By Yvette Colón, OD
I was diagnosed three years ago with pancreatic cancer, and the one thing I will never forget is when I asked my doctor when I could return to work as a clinical professor in optometry at a local health center. He looked at me and said, “Cancer is now your full-time job.”
Those words cut me like a knife, but the reality was, he was right. I so desperately wanted my life to return to normal, but after the whipple procedure that removed my tumor with the hope of stopping it from spreading, and the reconstruction of my gastrointestinal tract, I could barely eat or walk. Just a few months before, I had climbed Diamond Head volcano in Hawaii. I regularly took spin classes and went to the gym. Now, I had to accept that cancer had changed everything.
I am so grateful that a friend told me about the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living. I called the center and was amazed at the variety of classes being offered; it was like summer camp for adults. I found that through integrative therapies, I could stay active — at my pace.
The first class I took was qigong. I could still barely walk, so instructor Ramel “Rami” Rones modified all the exercises so that I could participate. I also initially tried the chair pilates class, but had to take a step back and wait until I could work on my balance. It wasn’t easy to accept that my body no longer moved and balanced as it did before my whipple surgery. Now, after a year, I am very proud to say that I can attend the chair pilates classes.
I have also taken part in the music therapy program, and while I have no musical background or talent, I sure can beat those drums. Through the creative arts programs, I have learned how to make jewelry, participated in card and book-making, and taken art classes with teachers from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
I’m still struggling; I have good days and bad days. What keeps me moving forward is wondering, “What program can I do today?” I go to the Zakim Center three mornings each week if I physically can. It’s not just about taking a class; it’s about building a community and making connections with other cancer patients and survivors. Like going to the doctor or taking my medications, the Zakim Center is part of my treatment plan. It’s given me the opportunity and space to focus on improving my health and wellbeing, and to begin healing my mind, body, and spirit.
This is the place where I work at my full-time job known as cancer.