Hi my name’s Olga. I’m 37 years old and I grew up in New York City. About 10 years ago I moved to Poland where I have family and wanted to go to school. I am currently an English teacher as well as a Yoga instructor. I volunteer at the local animal shelter every week and in my free time I like to paint and dance.
Five years ago while at my aunt’s house she noticed a lump on my neck, which for some reason I never noticed before. I had a biopsy done and they said it was benign and not to worry. The doctor told me to get it checked out every couple of months and monitor the growth. Almost two years later the results of the biopsy came back troublesome and the surgeon said we had to operate immediately. I was really scared because they were going to be removing my whole thyroid gland. I didn’t realize there were gonna be other, scarier things ahead.
The surgery went as smoothly as surgeries may go, however they damaged part of my vocal cords and I couldn’t raise my voice for a couple of months and had to do special speech therapy exercises everyday. This wasn’t ideal since I was an English teacher and my voice was my instrument. I also found out that they weren’t able to cut out the whole glad. A little part remained which worried the surgeon, that the cancer may grow back.
As a result, a couple of weeks after surgery I had radioactive iodine therapy and had to stay in a little room in the Oncology hospital for 3 days. The results showed that the cancer hadn’t spread, but the histology results classified my cancer as a more malignant and aggressive type than thought before. I had to have radiotherapy.
The radiotherapy didn’t hurt at first, I was just scared. Just going to that hospital and waiting for my turn everyday made me really anxious. To deal with this, whilst in the machine I meditated with a mantra and did special visualisations, envisioning the cancer cells being destroyed and becoming healthy again.
The last 2 weeks were the worst, my whole neck was covered in burns. Besides all the burns and pain, I also lost taste for a couple of months. Everything tasted like paper and it was hard to swallow certain foods. I lost a lot of weight. I was afraid I would never taste again, I was afraid the cancer would come back.
What helped with all those reoccurring fearful thoughts was my yoga and meditation practice. My physical yoga practice helped me feel grounded and all the small victories on the mat helped me feel strong and confident, instead of a feeling like a powerless victim. I also felt connected to all the yogis at my Shala and online, who supported me through everything. That feeling of belonging and connecting can be so powerful.
My meditation practice helped me deal with a lot of emotions I was holding within. I listened to a lot of led meditations which walked me through and helped me remember things I had locked away deep Inside my mind. I cried a lot. I learned to let go. I learned to forgive myself. I started to feel hopeful and grateful.
My biggest “aha moment” was when I realised that thoughts weren’t REALITY. Our minds secrete thoughts just like our tongues secrete saliva, they come and go like clouds in the sky. I really used to believe they were REAL! I believed everything that that critic inside my head told me, I also believed all those fearful paralysing thoughts of certain death, not that I won’t die in the future but I’m defiantly not ready for it YET!
I continued with all my spiritual practices and started keeping a gratitude journal. I also visualised all the things I would do in the future as a healthy woman. Then the day came of my check-up with my oncologist. I was a bit anxious but nothing compared to the paralysing fear I used to feel in that hospital months before. I was confident I would hear those words and that it would all play out the same way I envisioned in my mind, and it did! I was healthy and cancer-free and still am to this day, three years and counting.
Looking back on everything, I see the silver lining. Around the time of my diagnosis I had just relapsed after being clean and sober from drugs and alcohol for almost 5 years. I was hitting rock-bottom again quickly, it was not a pretty sight. I hated myself and tried to numb myself and fill the whole inside me, which obviously didn’t work.
Today I can honestly say that I’m a different person, inside and out. Of course I’m nowhere near perfect but for the first time in my life I am HAPPY with who I am and all my imperfections (mostly lol). I try to live in the preset moment and accept things as they are, knowing that I can’t control everything. My cancer was my biggest teacher, it helped me heal my life.