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Flourish Magazine: How yoga gave me my life back by Vicky Brzonkalik

27 Nov 2023

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After over twenty years of working in the fitness industry, I thought I knew everything there was to know about fitness and well-being. This was until just under three years ago, when my whole world turned upside down. 

The breast cancer that had been in remission for seven years, despite having both the offending body parts removed, had come back and spread to my spine, hips, liver and lungs. 

The prognosis – Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer – was almost a relief, as I had been in excruciating pain for months. Day-to-day activities had become almost impossible and by this point, I couldn’t even carry my four-month-old daughter, which was devastating.  

Despite my medical team telling me that I should probably never do any type of exercise again, other than very gentle walking, this was never an option. Always being extremely active; I rode horses competitively in my childhood, ran marathons in my twenties and early thirties and trained and competed in CrossFit in my late thirties and early forties.  

I first tried yoga nearly thirty years ago but had never managed to establish a regular practice. As somewhat of an adrenaline junkie, I’d always favoured more exhilarating types of exercise. All of which were now completely off the table. 

So I decided to give yoga another go, at first very slowly and gently. To my surprise, it became a regular practice, initially just to help me manage the pain I was in and gradually regain my mobility.  

A regular yoga practice soon became one of the kindest and most healing things I could have done for myself. Not only has it helped me navigate the mental and emotional challenges of living with an incurable condition, but it’s also transformed my physical life immeasurably.  

I can now move without pain and walk for miles. I roller-skate, whizz around the countryside on my electric bike, dance, jump and climb. Most importantly my practice has enabled me to be more physically and mentally present for my precious family. It would be fair to say that yoga has given me my life back.  

Being on my fourth cancer diagnosis fourteen years on has meant that I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is a challenge that is probably never going to go away. It is a chronic condition which needs to be managed as such and like so many others who suffer from chronic health conditions, I need to adapt and thrive despite it. It’s part of who I am and yoga has become a huge part of this rehabilitation process. 

The medics might be able to zap the disease temporarily, but I feel it’s my responsibility to live in such a way that helps it stay under control. Cancer has forced me to take radical responsibility for my health and wellbeing and I’m willing to make necessary changes, as I love my life. 

And whilst my previous career as a fitness coach and personal trainer was no longer an option, I yearned to return to work. So just over a year and a half ago, I got qualified to teach yoga, registered with the Yoga Alliance and started sharing my passion with very small groups of women.   

The response I got was incredible. Often nervous to begin with, they soon realised that there is no such thing as ‘getting it wrong’. Whilst our paths are very different, I soon began to see them gain the same amazing physical, mental and emotional benefits that I have.   

So here I am, living well with Stage 4 cancer and incredibly excited to be able to share what has made such a significant difference to me with people. People from lots of different backgrounds, but we all share the same desire, to improve the quality of our lives and live well.