CureTalk Interview: Carole Pepe 10 years Multiple Myeloma Survivor about Yoga and Cancer Care
Carole Pepe is someone who has always been careful about her diet and health. No surprises that the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma came as a huge shock and surprise to her; this was the life-altering juncture of her life. Carole has handled this uninvited guest, Multiple Myeloma, very successfully. She remains in complete remission. Carole has founded Yoga for Cancer Care offering cancer care classes, restore and renew classes, and outreach programs.
Me: When and how did your Multiple Myeloma diagnosis happen?
Carole: I was diagnosed in 2003, age 47, after recurring bronchial infection that would not respond to multiple treatments of anti-biotics. Additionally, I had been anemic and not responding to supplements to boost my hemoglobin and fatigue for several years. Also, low B12 being boosted with monthly B12 shots were ineffective in gaining results or relief from fatigue. Blood work done by my primary physician led to more complete blood work, and bone marrow biopsy led to the diagnosis.
Me: Now you are a 10 year multiple myeloma survivor. Any specific life-long changes to diet and lifestyle post multiple myeloma?
Carole: The biggest lifestyle change I made was retirement from my job teaching young special needs students. I was very fortunate to be able to do so, and travel for treatment for months at a time. It was, and remains, my strong conviction that this option was going to give me the best chance of survival.
Dr. Tricot was so confident in his approach and dedication toward finding a cure. Being retired has allowed me to focus on healing, remaining free from stress, and preventing re-lapse.
I am very mindful about my diet, and always had been pre-diagnosis as well. Actually, I was a vegetarian and the medical team suggested this was the cause of my anemia and B12 deficiency. I do add some fish protein to my diet now, grow a big organic garden, and choose organic whenever possible. I try to limit processed foods and sugars.
I was quite athletic before my diagnosis and this is where I showed a lot of difficulty, including back pain, before diagnosis.
Exercise has always been a priority in my life and continues to be so. I always seek to find activities that energize, rather than deplete me. For me, that means choosing a long bike ride, doing yoga, or going for a jog, in lieu, sometimes, of entertaining, shopping, or cleaning. My goal is keeping stress-free as much as I am able, and being outdoors, and exercising allows me to do that.
Me: Do you have any specific treatment regime now? What checkups are you doing?
Carole: I do the following tests:
- I send bloodwork to my myeloma specialist at the University of Iowa every 3 months for a complete Multiple Myeloma Panel.
- I do a 24-hour urine panel every 6 months, and bone marrow biopsy, full MRI once every year, alternating on the other 6 months with a PET scan.
- I also get Aredia treatment every 6 months for bone strength and tumor prevention.
My myeloma specialist believes in keeping a close track on all the possible ways the MM may show up, especially as I get further away from transplant, and the chances of re-lapse are greater.
I just received the results from my mail-in, and I am thrilled that I remain in Complete Remission!
Me: What made you organize Yoga for Cancer Care offering cancer care classes, Restore and Renew classes? Is yoga for cancer-afflicted different from the normal yoga classes?
Carole: I founded Y4CC to share some of the benefits of Yoga I received to others. I felt, as a survivor, I could relate to this population in ways that other folks are not able. I want others to know that they are not alone in the dark. In an Y4CC class, we adapt to the challenges that a cancer diagnosis brings, to the patient, and support partners as well. There is recognition of the need to address the whole being: physical, mental, and spiritual. There is an opportunity for others to share their experiences, openly and safely. Those can mean just taking off a wig or a hat for the first time in front of others. These are big steps. Is this part of Yoga? It is in Y4CC!
I began to teach Restore and Renew classes to offer healing yoga to any and all, and especially to those persons who are not interested in identifying with an Y4CC group.
As I always say, if you are alive and living on earth, you can benefit from some healing!
Me: Has yoga personally helped you in healing physically and emotionally? How has it helped you?
Carole: Yoga was my friend before my diagnosis, but became my constant companion, and support partner after diagnosis. I had several years of high dose chemo and 2 stem cell transplants, followed by maintenance and cumulative side effects. During that time, my yoga and understanding of yoga deepened. I had been a yoga teacher, but no longer could do any poses.
My Yoga was all spiritual, meditation, and visualizations. I found refuge in the understanding that I was more than this sad, weakened, bald body. I used the mantra ” May I be at ease with whatever comes my way” over and over and over, especially when what came my way was not invited!
Then I was introduced to the Joint Freeing Series and I added this very simple routine into my daily schedule, even when bed-ridden and attached to tubes. It gave me a great sense of empowerment and control. I gradually got stronger and started doing more on my own. I could barely walk up the stairs to the yoga studio, but as soon as I was able, I started going to class again, and modifying, as I needed. It returned me to a sense of normalcy. I knew I could always rest and soak up the lessons and healing energy of my teacher, Amar Jyothi.
Yoga helps me to accept “what is”. It has given me the tools to more clearly see “what is”. It is constantly changing and evolving, and I am happy to say, that my physical and emotional beings are at a much-improved state compared to 10 years ago.
Me: Any message you would like to share with our readers regarding tackling Multiple Myeloma successfully?
Carole: I am thrilled to see the strides that have been made in the treatment of Myeloma over the past 10 years (and proud that I was part of clinical trials for several!)
Myeloma is one of those un-invited guests, but we have to deal with it in the best way we know how. Being aware, knowledgeable, and doing what gives me joy has served me well. Take the time to investigate what that means to you. Find peace and ease wherever and whenever you can. It is there.