Introducing Amy, a Cowgirl vs. Cancer

I’m thrilled to introduce Amy, our first Cowgirls vs. Cancer scholarship recipient. Amy will be joining us next summer for healing with horses and yoga on a Cowgirl Yoga retreat; but until then, she’ll be sharing her journey right here as a guest blogger. So without further ado, I give you Amy.

Growing up my parents modeled many of my current day values, with a strong emphasis on a lifestyle of health and wellness. My father was a marathon runner who practiced yoga every morning to Lilias on PBS before Yoga was mainstream. Mom, a nursing instructor, grew and maintained acres of organic vegetable gardens and fruit trees. I recall fall evenings spent canning and freezing earth’s bounty to provide our family with healthy meals.

As an adult, I cultivated these same experiences in my own life. I became a yoga instructor while raising four children, understanding that my practice not only gave me balance in a hectic lifestyle but also spoke to my children about the connection of a healthy mind and body.

On August 17, I anticipated a “normal” day in our household. An early morning practice, a first routine mammogram appointment, and preparation for one last quick summer getaway were on the Amy Annis docket for the day. It was a beautiful day and my only thought was to move through morning quickly and enjoy those last few summer moments before it was back to school and life got crazy busy. I was curtailed at the appointment, asked to return for a few more tests, and by 5 pm I found myself meeting with a surgeon discussing strategy for my breast cancer diagnosis.

I will always remember that evening, sitting at a computer researching risk factors in an attempt to understand how this could have happened to me. Never smoked, exercised all my life, no family history of cancer. The only risk factor that applied was that I am a woman.

Wait, whoa, what…cancer? Are you kidding? The shock and awe of that word knocked me off my feet for at least three days. The following week wasn’t much better as I unconsciously walked through a barrage of tests, able to pick up only a word here and there. First, I heard “cancer”, the next phrase being invasive lobular cancer, then finally someone in the medical community mentioned the “size”…this wasn’t the tumor of a green-juicing, organic-eating, forty year-old yoga mama. This was the kind of tumor typically seen in the breast of an eighty year-old woman. Internally, I began bracing myself for the worst, planning in my head for the potential of hearing the word terminal.

Fortunately, the next word wasn’t terminal, it was “treatable.” I’m still clinging to that word and the hope it gives me.

Today chemo has begun, and as the strength of my body slows, I draw on the values yoga has taught me. The philosophy of acceptance now outweighs the memory of a strong yoga instructor who once had the ability to lead a roomful of students through a challenging sequence. As I laid recently in my MRI, holding hands with my husband, I could visualize the beautiful faces of my children while releasing tension with each exhale.

Cancer, without a doubt, shakes your foundation. And yet, I am still invigorated by the support of my cancer posse, a circle of friends and family who have rallied around me at each bend in the road. As I journey through, something disguised as a loss has slowly emerged as an opportunity. My focus isn’t completely clear yet but I do have a newly found creative edge, a desire to make a difference, and a better appreciation for my amazing life.

My children gave me meaning, yoga fed my soul, and cancer is my new springboard for limitless opportunities. If you would have asked me on August 17, how has cancer affected you, I could not have imagined it would have made me so fearless. And how, despite many tears at each turn, I am empowered.

For years I have lived in the world of a busy mom, prioritizing math homework and navigating the complex world of carpooling. I decided at one point to justify my love of yoga; I could teach it, and contribute to the family in some small way. Late nights, when the kids would finally sleep, I would pour through yoga books and publications dreaming of the day when a yoga retreat could be a reality. Now that I have cancer, I approach things with gusto. That fearlessness I mentioned before allows me to envision not “what if” but “when”. An email with Margaret from Big Sky Yoga Retreats was the first step. Now, as the reality of it unfolds, I envision yoga, breathing in a Big Sky breath, and just “being” in a Montana moment. It’s healing.

Thank you Amy, for sharing your story and for being an inspiration to us all. Yeehaw & Namaste.