top of page

Cancer: The Best Thing to Happen to Me.

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

In the last week of October, we highlight two YFFR instructors and Squad Leaders who share similar resilience and outlook around the battle that got them there. First, we hear from Sarah Hall, and next, we will hear from Maggie Eastman. After reading their blogs, I ask you this: your most challenging trauma could be your greatest tool and teacher?


Cancer is the best thing to have happened to me.

Sounds contradictory, right? I realize that for many people, just the word “cancer” brings up thoughts and feelings that are negative and scary. Everyone has at least one connection to cancer. It is hard to escape when cancer affects a mother, friend, coworker, or spouse. But anyone impacted by cancer understands that it can (and usually will) completely change how someone approaches and walks through life.

My name is Sarah Hall. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 years old, on Valentine's Day, during my third trimester of pregnancy. It was a complete shock to me and my whole family. I had no family history and considered myself a healthy person. Before being diagnosed, healthy

eating and exercise were a massive part of my identity. Yoga, weight lifting, step, spin, 5ks, half marathons…you name it, I did it. My husband, Eric, has been a firefighter and paramedic for 15 years. The fire life was no stranger to either of us.


I had no family history and considered myself a healthy person.

My treatment included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, reconstruction, and hormone

therapy. Navigating cancer treatment with a newborn was not ideal, but I tried to focus on the good stuff. I found humor where possible and stayed as active as possible. I kept up my yoga practice and walked regularly. Each time I moved my body, it lifted my spirits, and I experienced significantly less fatigue during chemo. Exercise was empowering and provided a positive way to connect with my body when it was very easy to focus on how my body had failed me.


Our fire community acted as an extension of our family, donating personal and sick days to allow Eric time off for my surgery and chemo treatments. The firewives banded together to deliver meals for our family. These were our people. We could rely on them for practical support or to give us a shoulder to cry on.


Like most survivors, I did my best to maintain a positive attitude. Still, I struggled emotionally when treatment concluded. The mental toll of being diagnosed, amputating my breasts, and undergoing chemotherapy while caring for an infant eventually caught up with me. I started having depressive thoughts and wondered if my family would be better off without me. Our marriage got rocky, and we realized weathering the storm would take some outside help. Many people do not realize that cancer is just as much an emotional battle as a physical battle, and mental health often takes a backseat to the typical medical treatment of cancer. Both Eric and I sought counseling for the first time in our lives. Having someone check in on us individually and as a couple was invaluable.


I started having depressive thoughts and wondered if my family would be better off without me. Mental health often takes a backseat to the typical medical treatment of cancer.

In 2020, a friend asked me to help cover her maternity leave by teaching yoga to first responders within several local fire departments. I would need to attend the Yoga for First Responders (YFFR) training to be qualified to instruct these classes. I had been doing yoga at this point for over a decade. I knew yoga made me feel better mentally and physically, but it wasn’t until my YFFR training that I learned the science behind yoga and why it works so well.


Yoga has taken on a whole new meaning in my life. I learned how powerful the breath is at regulating the nervous system during training, and I use this every day in my own life and as I teach in departments. I have continued my studies and am working towards a HeartMath certification. Cancer forces me to face the harsh realities of life daily as I worry about cancer recurrence or hearing of friends being diagnosed. First responders also face these harsh realities and hypervigilance daily as they come into contact with the “worst calls” they can imagine or assist people on the day when their lives change forever. Those types of experiences don’t just fade away.


Woman holding arms up over head in a yoga pose.
Sarah teaching at YFFR Instructor School - Class 026

I learned how powerful the breath is at regulating the nervous system during training, and I use this every day in my own life and as I teach in departments.

I had tried to return to my pre-cancer life for years following treatment. In 2021, 3 years after treatment, I realized it was IMPOSSIBLE to be the same woman again. No matter how hard you try, You can never return to who you were before. I had to learn how to move forward differently. I finally stopped trying to lose weight, like in my 20s, and let go of the mentality that I had to do it all. It took many years of practice, but I have also changed how I view exercise.


I often think about how Olivia (Mead, founder and CEO of YFFR) always says, “You can’t control what’s happening around you, but you can control how you respond.” I have learned to trust the tools of yoga and breathwork, and I practice for moments on and off the mat.

I knew when I was done with treatment. I would do everything I could to give back to others struggling with breast cancer. Post-treatment, I found that turning my pain into my purpose was a significant motivation.

I am grateful to be part of the mission of YFFR to provide first responders with the tools of traditional yoga for processing stress and building resilience. As a breast cancer survivor, I was also aligned with a new organization, Faith Through Fire (FTF). Its mission is to reduce breast cancer patients’ fear and anxiety and replace it with hope and a path toward thriving. In yoga, we often use the “edge” to provide an opportunity for breakthrough or breakdown. Likewise, FTF says that we can choose to let cancer make us bitter or make us better.


Post-treatment, I found that turning my pain into my purpose was a significant motivation.

Woman surrounded by four firefighters wearing pink breast cancer awareness shirts
Sarah with her YFFR students at the fire department celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Cancer is a traumatic experience, but post-traumatic growth is possible! With the proper support and the tools you already carry with you daily (breath and movement), you can grow from the experiences you encounter.

One thing I want you to remember. Through obstacles come opportunities.


Valentine's Day 2023 marked five years since my diagnosis, a significant milestone for me and my family. These have been the most challenging, humbling, and growth-filled years of my life. I am now Vice President of Faith Through Fire. I find joy daily in my work with FTF and the fire departments when I teach YFFR. Life isn’t easy, but when you allow others to help and guide you, you can get to the other side!


Listen to Sarah tell more of her journey to resilience on episode 008 of the YFFR podcast, "On Air."





77 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page