How a Patient With Cancer Turned to Yoga During Breast Cancer Treatment

CURE, 2021 Breast Cancer Special Issue ,

A patient turned to yoga during treatment for breast cancer and is now helping others do the same.

Tamera Anderson-Hanna credits one thing for helping her to regain strength and quiet her mind during treatment for breast cancer: yoga.

According to breastcancer.org, yoga may improve physical functioning, reduce fatigue, reduce stress, improve sleep and improve quality of life for patients with breast cancer.

For Anderson-Hanna, it all started in 2004 — 10 years before she received her diagnosis — when she stepped onto a yoga mat not long after giving birth to her daughter. She was hooked. For years, she practiced Ashtanga (an energetic yoga with synchronized breath and movements popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois), Vinyasa (a yoga with smoother transitions between poses) and other styles of yoga, but “for some reason, I got back into yoga very strongly ... about the time that I had to go in and get a breast exam,” she said.

She also had signed up for yoga teacher training. Two weeks later, Anderson-Hanna received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“Everything I knew about yoga, every way I had practiced was kind of turned upside down,” she said. Advanced poses were modified due to her reduced physical strength.
But even then she pushed through, continuing her teacher training and learning a new way to practice that was best for her. “I was training in Vinyasa yoga, but I was able to modify everything. So while they were doing different poses, I found a pose that would work (for) my body, modifying it for surgeries, for post cancer and things like that,” she explained.

Anderson-Hanna was told that she needed chemotherapy, radiation and a lumpectomy but she ended up opting for a double nipple-and areola-sparing mastectomy. “I would say I practiced throughout treatment, but there was a part of treatment where I couldn’t be as physically active. So through pain or just the restrictions of the doctor, the recommendations and when you’ve got drains or other things, I couldn’t have a physical practice,” she explained. During these times, she opted for meditation.

A pivotal moment came after the mastectomy. “You can’t really move, so I had what my daughter and I called ‘little T-rex arms,’” Anderson- Hanna said. Even small things such as feeding herself were impossible. Once she was given the OK by her health care team, however, “yoga really kind of helped me build back up to get range of motion,” she said.

Soon after recovering from surgery, she continued her yoga education with Tari Prinster, who founded the Yoga4Cancer Foundation, and became certified to teach yoga for patients with cancer two years later in 2017.

Today, Anderson-Hanna teaches free yoga classes for patients with cancer through Zoom to help them rebuild strength after treatment or surgery.

When it comes to trying yoga, Anderson-Hanna said, “Don’t judge yourself. You should walk into a class and there should never be judgment.”

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