Last Spring, Trevor Westerlund, aka Stage Diving Yogi, a yoga rebel with a cause who teaches PUNKundalini in Vancouver, completed an awe-inspiring yoga challenge of 120 classes in 45 days, to fundraise for Colitis and Crohn’s disease.
So when he found out that his 32-year-old friend Ashlyn, wife and mother of one, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, he decided to take action and do what he knows best: a yoga challenge ambitious enough to raise awareness.
This time, in order to enable Ashlyn to undertake a traditional and naturopathic course, he is taking 140 yoga classes in 45 days.
I’ve started reading Ashlyn’s So This is My Cancer Blog and I became tearful instantly. It’s not only because of her honest account of chemo and her everyday battle, but also because of the way she describes the ordinary events of her life—I began to realize that she could be my friend, my neighbour, my sister or even me.
It doesn’t take a massive stretch of the imagination to understand how awful what she is going through is. She’s a young mother of a little girl, and some of the most beautiful moments of her life are being robbed by this most severe illness and the ever present shadow of doom. In her blog, she tells her day-to-day struggles eloquently, with poignant simplicity and a bittersweet sense of humor.
“This weekend update does not come to you by Tina Fey. I wish. It’s three and a half weeks after my last chemo session and I’m finally feeling myself again. Like really myself again. The myself from before I knew I ever had cancer. I don’t feel like I’m having “good days and bad days,” but that I just feel like me again. Really, towards the end of chemo “good days” were more like “well, I’m not curled up in bed days, so that’s a plus.” It’s awesome to have all this energy back. And just in time too. Lyla learned to walk about a week ago or so and I haven’t been able to sit down since. I’m loving every second of it.”
She then explains that she when she decided to do the Run for the Cure 10K race last October, how the harsh reality of it all catches up with her again, as surreal as it may seem:
“After the run, it’s sayonara to the sisters; Tuesday, October 4th is my surgery date. I’ll be the first surgery of the day, so hopefully I’ll only be in hospital for one night. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about the upcoming surgery—I think I may have floated back into a bit of denial because it all seems surreal now. When I was diagnosed and they told me I had to wait for surgery, I was thinking, “ARE YOU CRAZY??? CUT IT OUT RIGHT NOW!!!” But I’ve been feeling so good these days that if it wasn’t for the bald head, sparse eyebrows and the whopping 12 eyelashes I have left, I’d be able to forget I have cancer. I’m also somewhat feeling irrationally guilty over Righty. She never did anything wrong. Lefty was the traitor. Now they’re both going. It somehow seems unfair…”
After reading Ashlyn’s account, I’m not surprised Trevor took no time to jump back on the mat and dedicate his energy, time and efforts to her cause. He has now accomplished 120 classes, so with 20 more to go, I asked him to describe this challenge:
You are coming to the end of a 140 classes of yoga in 45 days challenge. Could you explain a bit more about what motivated you this time?
I wasn’t going to enter the 40 day challenge this time. I am working and teaching more now and my practice had unfortunately suffered for it. In the spring, I wanted to raise money for a charity that was personal to me, part of the things I wanted to do before I hit 40; I accomplished that and went 20 classes over my goal. Personally it was an achievement, I was also happy to bring awareness to Colitis, but something was definitely missing at the end of the challenge.
I went for breakfast with a couple of my childhood friends, James and James. As we doled out the stories of our lives since our last meeting, it definitely felt something was wrong with one of the James’. He seemed down, not his normal self in any way. After some prying, he opened up and told us about Ashlyn.
At that point it clicked—what was missing on the last challenge was that I was helping a research agency, not an actual person. I now had a reason to try this whole thing again.
How did you meet Ashlyn?
I met Ashlyn through my friend James when I was 17 years old. Ashlyn was a young girl and looked up to her oldest of brothers (James). She was always a sweet kid.
To be honest, I haven’t seen Ashlyn since I was a teenager. The idea she is in her 30’s and has her own daughter blows me away. I took on this challenge because James is my friend, his family was always good to me as a kid—and because I don’t think anyone should just give up if someone tells them they have cancer or any other disease.
This is your second ambitious yoga challenge for a cause. How does this one feel different from your previous one?
I am older—I really felt it after the last challenge—my knees were in bad shape before I started the challenge. I am much busier, I have many more responsibilities at my day job now and traveling much more. I have an instructing gig at Kushala Yoga where I guide through Hatha Flow and Yin. But I am being smarter this time; last time I didn’t think out my class plan. I would hit a Yin class midday, be totally blissed out and it would be hard to maintain the fire for a Vinyasa Power flow class.
I also have a face, a person to associate with the challenge—that makes it much easier to hit the mat.
How does it feel as a man to be raising for breast cancer?
What shocked me the most about this, is that the Mayo Clinic has a Naturopathic Oncologist. It is a great thing that these doctors from the Mayo Clinic and Ashlyn didn’t just accept the prognosis from doctors here. The Cancer Clinic in Vancouver is one of the largest in the world and one of most well-funded agencies in Canada. Yet the idea of an alternative to their conventional treatments still seems foreign—I find that odd.
How’s your body feeling? Do you feel that this challenge a bit too much this time? How many classes do you take a day?
Typical is three classes a day. But I also do sprints of seven to eight classes. Those days are tough, but the Semperviva staff (I couldn’t have done this without the YA’s—they are an amazing group of women), instructors from both Kushala/Semperviva and fellow students have been so incredible; it makes it easier to take a breath and start new with each class.
I am feeling pretty good, much stronger than last time. Knees are in better shape, I am eating better, the YA’s make sure I am taking the right supplements. The instructors are making sure I know what I am doing, offering advice and also sometimes horror stories of “overdoing it.”Photo: Courtesy of Pure Souls Photography
How do people respond to yoga challenges for charity? Would you say it’s a good way to get people’s attention on the cause you are endorsing?
For awareness, it’s great: a lot of people have spoken to me about Ashlyn.
As for the challenge itself, I am becoming a science project for some, so I’m answering a lot of questions about effects on me both physically and mentally.
For actual donations, it has been a little tougher this time.
Research agencies and awareness causes seem to take precedence over direct help to an individual, especially in Movember. Friends, family, peers, work associates and fellow students have contributed and I am horribly grateful.
I am also throwing a PUNKundalini night with the direct help of the Karma Teachers, the amazing Emerson is helping the cause by having it be a donation to Ashlyn class. People are donating prizes—it should be a fun wrap up to the challenge.
How would you encourage people to take on similar challenges?
Maybe not so extreme as this—but associating their challenge to something they believe in—physically, mentally, spiritually, monetarily is awesome.
On a pure survival level—sleep, eat, kiss your loved ones (a lot) and take care of your appendages.
It is wonderful to do something that meaningful in order to help someone else. How do you find it rewarding for yourself?
We know the practice will help us physically and mentally. However, that inner exploration of how yoga can make the lives of those around us better, that is the real key to helping us live a better life.
Something you would like to say to Ashlyn and her family?
Keep fighting—the world needs more people who never give up.
Ed: Bryonie Wise
Like elephant I’m not “Spiritual.” I just practice being a good person on Facebook.