too!
Dark days of diagnosis
Statistics show that now one in two of us will be diagnosed at some stage in our life with cancer. It is an illness that has zero discrimination. It can affect anyone at anytime.
On a trip then to Tenerife, where I was working on my 2022 yoga retreat planning, I discovered some discomfort, inflammation and a rapid (what seemed like overnight) change. I consulted my doctor the day I returned. Scans, mammograms, biopsies, and other tests all followed… my life felt like it was on ‘speed’ for the next few weeks! Then the chemo started…
I want to share with you that you can have a happy and good quality of life while going through your cancer treatment using yoga and fitness as your daily anchor. Yes, you will have ups and downs. However, there are people, resources and communities just waiting to support you.
When my consultant gave me my diagnosis I was in total disbelief. I was in great health, or so I thought, having embarked on a full body and mind transformation in 2020. I was feeling so full of life, happy and healthy, excited for my forthcoming yoga retreats in Tenerife.
It turns out that I was diagnosed with a genetic inherited cancer, which could have surfaced at any time in my life, with no given notice. Why now?
Thank goodness I acted on my feelings. If you feel any inner intuition that something is wrong, do not take ‘no’ for an answer, ask your GP for a second, third, or fourth opinion until you are satisfied with the outcome. In my case, I had a large, square tumour growing fast in my left breast.
Praying for a healthy life
What happened next seemed to all move so fast. There was no time to ponder or dwell on anything. My breast consultant, radiographer doctor and oncology consultant had my plan set for me within days. From onset of diagnosis to getting my first operation felt like minutes!
Yes, it was scary. But this treatment and intervention was going to save my life. I embraced it and everything that was thrown at me.
All the while, I prayed for life. This was all I wanted, so I prayed for it; I prayed for my healthy quality of life to come back.
On 4 May, 2022 my first cycle of chemotherapy went in. This was literally just over two weeks from initially stepping into my doctor’s surgery. It was one of the scariest days of my life.
Chemotherapy lasted for over six months. It is extremely hard on your body and your mental state. But having my yoga practice during this time gave me structure, gave me routine and kept my mind active.
Strong, contented and cancer-free
Fast forward almost a year and today I feel an incredible contentment within. On Day 183, I got the news I had been praying for. I had a full pathological response to the chemotherapy treatment and my first operation made sure I was cancer-free. My surgeon said to me: “Your solid, no nonsense, direct approach and dedication to your yoga life, with such a focused mindset, has got you through this, Leigh.” He was so proud of me and I was so happy with his news and support throughout.
Both during the treatment, and now, my focus and routine includes daily meditation, yoga nidra, yoga stretching, as well as resting and relaxation when required. I am allowing my body, cells and tissues to regenerate.
I find being wholly present, and embracing an internal contentment, allows me to remain fully in the present moment. And never have I had to be more present than now; to be content, in where I am, and in what I can achieve, both in mind and body.
Today, my mind is strong, but my body is weaker. Yet I am getting stronger day by day.
My daily meditation practice
Meditation and being mindful are my anchors. Mindfulness is simply the art of being present and just ‘being’.
Embracing my daily meditation practice truly grounds me and keeps my mind clear and gives me valuable perspective. Being present is essential during a time like this; there is no running away from things, or getting ahead and moving into the unknown…or looking back at what could have been.
The miracle of yoga nidra
Yoga nidra is my cushion. When sleep is lacking, or not coming easily, using my yoga nidra practice to get a few extra hours of relaxed, conscious sleep is a delightful and extremely valuable practice. It is a mindful and meditative practice that helps us quiet the mind and to ‘just be’. Today, I love both teaching and practicing yoga nidra.
Yoga nidra means ‘yoga sleep’, a powerful technique in which you learn to relax consciously. During yoga nidra, sleep is not regarded as relaxation. For true and absolute relaxation, you must remain aware. This is yoga nidra, the state of dynamic sleep.
We work through our brain waves to a Theta state, the intriguing border between the conscious and the subconscious. By learning to work with our Theta state, we can access and more effectively influence the powerful subconscious part of our brain (normally inaccessible to our waking mind). In a Theta state, we tap into the creative and intuitive place of the mind, bringing us true relaxation and energisation to both body and mind.
Stretching for strength
During my treatment, I would focus on four simple yoga exercises to get my body moving daily. This is one flowing movement I would practice regularly: Standing in mountain pose, slowly moving into a gentle forward fold, into a nice spinal stretch, into Hindu squat, onto my knees into camel pose, onto all fours for cat & cow as optional spinal flexibility, then back up into a tall, standing mountain pose.
Happiness, health...and hope
We all get a raw deal at times in life, but if you embrace the deal full on and can see this as some kind of gift to accept and act on it in the most positive and productive, actionable way, you will see the tide turn. Your personal healthcare is your magic potion.
My cancer-free journey continues as I wait to have several further operations. For now, I focus on the gift that is my yoga life, creating and sustaining my healthy body using my daily meditation, yoga nidra and daily yoga stretch to keep my mind and body strong, and remain grounded in my spiritual life.
The remainder of this year is very much focused on resetting my body clock, but in 2024, I will be looking to relaunch my yoga classes, fitness coaching and yoga retreats. Watch this space!
Yoga Nidra benefits
• gives you the feeling of being well-rested
• improves your overall health
• a powerful agent for reducing stress
• induces a more restful sleep
• boosts the immune system
• can help prevent illness
• promotes healing
• can slow premature ageing
• helps cells regenerate and repair
• helps decrease anxiety
• can improve your overall mood