Today I thought I’d share a bit of my personal story and why the Gayatri mantra and mantra practice means so much to me.
If you’ve read my bio or known me for any length of time you may know that 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with a spinal tumor in my neck. The tumor was discovered completely accidentally (although I’ve come to believe that there are no accidents, only grace). I was under the care of a chiropractor for low back pain who decided it was time to get an MRI. I still have no idea to this day why he ordered low back AND neck films but that decision was what lead to the discovery.
I remember walking into his office for my next appointment, medical books strewn around the room while he gave me the news. I was prepared to hear something about my bones or discs, nothing like this. I still remember asking with disbelief as the news sunk in, “Are you telling me I have cancer?!” And his reply being less than sure.
After seeing a surgical specialist two days later I learned my tumor was rare. They’re usually found in the brain, not the spinal column. My tumor was still quite small, only 1cm x 1cm and while I was completely asymptomatic (hence a great deal of the surprise I think), the films showed the the position of my spinal cord was already being affected.
The tumor was positioned between my 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae. It was inside the sac around the spinal cord that holds the spinal fluid. To remove it, the back of those two vertebrae would need to be removed and the sac opened. The sac would then be closed with a “biological glue” as it was explained to me, but the bones would not be replaced.
Surgery was necessary, unavoidable and would certainly be delicate.
I eventually made my way to the spine center at Columbia Presbyterian hospital in NYC where I met with a doctor who had done hundreds of these procedures and turned out to be the number two surgeon in the country for my condition. A surgery date was set and all that was left to do was pre-op paperwork and exams and a lot of waiting.
To say I was terrified would be the understatement of the century. I did feel I was in good hands with my surgical team, but this was unlike anything I had ever imagined.
Let me tell you about the other coincidences along the way.
I happened to find a yoga studio to call home a month before my diagnosis. It was the studio where I would eventually do my first yoga teacher training.
The surgeon I eventually had do the surgery started taking my insurance just 6 weeks before I saw him for the first time.
No accidents, only grace.
The nurse that coordinated my intake and all the things that needed to happen before the surgery was amazing. I asked her one day if there was someone I could talk to who had been through something like this. She found someone who I did eventually speak to who put some of my fears at ease. Her case had been far more severe and she was living a normal life. I had good hope that my result should be no different.
The waiting was the worst. I’m not the most patient person. I certainly wasn’t then. I really needed to DO something. My doctor had said the condition I was in when I went into surgery would be the condition I would be in after my recovery.
I started going to more yoga classes. And my teacher introduced me to mantra and chanting and the idea of a daily mantra practice. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Something I could do each day to calm my mind and my fears. Something to make me feel better while I bounced between wanting it all to be over and not wanting it to happen at all.
So I got a mala and started a practice. Somewhere along the way, the idea of the 40 day sadhana crossed my path. That also seemed like a good idea. So I went to a calendar and started counting out 40 days from the day I had started.
The 40th day just happened to be the day before my surgery.
No accidents, only grace.
The mantra I chose was the short form of the Gayatri mantra, the mantra we are practicing in classes all this month. I didn’t know at the time, but that mantra is said to be a “master mantra” and to bring in spiritual light. I firmly believe it helped save my life.
The day of the surgery eventually came. My mother and fiancé (now husband) went to the hospital with me. I still believe on that day they had the hardest job; waiting for me to be done. I was in surgery for over 4 hours, ICU/recovery for several more and didn’t get moved to a room until late in the day. I spent 5 days in the hospital, the first two flat on my back, unable to sit up higher than a 10 degree angle to be sure I wasn’t leaking spinal fluid. I remember thinking during those days that the invention of the catheter was pretty darn amazing.
My recovery was long but I did recover. I went on to start my first yoga teacher training that fall. I got married the following year. I’ve had all the amazing ups and downs that life has to offer in the past 10 years. I’ve been given a second chance. I’m grateful for every next breath. And I do my best to live a life that reflects the amazing opportunity to live that I’ve been given.
Mostly, I look back and I’m amazed at the transformation this event brought about in me. I’m a better person, a stronger person and a person with a very different set of values than I was before this happened for me. While I wouldn’t ask for it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.