Saved by Yoga: Breast Cancer Survivor Jenny Driessen Tells Her Story
The Hillcrest resident talks about learning to thrive mentally while going through what would be everyone’s nightmare
Breast cancer survivor Jenny Driessen says yoga
Cancer at 35? This woman experienced it. In fact, in San Diego six women every day learn they have breast cancer. All the more reason to support and celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. And on November 6, join over 13,000 participants and survivors, like Jenny Driessen, in Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure.
Tell us about being diagnosed.
Because I was 35-years-old when diagnosed, I was in a high-risk category of breast cancer patients. There was a sense of urgency and I wanted be as aggressive as possible. I did ask my network of contacts who they recommended for treatment, many of whom I knew from having been a training walk leader for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. Thankfully, I was directed to Dr. Anne Wallace at UC San Diego and her team of specialists to whom I will forever be grateful!
How did you discover yoga and meditation?
Two years before my diagnosis, I discovered yoga when I was heavy into my endurance running phase. I became a marathon runner in my early 30s and had been told yoga would "strengthen my core." Core Power Yoga offers a free trial week, and I was pretty much hooked right away.
I was fortunate to be ingrained in the community and my practice by the time I received the news I had breast cancer. I had become pretty advanced in my physical practice and had to take a step back from the more advanced postures due to my treatment so I wouldn’t exert myself. Little did I know that is when my yoga practice would really take shape.
On getting up every morning…
At first I wanted to just stay at home, curl up in a ball and recover, but then my yoga teachers started reaching out to check in on me. They encouraged me to come back and sit in on classes. They let me know it was okay to practice yoga at my pace and on my terms. So I started going, wearing my headscarf and completely drained due to going through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation. At first, I was frustrated, crabby, and sad. But as I kept going, I learned to use this time to sort through my challenges and reset myself mentally. I also found myself surrounded by this wonderful group of people who provided me with much-needed strength. Even though I wasn’t doing yoga at the same level I was accustomed to, it was very helpful. It was during treatment and my consistent yoga practice when I realized its effect on my breast cancer journey. I had a sanctuary, a way to discover who I really was and what I was meant to do.
I was bald, physically weak, and financially struggling…yoga saved me.
Yoga saved me. I had an epiphany during a class, at a very impractical time in the midst of treatment when I was bald, physically weak, and financially struggling, to quit my job as a realtor. I decided to pursue a career, which fulfilled more of my purpose. Though it didn’t happen overnight, I eventually transitioned to become a full time yoga/fitness instructor whose passion is to inspire and encourage people to live up to their greatest potential.
What would you tell someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Breast cancer, in hindsight, was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. The first thing I recommend is finding a team of breast cancer professionals who can collaborate and discuss your treatment from all perspectives; not only whether or not you should have surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, but also how you can mentally thrive during such a stressful period.
Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure is on November 6.
Also, if you or someone you know has breast cancer I suggest reaching out to Susan G. Komen San Diego as they provide free breast cancer services and support. Komen San Diego connected me with the proper resources to get me out of medical debt, helped with temporary financial aid for transportation so I could get to and from my treatments and answered all of my questions. They were with me every step of the way and are truly my angels. They also connected me with other survivors and it was empowering and inspiring to meet other women who were going through what I was going through. Participating in events such as Susan G. Komen San Diego’s Race for the Cure (Nov. 6, 2016) and the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk (Nov. 18-20, 2016) are a great way to find encouragement, camaraderie, and resources.
As the saying goes, you cannot see the stars without the darkness. The support of my loved ones was undeniable, and the bonds we have now are solid. Had I not been fearful of losing my life, odds are I would not have been brave enough to make the leap into yet another new career at 36-years-old, one where my heart truly is invested. I now work at Core Power Yoga and SHARP Coronado Hospital and love how SHARP advocates yoga as a way to get/stay healthy. My parents always encouraged me to follow what I love and make a living doing it, I’m so thankful for their support.
As I teach children as young as 9 and as old as 90, I believe in the benefits of yoga at any age. It is never too early or late to become more mindful, more self-aware, kinder, and more compassionate to yourself and those in your life.