June 27, 2014
Uterine cancer survivor: How yoga helped save my life
BY Marcy Kurtz
I completed my uterine cancer treatment at MD Anderson in spring 2011. Since that time I have received consistent and attentive follow-up care with my medical team, including quarterly PET scans.
I have also maintained my own health and fitness program that includes a regular yoga practice, equally regular Crossfit workouts, and long walks on the weekends.
Although the constant scanning was new to me, the workout program is, thankfully, something I've done my whole life. I knew that both of these were designed to save or at least prolong my life. However, I always thought that it would be the scans that would play the more prominent role in that effort. I was wrong.
Life after uterine cancer treatment
Once I had completed chemotherapy, I had nine or 10 clear scans. I lost count somewhere along the way, gaining confidence each time I got results showing no evidence of disease.
Then in summer 2013, a scan showed an unknown "artifact." My extremely cautious and conscientious medical team decided I should have a follow-up scan 60 days later.
I stressed as I waited. I wrote a blog about my stress. I exercised more to try to relieve my stress. I relied on my faith, my family, my friends and my routine. All of that worked -- a little.
That was the longest 60 days ever. The follow-up scan showed that I was still clear of disease. My team decided I could move my scans from every three months to every four. That small step was a huge confidence builder for me. My next scan in January 2014 also showed no evidence of disease.
I went right back to my busy life routine -- practicing law, teaching yoga, running a nonprofit organization that raises uterine cancer awareness and enjoying my usual exercise routine. Life was good. I was healthy and happy and really starting to believe in my long-term, cancer-free future.
Learning to listen to my body
In January, I signed up to participate and take on a leadership role in a special 40-day long program offered at my yoga studio that focuses on yoga, mindful eating and meditation -- all of which were great for my health, especially as a cancer survivor.
One of my favorite themes from this program that I teach is that our bodies never lie to us. This is not true with our minds. Sometimes, in yoga, our minds tell us not to do certain poses because of worry about not looking good or not being able to do the pose correctly or any myriad of excuses. The truth is our bodies are just fine and able to perform. It's our fears that tell us not to do these poses. The same mind/body disconnect occurs off the yoga mat in exactly the opposite way.
Our bodies may show us signs that things are not quite right -- change in bowel or bladder habits, pain, discomfort, unusual bleeding or any host of other symptoms. Rather than listen to our bodies, we convince ourselves that nothing is wrong and choose not to act. Again, fear directs the mind away from the problem.
A second uterine cancer diagnosis
Barely 10 weeks after my last clear scan in January, I found that I had to listen to my own body. I became convinced I had some kind of growth right behind my scar line left from original uterine cancer surgery. I could feel it when I did certain yoga poses.
Just seven days passed from the moment I first felt that pressure in my abdomen until I saw my doctor, Karen Lu, M.D. I never once thought that I should wait and see "because it could be nothing." I would have been happy to have wasted Dr. Lu's time with something that turned out to be nothing. I know with certainty she feels the same way.
My body wasn't lying. I wasn't surprised. I did in fact have a tumor right where I felt it in yoga practice. It was one of three (the other two were very, very small) that my scans revealed.
Because of my general body awareness and my yoga practice, I had discovered that I had a tumor. With the help of my doctor and my amazing medical team at MD Anderson, I learned quickly that my cancer was back -- same cancer, same location. It hadn't spread anywhere else. I have a critical stake in my own health care and must work with my medical team. Because of some fast action on everyone's part, including my own, I have a uterine cancer treatment plan in place and another chance at a healthy future.
As always, I am grateful.
Marcy Kurtz is a daughter, sister, aunt and dependable friend to many. She practices law as a vocation and yoga as an avocation. As a lawyer and a yoga instructor, she's deeply committed to helping people. Marcy is a two-time cancer survivor, beating breast cancer diagnosed in October 2005 and uterine cancer diagnosed in August 2010.
I have a critical stake in my own health care and must work with my medical team.