My Story about Tai Chi and Breast Cancer

When I began Tai Chi in 1986 I floated through the movements feeling quite happy with how I was progressing. Little did I realise when I thought I was pressing forward (as in Grasp the Sparrow's Tail) I was not pressing, when I thought I was staying down I was in fact bobbing up and down and an empty step meant plonking down my foot with the weight half forward.

Ten years later I was to learn how much Tai Chi had helped me as in 1996 whilst on holidays I decided to give tennis a 'go' and oh! yes, I fell and broke my wrist - in 4 places. One suspects too much yang and not enough yin!! (Tennis is now off my list of 'things to do') Unfortunately the next day my aged mother passed away and very much in shock and with the help of family and good friends, the year slowly passed.

Then followed a program of daily exercises designed by my physiotherapist and of course my Qigong exercises and Tai Chi, to get the wrist mobile again. Slowly, the wrist began to heal and with daily exercise I regained the flexibility I previously had. 1997 seemed a good year to think about retiring and so I left paid work and after a time I began to wonder what to do next.

It was fortunate for me at about this time Rosemary Palmer (Moving Meditation School of Tai Chi & Qigong) needed a class assistant and was willing to have me join with her. My knowledge and understanding of Tai Chi greatly improved. Listening to the teaching and explanations of movements and helping other students with the execution of the movements, little-by-little, the teachings I had heard for years, gelled in my brain. An empty step meant the weight on the back foot retreat and push felt like a pull back and a push, sinking the weight meant the breath lowered to the dan tien along with the weight to the feet/, being grounded. Complete the movement was just that, keep it flowing, one movement flows into the next. My life was going along swimmingly; I had a volunteer job at the local Community Centre, I had joined a small local singing group, I was class assisting Tai Chi and I was also learning the Tai Chi long form. I was also a demonstration team member where our school gave a demonstration of our form at shopping centres, fetes and fairs mainly during the spring/autumn seasons and I was learning the sword (again).

My problems began when I felt a lump in my breast and so off to the local G.P. who in turn sent me to the Breast Clinic. With the first operation a 'wedge' was taken from the affected breast and along with another cut under the arm where the lymph glands were taken from (to see if the cancer had spread through the lymphatic system) I was feeling very tender, emotionally as well as physically.

The day after my first operation I very gingerly began my Qigong exercises, to see how much movement I had in my arm, shoulder and chest area. I was very pleased to find it not too difficult to let the arm move with an arm roll but I would need to take exercising very carefully as I didn't want to tear the wound. Just the thought of pulling the stitches made me very wary.

As it happened, one of the theatre nurses came to see me that day (she was also a breast cancer survivor) and on talking (me crying) she recommended Qigong exercises! I took great pleasure in saying I had already begun. A week went by while I was waiting for the results of the operation and with a follow-up visit to the surgeon came the good news and the bad news. The good news was that the lymph glands were not affected meaning the cancer had not spread through the lymphatic system but the bad news was that I needed a second operation as not all of the cancer cells were taken from the breast!! Oh dear! One operation soon became two, I had lost twelve lymph glands and a section of my breast - I had lost a part of me!

And so as time passed I was able to go through a whole range of Qigong movements along with sword practice and with the help of a program called Encore, a program of gentle floor exercises and relaxation techniques designed specifically for women who have experienced mastectomy. lumpectomy or breast reconstruction surgery at any time in their livesWith my own set of Qigong exercises and the Encore program I knew that I was well under way with recovery. A slight setback caused some concern about 10 months after treatment when it was discovered I had rib damage from the radiation treatment, but they say in time that will sort itself out.

Now, 12 months down the track when I am playing Tai Chi or the sword or just in general movements I can thank Tai Chi for my rapid recovery. I still have to exercise every day along with a ten minute self massage twice a day to make up for the non-existent lymph glands, I consider myself to be 'a lucky lady'. Tai Chi may not have been able to prevent breast cancer and is no magic cure but I feel sure that it has helped me to have a positive attitude and I know if I had not been a practitioner of Tai Chi my recovery would have beenvery much slower and with less mobility.

And so I look forward to many more years of happiness playing Tai Chi.

by Pauline Southren - Adelaide S,A.



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