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Finding calm through the storm of illness

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Discovering peace of mind: Mel Dupres, with her late mother June Dupres

It’s not always easy for Cynthia Dias to stay positive.

The 62-year-old has spent the past seven years battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sometimes, when she tried to relax, anxious thoughts rocketed around her mind.

Four years ago, she found peace through a PALS initiative.

The Embodied Mindfulness Group provides support and teaches a variety of skills to cancer patients; meditation, yoga and breathing awareness are among the offerings.

“It has really helped me to relax and focus,” said Ms Dias.

The group is run by yoga teacher Gillian Motyer, and meets twice a month.

Although Ms Dias is on a new immunotherapy drug and her prognosis is good, she uses the techniques for everything — from relaxing to dealing with stressful health tests.

“I used it for a PET scan recently,” she said.

“You have to have the scan abroad. I’ve had the scans several times, so they don’t stress me out as much as they once did. You start off having an injection and then you wait an hour.

“Then you lay on a very narrow table and have to stay very still. That takes a half-an-hour.”

The waiting time is when the anxious thoughts typically start popping, Ms Dias added.

“But I just do my breathing from mindfulness.

“It really helps. It takes time, but when you start to really focus on the breathing, you find that you are so focused on that that your mind doesn’t go to those different places. Your brain gets a chance to relax.”

The PALS group is also open to caregivers and loved ones.

“I joined because my mother [June Dupres] had bowel cancer,” said Mel Dupres.

“Well into her treatment, she was feeling anxious. I am a yoga teacher myself and do meditation. I heard about the classes and suggested she go. She asked me to go with her. It was a lovely experience. I could see how it was benefiting her.”

She said that even caregivers can sometimes be plagued with “monkey mind”, a yoga term for an overactive brain.

“I was anxious as well and had all sorts of emotions going on,” she said.

“Watching what the chemo was doing to her, I also felt a lot of anger.”

One of the most moving classes for her, was a day the group just looked out a window and observed. Mindfulness encourages practitioners to be in the moment. “It was quite beautiful,” she said. “We don’t do that a lot in our busy lives.”

She continued with the classes even after her mother’s death a year ago.

“It was lovely and supportive,” she said. “Gillian is an amazing teacher. It was a very peacemaking experience.”

Ms Motyer said: “We have found that the whole mindfulness practice is tremendously helpful for cancer patients and people caring for them.

“I think the side-effects of it are that you may become a little more calm and contented.”

She started teaching the classes at Agape House in 2012.

“It was clear that the mindfulness practices were of huge benefit to participants, particularly in managing stress, anxiety and pain and in facilitating a sense of self-empowerment at a time when it seems life is out of one’s control,” she said.

PALS asked her to start a similar programme last year. The Embodied Mindfulness Group meets at PALS the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 5.30pm. Admission is free.

For more information telephone 236-7257 or e-mail onthemat@northrock.bm.

Yoga and mindfulness can help cancer patients handle anxiety