Balancing Travel – Part 1

I love to plan my vacations. It creates great anticipation for the time I’ll happily take off from work and home.

In 2013, I relied on serendipity —meaning, a “pleasant surprise” or “fortunate happenstance” — instead of a plan. By September, I still had no plan. Out of desperation, I booked a trip to an island I’d been to years ago. While I enjoyed being with my friends and I relaxed, the island itself was as unmemorable the second time as it was the first.

So, at the beginning of 2014, I started researching. I thought about combining Sicily with Tunisia, but Tunisia still seemed unstable. I looked for festivals and yoga studios in Europe. My research led me to a yoga retreat in Albir, Spain called La Crisalida. (The name means “chrysalis,” as in the transformation of a  moth or butterfly.) This yoga retreat looked like it would deliver the kind of experience I wanted, and in a lovely setting:  yoga and meditation, exercise, and clean and healthy food.

I built my two week vacation around the yoga retreat. Instead of going directly there, though, I took a friend’s suggestion to spend a couple of days in Madrid. Then, I plotted my other destinations within a slice of Spain from Madrid to the Mediterranean. I balanced city life with beach time; solo time with social settings; and freestyle days with planned events.

I planned my vacation to hit all the right notes.

First Stop:  Madrid (Balancing Travel – Part II)

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The Minimalist’s Running Plan

Let’s be clear… I hate to sweat.  I practice yoga because, initially, I’d believed that yoga wouldn’t make me sweat—you glide; you step in, out, back; and, you stop.  Most of the time, you’re still and breathing. Of course, I discovered that not all forms of yoga are placid calm. Running, on the other hand, will make you sweat—every time!

So, why on earth did I agree to run in a 5-K race?  My friend, Leslie, got me into this for a good cause.  I really need to work on saying “no!”  Nevertheless, July to September seemed like plenty of time to get in shape for the run. Siblings, Kim and David, laughed loud and often about my running anywhere for any reason. (I last ran at age 15 — my legendary run from second to third base that resulted in a bloody split chin, stitches, and an immediate end to my athletic career. Even worse, it happened in front of a boy I liked!) A few words of caution: never announce a bad decision to the world, for you will be held to it!

Before I could hit the road, I needed the right shoes.  As it turned out, in spite of sticker shock over the cost, buying the Asics was the easiest task. Next move: put on the shoes. OK, they felt great, so I decided to run just a block to test my ankles that almost always get shooting pains from even trotting from house to car.  The test was successful and enough for that day.

A co-worker told me about training guidance called “Couch to 5-K” from The nine-week, three times weekly training schedule looked like so much work; although the running gently increased in time and distance during each practice and throughout the nine week period. I’m sure this is a wonderful training program for most highly motivated beginners. But, I know myself.  When faced with the prospect of that much consistent practice, I would run one day and think about it the other two. Not good.

Leslie stepped in, suggesting the two of us run at least one day a week before work. The result was what I call “The Minimalist’s Running Plan.” Each week, I would do one run with Leslie, one run on the treadmill in an air-conditioned gym, and one yoga class.  The Minimalist’s Running Plan was more in keeping with my modest goals: finish the race upright, and breathing. You could say I set the bar too low, but I knew better!

At long last, the day came when the race would finally be in my rear view mirror. In a field of 350 runners, I placed 249, finishing (upright and breathing) in 44 minutes, 56 seconds!  I had met my goals!  Today, I continue to run — reluctantly — once a week with Leslie. I can bear at least this much if it is a social activity and not organized training for a race.

Now, if I can just practice saying “no” a little more often, I’ll be more balanced, not to mention more comfortable!


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Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: Radiation

I was so tired of being in treatment, but radiation was next. I had been slashed and poisoned, and now it was time to burn.

I received two key recommendations. The first was from my friend, Linda, who suggested I work with Dr. Yi Ping Hu, a licensed acupuncturist in Bethesda, Maryland. She has many cancer patients and treats the immune system. The second came from my chiropractor, Dr. Six, who recommended I take holy basil supplements during radiation.

Before starting the next phase, I took a mini-break. I celebrated the end of chemo with my sister, Cheryl, and our niece, Emily, from New York. We hiked Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, Maryland. I had no doubt that I could hang on the hike, and my anemia didn’t pose a problem. We had fun!

Dr. Hu examined me the following week and said I had some weakness, but was remarkably strong for having just finished chemo. She wanted me to have acupuncture twice a week before starting radiation. She also gave me Chinese herbs to drink twice a day. I held my nose when I drank the nasty-tasting mushroom brew. Dr. Hu’s treatment was supposed to strengthen my immune system —  the body’s natural defense to disease.

My radiation oncologist proposed the radiation treatment field and explained I’d have a higher risk of lymphedema from radiation in certain areas of my chest.  Because of that risk, I told her I didn’t want radiation in those areas.  I didn’t want to risk my tennis game, you know. The doctor outlined the areas I consented to with tattoos.

Radiation was the treatment with the least apparent side effects. I was zapped five times a week for eight weeks. Each treatment took about 10 minutes. The doctor prescribed a cream to soothe my skin in case of burns. The health care provider’s literature on radiation warned about fatigue.

Here’s what happened (and didn’t happen):  I was never fatigued and, in fact, started playing league tennis again. My skin was deeply tanned in the radiation field, but didn’t burn, so I never filled the skin cream prescription. Over time, though, I realized the pain and tightness I felt somewhere between my right armpit and back ribs was caused by scar tissue from radiation. I massaged the area to break down the scar tissue; and I used yoga and other exercises to keep my right arm flexible. To this day, the area can feel tight and painful.

After radiation ended, Dr. Hu scaled back my acupuncture treatments to once a week for six months. After that, I went to acupuncture every other week. I also continued to take the Chinese herbs twice a day.

My surgeon made an awesome observation. When she examined me, she said my breast didn’t feel like it had been treated with radiation. I asked, “What should it have felt like?” She told me a radiated breast would would usually feel kind of hard and tough. To the contrary, mine is quite soft and pliable.

Could it be that acupuncture, yoga, and the supplements helped?

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Next:  Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: How I Am Today


I found an ad in the newspaper for a yoga class for breast cancer survivors. It was what I’d been looking for — a specialized class for the lymphedema risk and other issues caused by cancer treatment. At Circle Yoga in Washington, D.C., I found my support group.

Two instructors, Jill and Karen, alternated teaching Yoga for Breast Cancer. I was the last to join the class and started between surgery and chemo. The other women were way ahead of me in treatment. All were mothers of young children, and between 38 and 41 years old. Jill and Karen began each class with a thoughtful meditation. They allowed us to take a moment to say what was on our minds. They asked what we needed from the yoga practice. And what we needed to let go, if only for a little while.

At one class, I shared that, to friends, family, and co-workers, I appeared strong, independent and capable. But, I was starting to have meltdowns. I was tired. I was tired of focusing on that outward appearance. I knew I needed a break of some sort, but didn’t know who to ask or what I needed. I just wanted a break. The other women said they hit that wall, too — around the sixth chemo session.

Circle Yoga was my refuge. This yoga class was as important to me as any medical appointment. I relaxed and let the meditation transport me. I was with other survivors getting my warrior poses on. Jill and Karen continued the class faithfully each week, even when I was the only student left.

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