How Yoga Saved My Life: One Woman's Story of Surviving Cancer

I’m ashamed.


I’m ashamed that it took a cancer diagnosis to get me to the mat. There I was in 2005, just sailing along in life. I was a wife and mother of two school-aged kids with a part time nursing job… just going through the motions. I was alive, but I wasn’t living.

Enter “The Big C”. There’s something about someone telling you that you have a 50% chance of not being here in 5 years that motivates you to want to make some changes. The thought of impending death does that. Exercise was one of the areas of my life I was re-examining, and meditation was another. I was a runner in the past, and I still enjoyed it, but I wanted something different from my exercise routine. In my “cancer survival plan research” I also came across studies that indicated that developing your mind/body/spirit connection had a major impact on your health and wellbeing as well as your risk of all major chronic illnesses. Just as I was about to Google “easy mind/body/spirit exercise” a friend of mine called and asked me if I wanted to catch a yoga class with her that week.


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Everything I knew about yoga came from looking through a yoga book belonging to my older sister (the hippie) in the 70’s. I was ten at the time. All I could remember was seeing a picture of an older woman in a black leotard with a long braid in “Eagle Pose” and thinking to myself, “That looks nothing like an eagle…her wings aren’t even spread!” As I paged through the black and white photos in the book I remember trying to get into all the poses to the best of my ability. I remember a lot of grunts and falling and I think I even said at one point, “No one can do that!”

It was fun as a ten-year-old, but the thought of twisting my surgically altered body into pretzel shapes made me think twice about this yoga thing. Then I thought, “What the heck. It can’t be worse than chemo!” But before I was going to commit to actually going through with this yoga class thing, I did some research. After all, I am a health professional and research is everything to me. As I searched deeper and deeper into the literature, study after study revealed the same conclusions. Yoga not only improved the quality of life in cancer patients, but it actually changed the chemical make up of the neurotransmitters in the brain that have to do with pain and depression; two areas where cancer patients often struggle. Not only that, but the mind/body/spirit connection that is made when practicing yoga increases immunity and might just help me to stay cancer-free in the future.

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I could find nothing that said attending class would be a bad idea, so I went. And I fell in love. (With yoga…not the cute guy by the window)

Fast-forward to today, and I am still in love. My body feels great, my mind is focused, my spirits are high, and my cancer is still gone. While yoga wasn’t the only change I made in my life after cancer, it gave me a direct path to access the mind/body/spirit relationship and reach new levels of health in a way I wasn’t able to before.

So maybe ashamed isn’t the right word to describe how I feel about cancer getting me to the mat. Maybe the word I’m looking for is grateful.



Susan Gonzalez is a registered nurse, certified in plant-based nutrition, and a stage III cancer survivor. She is an advocate for health and wellness with a focus on cancer prevention.  Her new book, “100 Perks of Having Cancer plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It”, co-authored with psychologist Florence Strang, provides hundreds of ways to live healthy and happy. Susan is also the creator of the award winning blog “The Savvy Sister: simple changes for healthy living” which has almost 1 million visitors and promotes health and wellness, healthy living, and cancer prevention with a twist of humor. Susan lives in Atlanta Georgia with her husband and two daughters.

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Images via: Niloo Yoga, Nick Boyar, Notable