Recover and Conquer

Yoga class for cancer patients makes life easier

BY NAN BIALEK  |  PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN BISHOP

During the past year, Tom Volpe has had his share of doctors’ offices, needles, chemotherapy and scans. So, when he goes to Wheaton Franciscan Elmbrook Memorial Hospital for his Wednesday yoga class, he breathes a little easier.

Volpe, who had a lung removed last March, says the class, “is just a warm place to be. When you leave there, you just feel like a different person.”

The class is led by Nancy Adams. She has had extensive training as a yoga instructor who works with cancer survivors. She says the class emphasizes rest, restorative poses and range of motion, all of which are important to recovery. Beyond the physical benefits, though, is the sense of community that has permeated the class, which consists solely of cancer survivors.

“Today I did a series of poses that was about climbing the mountain of cancer and how difficult it is with the pain and the fear and the restrictions and the isolation,” Adams says. “Mountain is a very basic classic pose in yoga. And then we did these poses that had to do with bringing light to the mountain, love to the mountain.”

Cancer, Adams says, changes lives forever, even for those who have recovered, “because every time you have a toothache or backache you wonder if it’s coming back.” Yoga seems to help people trust their bodies again, she says. 

“I’ve just been fairly overwhelmed, actually, by the courage of people and just how much they’re willing to try,” Adams says. “And yet, they’re really all very conscious of their bodies and they have a growing respect for not doing too much or pushing it too far. But the courage and kindness, the compassion for one another, is fabulous.”

A woman who is new to the class recently told Adams that she was “surprised that it was so emotional.” With all the practical considerations of undergoing cancer treatments, patients do not have much time just to care for their own feelings, their own spirits, Adams says.

“And I think there’s a release that happens in class,” she adds. “I think they just let themselves go.”


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