The Yoga Mat – Its Place in my Cancer Care

I had been hearing wonderful things from a friend about her yoga teacher, and when she told me that Sighle had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, I got in touch and asked her if you would like to share her story with us. I am so pleased that she readily agreed to.  Today’s guest post from Sighle McDonnell will inspire and uplift you as she shares her story of journeying beyond breast cancer.


Sighle McDonnell

A white plastic hospital wrist band identifies me as; 

No; 000000000000 (VHI policy)

Date of birth; 00-00-00

Name; Sighle Mc Donnell.

A brief smile with eye contact is made. The wrist band is held up and read back to me. I answer “yes” to give permission to whatever procedure follows. It might be to take blood, put up an IV line, or prepare for theatre. In this moment my life’s story has been reduced to these 3 short lines on the band, which hopefully will keep me safe as I venture into scary territory and place my trust in these health professionals.

A National Breast Check screening followed my 56th birthday. I was surprised to be called back for a 2nd Mammogram, even though Cancer was no stranger to me. My sister Tricia had fought an 18 month battle with bowel Cancer. She taught me how to live and die well, with dignity and love. My other big sister was diagnosed with ovarian Cancer 2 years ago. I visited her in the USA and experienced her Cancer care during her Chemotherapy treatment, which continues on today prolonging her life. I remember saying to her, “If I ever find myself in your situation, I will never have chemotherapy!”

However, when biopsies confirmed a small aggressive tumour in my right breast, which had spread to two nearby nodes, my mind was blown open. There was so much information to take in, with little time to digest it. Yet, the surgeon and nurses expressed my new reality with great empathy and knowingness.

My survival instinct was heightened as I held my baby granddaughter in a quiet room in the clinic. Utter panic turned to desperate determination. “I want to see Faye growing up; I intend to be a Breast Cancer Survivor. It starts now”.

The loving support of my family and friends carried me through those difficult days.

Yoga has been central in my adult life, from daily practice to training, teaching and holidaying. For over 20 years I’ve earned my living teaching Yoga, Meditation, and Birth Preparation. However, for now I can not work, Cancer had brought me the challenge of using the tools of Yoga to save my own life.

Teaching has allowed me to witness the power of Yoga, bring positive and constructive change into the lives of others. I have had the experience of using  Remedial Yoga to help so many cope with the big C, from the fear of the diagnosis, to the tiredness of the condition, and the speed of intervention.

Cancer has forced me to spend time alone, resting. This has lead me to reflect on many aspects of my life.  Yoga poses the question “who am I”, that question of my identity is now up in the air. For grounding, it has been important to instigate a new daily routine. I juice every day. I love to walk and dance on good days. Mindfulness Meditation comes easily as sick days slow me down in all activities. I receive acupuncture and mystic healing. The good wishes from students and friends sustain me at times of pain and confusion. But most of all, the Yoga mat is rolled out next to my bed, impossible to ignore! Each day I get down on the mat, and enter into a new relationship with my ever changing body and mind. I find contentment in the explorations that follow, and feel nourished by whatever practice arises. Yoga practice evokes in me a gentle curiosity, and cultivates a kindness that allows me to feel ALL that is.

The wrist band that identifies me tells nothing of the daily challenges of living with Cancer. I woke up, day 15 after my first Chemo. My hair was all over the pillow. I lay still, breathing in the courage to have a shower, and risk losing it all. Pat, my friend came to the rescue. We created a morning of ritual. It was a beautiful sunny winter’s day. We visited the sea, Pat swam in icy December water, I watched! We went for coffee and bought scissors. Then we came home to my bathroom and set about the task of cutting off the remaining bits of hair, and shaving the head (not recommended by the hospital, in case of infection).

Images of men, women and children in the Concentration Camps, flashed through my mind. I saw my sister’s shrivelled dying face looking back at me. TV footage of war wounds came and went, along with images of nuns, and women in Hijabs. In that moment, a Yoga technique helped me to go beyond the loss. I found myself breathing in love and breathing out pain. In the grief I felt connected to all suffering, and great peace. There is love and gratitude for my friend who got me through a very difficult passage. She wrapped my head in a scarf that she had bought for me and said; “Your new look”.  I felt beautiful.

My life is now full of new adventures, from 3 on the bed watching DVD’s to trying out new healthy foods. I take each of these early days, a Yoga breath at a time!

I finish now quoting the wise words of Rilke.

Let everything happen,

Beauty and terror,

Just keep going,

No feeling is final.

Sighle Yoga, 23 Castle St. Dalkey.

Sighle wrote and co-directed the Yoga for Pregnancy DVD” Labour of Love”. See for more info.