by Drea Wonnacott 

Cancer is a darkness given to me so I can see the light all around.

I am participating in the Yoga Healing Portrait Series, which contains various images of people who have healed through yoga. I am one of those people. 

In an online article about the series, I am described as having “used yoga as a way to cope with a breast cancer diagnosis.” This description of me elicited a visceral response. I am not coping with a breast cancer diagnosis, as the journalist described; rather, breast cancer has ignited a deep, personal transformation in me. 

photo by Tyler Baker Photography / click to enlarge

The word "coping" entirely undervalues the role meditation and yoga have played in my transformation. First, the physical aspects of yoga helped my body heal from the effects of chemotherapy. Second, learning the power of breathing has freed me from anxiety that I suffered from for most of my adult life. Beyond the asanas of yoga are the theoretical foundations of the practice. These mental and relational aspects of yoga help me see the lightness around me, rather than the darkness that once grew within me. 

Together, these physical and spiritual practices are shifting my understanding of the world, from the inside out. Through meditation, I am learning to feel in a new way—feel the love of my child's kiss, my husband's embrace, or the softness of a warm spring breeze. I am noticing, feeling, healing. I am learning to rely less on what my mind thinks and more on what my body feels. Meditation is also helping me to let go, to give myself up to a higher, greater will, to be free. Like the swimmer smacked by wave after wave whose best option is to ride the water's momentum, I am learning to let my body do what it knows best—to heal. 

Cancer is a darkness given to me so I can see the light all around. My meditation practice makes this truth possible. If I had continued to live as I did before my diagnosis, I would never have felt any good in this disease. But I don't live as I did before. I am transforming. On days of mental clarity, I think cancer was a divine tap on the shoulder, a wake-up call from Mother Earth, a message from the cosmos! Learning to live in this new way is not coping with a cancer diagnosis. No! Living in this way is letting the cancer experience move through me, renew me, as fire renews an overgrown forest. 

Learn more about the Yoga Healing Portrait Series.


Drea Wonnacott is a past retreat participant, mother to two young children, and an advisor on the environment in Edmonton, Alberta.