"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.
A mother of a 7-year-old boy, Yusra was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer last year. Surgery was followed by 4 months of chemotherapy and radio therapy. “Surgery was not difficult, but the chemo killed me, it was like putting poison in my body and made me feel very weak. It was a very traumatic time in my life, the only silver lining being the unconditional support offered to us by my family and my husband’s family. When I was diagnosed and surgery was advised by the doctors, my parents and sisters came from Pakistan to support me, while my husband’s family arrived from India. It is such a blessing to have family support.”
After finishing her treatment, Yusra said she felt extremely weak. In an attempt to get back on her feet, she initially thought of joining the gym but friends suggested yoga instead. “I started the cancer-recovery yoga programme with Lina at Nilaya House and felt so amazing, that this turned out to be the best decision I took at the time,” recalls Yusra. “I would highly recommend yoga even during chemo, since yoga helps strengthen the body and mind. Cancer is an extremely disturbing condition for the patient and their families, but when you have a teacher like Lina, who is extremely understanding, full of life and bubbling with energy - mental and physical healing is much faster and permanent.”
On the question of doctors recommending yoga to facilitate healing, Yusra replied: “Surprisingly, oncologists do not recommend yoga to patients as a supportive therapy to promote healing. Only if the patient gives feedback about the benefits of yoga, doctors ask their patients to continue with the yoga practice. In my opinion, cancer recovery programmes facilitated by yoga should be introduced inside hospitals and clinics itself. Also, insurance companies do not cover alternative therapies like yoga or reiki. Yoga is a basic lifestyle requirement; if physiotherapy is covered by insurance, why not yoga? My biggest takeaway from my illness would be that women should not ignore their bodies. If something is not right, see a doctor immediately. Secondly, if one has breast cancer, do not delay treatment. In my case, from the time I was diagnosed until my surgery, it took 22 days due to additional tests and paper work which was required by the insurance company, and my cancer moved from Grade 1 to Grade 2, spreading to my lymph nodes. Since my treatment and during recovery, I have moved to a sugar-free, plant-based diet, using nut-oils rather than refined oils, eating lots of fruits like blueberries and regular exercise and yoga, of course!!”Yusra Zubair, 31, textile engineer
I have done yoga for many years and love the pace of it, which though not very heavy is calming, refreshing and helps in toning the body. On the days when I miss my yoga, I feel sluggish and lethargic.
On 10th September 2017, I felt a lump and went to see the GP the next day. She did the four mandatory tests – mammogram, ultrasound, 3-needle biopsy (the result of which incidentally was negative for cancer), and lumpectomy. It turned out that I had an aggressive cancer and 11 of my lymph nodes were affected as well. In hindsight, thank God, at least I had felt the lump. A lot of women do not feel it and when diagnosed, it’s already a stage 3 – stage 4 cancer. A hospital here did the lumpectomy. They just removed the lump but did not investigate further, whether the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. When the tissues were taken to India and a family friend, who is a cancer specialist, advised further investigation to check whether the lymph nodes were infected. He simultaneously recommended removal of the ovaries (since I was already 47 and pre-menopausal). At that point, I did not know of the connection between breast cancer and ovaries. The surgeon explained that removing the ovaries would reduce the quantity of medication significantly. Post-surgery, chemotherapy was initiated. The doctors and nursing staff were extremely experienced, and I was told to avoid any kind of contamination, since my immunity would now be very low. The hospital and my home were miles apart and I decided to move back to Dubai. Dr. Shahina Dawood, Mediclinic City Hospital, who was recommended to me is the best oncologist I have ever known. Her way of treating cancer patients is beyond amazing. She and her nursing staff are A-1.
Yes, cancer is hard, but what can you do? You are bigger than the disease. Radiation was like a walk in the park compared to chemo. The physical, emotional journey was tumultuous, and I am glad it is over. The first yoga session (during my radiation days) with Lina, at Nilaya House was amazing. She understands the disease and she understands yoga. I really love her and the positive energy she radiates. The side effects of the chemicals that are put in our bodies lead to stiff and painful joints, fatigue and discomfort. Yoga helps in mobilizing the stiff joints, relaxing the muscles and improving circulation. I would highly recommend yoga - the exercises, breathing and meditation to facilitate healing. Everyone should do yoga regularly as a prevention and cure of many health conditions. Cancer survivors use a combination of Pilates, gym and yoga; but for me a combination of yoga and walking really helps. One message that I would like to send to your readers is do not delay the annual tests. I did not get a full body check-up done until the cancer hit me. Also, do not over-indulge and exercise, exercise, exercise.”Sapna Ahuja, 48, jewellery designer