Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kiai!: My First Time

I’ve always been very physically active. In grade school it was kickball, tag and later, the middle school’s softball team (I played first base). As a freshman in high school, a few months after watching my uncle in the NYC marathon, I decided to give the track team a try. I ran and jumped my way right into an athletic scholarship, seeing the US and earning a B.A. without any school loans hanging over my head in the process.

Through career shifts, marriage, pregnancy and divorce, I kept competing (OK - I did take a year off when my son was born). In July 2004, I retired from the sport so I could work on my Master's and still keep up with my then 11-yr-old son. A few days after I started graduate school, I found a pea-sized lump in my right breast.

Thanksgiving break was spent recovering from a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction (which isn't quite so immediate, it turns out). In January, after watching my son do kata from the balcony of the dojo while trying to read my school assignments, I decided to take his sensei up on the offer to join the class. Since track had ended, I hadn’t even run to the refridgerator. I missed being active. I missed sweating.

And sweat, we did – thanks to the generous helpings of pushups, jumping jacks and ab work Sensei F. dished out. At least that was familiar – unlike the stances, katas and punching/kicking drills. I felt like the world’s least coordinated person for quite a while (which Sensei F assured me was totally normal), but it felt really good to hit something. Plus we were encouraged to scream loudly while punching and kicking. Physically yelling while pummeling a pad (or even a person :-) proved to be pretty darn therapeutic - and a whole lot cheaper than psychotherapy.

Three weeks before my last radiation treatment, I entered my first competition, (I wore a foam chest protector to keep the radiated skin from getting hit too much). A few days after - a Thursday - I remember getting really excited because Saturday - which had become "karate day" - was right around the corner. My passion for this new mind/body/spirit thing was ignited.

A few days ago (October 4), I celebrated my five year “cancerversary.” Through all the physical changes breast cancer brought, karate was the one constant, proving that I may have had cancer, but cancer didn’t really have me because I could do stuff that I’d never even tried before my diagnosis (seriously - how many of you had ever sunk into a cat, long or horse stance before karate?), so for me, breast cancer and karate will always be connected. I’m so glad I took off my shoes and lined up in the back of the class that day. If I hadn't, my bare feet probably wouldn't be on the path they're on now. And I probably would have never really appreciated how great a good, loud kiai is for the soul.

Since it is Breast Cancer Awareness, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you about the importance of self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms. But before you go and schedule your appointment, tell me about your intro to MA. What was your first training session like?


  1. Hi Felicia, I'm so glad you are now so fit and healthy after all you've been through. I have a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39 - it was really devastating for her. I'm glad to say she is also fit, healthy and 'reconstructed' eight years later. Like many survivors of cancer she has a very positive 'can do' attitude to life now.

    My journey into martial arts started when I was fed up being left alone while my husband and sons went off twice a week to do their jujitsu class. I thought if you can't beat them, join them - except I was afraid to try jujitsu, all that throwing and falling sounded painful! That's why I decided on karate, and guess what, my husband and son's followed me into it!

    In my first class I remember thinking what a weird thing kata was! Some young children were practising various kata and looked like little 'duracell bunnies'. The adults just looked like they were doing a weird dance! However, us new white belts were sent to the back of the class with a black belt to go through some basic kihon - now that was much more what I was expecting! Anyway I loved it from the first day and I've never looked back since.

  2. The kata thing is funny - 'cause I remember thinking the same WTH? thing when I first saw group kata. It looked like a bunch of people dancing around in their pajamas, LOL...

    I loved it from the first day as well - isn't that funny?!? Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?

    Glad to hear your friend is now an eight-year survivor :-). People like her - who look cancer square in the face before flipping it the bird - inspire me for real...

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Hi Felicia,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am glad to hear about your five year anniversary. I know the five year mark is a milestone. I wish you all the best. My mother was 62 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is doing fine and it has been ten years. On my desk at home is the paperwork to go for my first routine mammogram. I am not going to lie...I am procrastinating. I have reached for the phone several times but have yet to make the call. I will.

    My first training session was in the back yard. My husband taught me the first kata before I ever set foot on the dojo training floor. That was my first and only official lesson from my husband. Once I joined classes, he made certain that he was not my class instructor. He wanted to make sure that my training was my own. I will always be grateful to him for that.

  4. Hey there, Michele. So good to hear about your mom - awesomely awesome! She's my new she-ro...

    I know how tough it is to make that first mammo appointment. Heck, it's hard going for the yearly exam, too, but I digress. If I lived closer, I'd ride to the imaging center with you. We could do katas in the waiting room to pass the time, ha ha! But you'd still have to call and make the appointment, LOL. The "baseline" mammo is simply a roadmap so your docs wil know what your "normal" is. Especially with your mom's diagnosis, this is important info (which I'm sure you already know). So c'mon - call for that appointment! The only thing worse than knowing something is amiss is not knowing...

    Cool about kata in the backyard with your hubby. How thoughtful of him to want you to make it your own! Like that a lot.

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  5. Yours is an excellent story and I really admire your perseverance!

    I'm always amazed at the power martial arts has to improve people's lives and strengthen the body, mind, and spirit.


  6. Hi, Matt - and thanks for stopping by!

    I think everyone has a "this is why I started/stuck with MA" story. Mine just happens to be a bit unusual, I think. For me, it was like being chased: couldn't stop or even look back as whatever was back there could be gaining on me, LOL...

    Martial arts definitely is a mind, body, spirit connection. Folks who miss any of those three miss lots, I believe...

  7. My first class was not at dojo,but dance school,where they had something of a mish mash of martial arts for choreographed demo's. The first real martial arts class came not so far after- in 6 months. Teacher got tired of me waiting for my friends after their class and just pulled me inside onto the mat. :)

  8. Xue - that makes sense. You were already there, so I guess the instructor pulled you in. I hear that happens a lot to parents who take their kids to class and wait for them to be done training. Hey, it happened to me :-)

    Thanks for stopping by :-)