How has yoga helped you cope with cancer and your amputation?
I was a very competitive athlete before my diagnosis. Yoga helps me let go of competition and embrace a slower change in myself. I try to take that lesson off my mat because I am the kind of person who wants to keep push, push, pushing.
Yoga also puts me in touch with my body. If your mind wanders in balancing poses, you start to fall. It’s important for me to listen to my body because I used to feel betrayed by it. I can’t feel the cancer growing so I never know what will happen when I go in for scans. Then, in the hospital, I perfected disconnecting from my body to avoid the chronic pain of needles, surgeries, and toxic treatments. Even now, I still have numbness and pain where I’ve had a rib removed. I used to walk a bit hunched over trying to protect the wounded parts of my body. I still get twinges of phantom pain in my leg. Yoga has helped to heal and strengthen many damaged parts of my body.
Next, I want to try aerial yoga. I love the feeling of flight some of the poses give me.
You’re also a big proponent of veganism; is this something you adopted because of cancer?
I went vegan three years ago after my second round of chemotherapy. I basically started doing my own research, because I was willing to try anything to break the cycle of cancer regrowth. I’m also a spiritual person and was frustrated that I was having the same horrible experiences over and over again. I wanted something new and positive to come out of my struggles.
Veganism has not only radically changed my health, it has changed the way I view the world. So many social and environmental problems can be solved by a switching to a mindful, compassionate diet. I truly believe veganism is the next major social evolution. Some people act like my lifestyle is a form of deprivation or self-torture but it is deeply rewarding. Plus, I love experimenting in the kitchen. I want to learn more raw recipes.
What’s your biggest advice for someone who’s struggling with a physical limitation or obstacle similar to your own?
Let go of caring so much about what other people think. There will always be those who make insensitive, mindless, or hurtful comments. Actually, this goes for everyone. We all look a bit foolish when we start something new like yoga or writing. But those of us who are willing to risk falling on our faces are the ones who eventually master crow pose. I’ve met so many people who are holding off on creating, loving, or dreaming until they are criticism-proof. Those people never write their first word, try their first class, make their first short film, etc. The greatest lesson of my life so far has been to open myself to improvement. Like everyone else, I am a work in progress so I can’t be ashamed of all my first drafts.
Stay tuned on Danielle’s fan page for the release of her short film about the difficulties of adopting with preexisting conditions.