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Cancer warriors back yoga

- Shilpa Jasani

"I fell in lovewith yoga, it helped me overcome my depression and reboot emotionally," says, cancer survivor Lina Zoghaib, who also teaches yoga to other patients in Dubai.

When a doctor pronounces the grim word ‘Positive’, it seems as if the whole world comes crashing down. The slurry of treatments, chemotherapy, radiation, steroids and surgery is so bewildering and overwhelming that the patient feels abandoned by God. “Why me?”, “What did I do wrong?”, “Is it genetic or hormonal, the food or stress?”, no amount of guilt or self-beating can take away the dread of damaged vital organs or even death. 

When Lina Zoghaib was diagnosed with 2nd stage non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, merely one month after her marriage, she was on a see-saw of emotions. One part accepted the prognosis stoically and the other part was scared and disbelieving. Having no family history, being a non-smoker and still in her late twenties, this was completely unexpected. What could have caused the cancer? Was it the extreme diets she took up or being hyperactive? Not sleeping enough? What, what what…..?

Armed with a degree in tourism, Lina taught English in China, before moving to the UAE. It was during her work stint at an advertising firm that she endured heartbreak and was so disconsolate that a friend suggested she try yoga. Lina took to yoga like a fish to water.

“I fell in love with yoga, it helped me overcome my depression and reboot emotionally. I also attended yoga retreats in India and Nepal, studying in a Himalayan school at Ananda Yoga Shala in Rishikesh and Aarsha Yoga Vidya Peetham in Kerala, India. In 2017, I got married and one month later was diagnosed with cancer. In the 22-days it took for the insurance company to

clear the paperwork for my case, my cancer progressed from Stage 1 to Stage 2. I believe all the yoga that I had done earlier helped me take the dreaded news in my stride. I was not that scared but rather focused on what treatments needed to be done to beat the disease. When the doctor listed my chemotherapy sessions, that was when I became completely distressed. The thought of loosing my hair, and possible changes in my body and skin really upset me. But when I met Dr. Shahina at Mediclinic, I calmed down. Her empathy and sympathy gave me confidence that I could beat this dreaded disease and that I should not allow the cancer to define me. As predicted, my hair started falling out after the first treatment. The 21-day chemotherapy cycle made me feel very weak, and while all other activities almost came to a halt, I continued doing yoga.”

It was during this time that Lina stumbled upon a book written by cancer survivor, Tari Prinster - Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors, an illustrated guide for cancer survivors to manage recovery and promote long-term health. Tari got curious about why yoga was so healing for her, but not recommended by her doctors. Cancer patients were told to “go home and rest.” She read widely, including both classic Eastern texts and Western science about anatomy and movement. After a diagnosis of breast cancer, yoga became a powerful tool for Tari to manage the daily challenges of treatment side effects.

“My treatment ended in April 2018,” continued Lina, “and while regularly doing yoga at Nilaya House, my teacher suggested that if I was willing, I should train with Tari. This would not only help me but we could jointly start classes for cancer survivors at Nilaya House. I jumped at the idea and did an online course, and then travelled to New York for further training. This was truly my calling, I felt blessed that I had this opportunity to help cancer survivors strengthen their bodies. Starting with a few patients, we have taught yoga to scores of women, helping them boost their strength and flexibility. The breathing techniques and meditation really helps patients manage their emotions and become more positive. We now hope to reach many more by working closely with clinics, hospitals and support groups. Along with taking group classes at Nilaya House, I also take individual sessions for those who are still hesitant about attending a group class.”

Lina finds it deeply satisfying working full time in an advertising company, and teaching yoga to cancer patients after office hours. However, she voices one concern: “I am not happy that cancer patients need to pay for doing yoga to strengthen their bodies. Personally, I would be delighted to teach for free and teach full time, but I have my expenses too. It is my fervent plea to anyone from the government or private sector to sponsor teachers like me, so that we need not charge patients for the yoga classes. As it is, they have paid and are still paying exorbitantly for the cancer treatment, even if insurance is covering a part of the costs.”

Since Lina is herself a cancer survivor, she’s able to relate to what the other person is going through. She adds: “You know what the greatest fear of a cancer patient is, that there is a relapse and the dreaded disease might re-occur. I encourage my students to discuss, rather than hide that thought, because when pushed into the subconscious mind, the thought will become more and more overpowering. I too, struggled with this for months.

Even if I sneezed, I would run to the doctor and request them to check my blood pressure. The breathing and meditation along with yogic exercises helps patients to get their minds off that fearful thought and think positively. We try to support not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Yoga is a healthy lifestyle for the body, mind and soul. It helps to strengthen the immune system.”

Currently, Lina is collaborating with a clinic, to work more closely with cancer patients. “I could be present when they are undergoing treatment, and support them from the very beginning. Women like me are also part of the Pink Ladies – a support group made up of survivors, for survivors. One tip that I would like to share with all your readers is that any lady hoping to start or expand her family in the future should get her eggs frozen before starting cancer treatment, because one never knows whether she would be able to conceive post all the chemotherapy, radiation or surgery treatments being given to her, which have the potential of disturbing the menstrual cycle.”

Lina: It is my fervent plea to anyone from the government or private sector to sponsor teachers like me, so that we need not charge patients for the yoga classes. As it is, they have paid and are still paying exorbitantly for the cancer treatment, even if insurance is covering a part of the costs.

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