Lessons Learned from Cancer

Beth in the hospital, age 20. Shaved head, hands on head, smiling with port in her neck

Written by Beth Sandlin

July 20, 2020

Ugh, has it really been months since my first blog?

A big YES and now I know the reason…

I need to go back to the why, the personal and real reasons why. During the next few blogs, I’ll be sharing my story of how I got right here…teaching Pilates and using a Trauma Informed Approach.

We are going way back today. This day marks the 21st Anniversary of when I heard the words, You Have Cancer. I was 20 years old and it was my one year anniversary with my boyfriend, now husband. Those words, that diagnosis, forever changed my life. It brought me to the floor in more ways than one, and also brought me to Pilates. 

At first I thought cancer was a death sentence, I knew my time was limited. Fortunately I turned out to be wrong, though it would be a long journey of in-patient treatment and years of maintenance therapy, and even longer of continued monitoring. After my first round of in-patient treatment, If someone were to look at me, they might even think I was healthy, when I was anything but.

I dropped 25 pounds within the first month of treatment and I hadn’t yet lost all of my hair. I could still pass as healthy, though I couldn’t hold my nephew or walk for a long period without taking a break. Think about that, I looked healthy but had cancer, had no energy and felt like crap. That was my first BIG awakening that teaching for a Better Body was and is complete BS. (But I’ll save that for another blog!)

My road to recovery from cancer took time, though not as long as another operation I had years later. I shifted my major to health education and also found Pilates during this time. Pilates provided a workout that was there for me on all days, good and bad. I could push hard when I wasn’t on meds and had high energy. Other days I did a gentle and supportive workout. Side note: I thought Yoga would be just as beneficial and was 100% wrong. It was a horrible experience and I didn’t take another Yoga Class again for 10 years. (Funny considering I’m now a Yoga Teacher in addition to being a Pilates Instructor.)

These are a few lessons learned from Cancer: 

  1. Western medicine is great at curing but not so much at healing and true recovery. It takes a lot of work on the inside and out to get back to being healthy.
  2. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your body is to allow the body to heal. Trust me, this was a hard to accept. You need to heal first and sometimes this means, rest, sleep and a lot of crying. 
  3. Just because you know someone who died from cancer, doesn’t mean that you’re going to. There are too many factors to consider from different types of cancer to treatments to how each individual responds.
  4. I experienced trauma. Trauma was not talked about the way it is today and it wasn’t until I researched trauma and a trauma informed approach that I understood this. Once I made this connection, I realized how many people I had taught over the years who experienced trauma and this was a major reason why I created and teach a course on the impacts of trauma specifically for Pilates teachers. 
  5. Post-traumatic growth is possible though it often doesn’t happen quickly and there are a lot of ups and downs along the way. Years later I was in studies of why I was doing so well with my cancer recovery when other people still struggled. And for me the growth extended far beyond blood tests and daily energy I have, it incorporates the essence of my being, something that wasn’t part of the studies.

21 years ago I had no idea I would be right here. At the time it was about survival. It included grief, loss, fear, anger, sadness, and drastic uncontrollable change that I would never wish for anyone.

And even with all of that, I’m better for it. 

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