Life lessons from a cancer survivor

By MIKE BOONE, The Gazette – May 31, 2010

Dominique Lanctôt likes to keep moving.

When I phoned her Friday morning, she had just arrived in Quebec City, where she was to present an academic paper at the International Psycho-Oncology Society convention.

There was no time to linger and enjoy the charms of the provincial capital. Saturday afternoon, Lanctôt, who’s 51, was at the Eastwood Equine event in St. Lazare as one of eight riders in the Cedars Cancer Institute’s Jump for Hope.

It was Lanctôt’s debut as a show jumper. But she had a good instructor: Her daughter, Emilie Setlakwe, is a seasoned equestrienne and horse owner who’s studying to be a veterinarian.

“I did little bit of riding in my childhood, ” Lanctôt said. “I’d never jumped in my life, so this is new. It’s great because I can feel the passion Emilie has for the sport.”

I don’t know what Lanctôt was up to yesterday. Perhaps on the seventh day, she rested.

In 1999, Lanctôt was forced to endure a period of inactivity. After a diagnosis of breast cancer, she went through six gruelling months of surgery, chemo and radiation.

She’d never been sick a day in her life and there was no family history of the disease. Lanctôt worked as a corporate headhunter and was the mother of 13-year-old twins.

Lanctôt, who has been cancer-free for 10 years, is doing doctoral studies in psychology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her Ph.D. research, over the last five years, has sought scientific evidence to support the benefits of yoga for breast cancer patients. Her interest was piqued by personal experience.

“During my chemotherapy treatments, I felt weak and had a lot of nausea,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what to do, because I still had to be a wife and a mother for my twins.”

Someone in her treatment team at the Jewish General Hospital suggested Lanctôt try yoga as a relaxation technique. A tennis enthusiast accustomed to physical activity, Lanctôt took to the combination of exercise and meditation.

“Yoga diminished nausea and helped me make it through the treatments,” she said.

Lanctôt continued to practise yoga and began recommending it to other breast cancer survivors. She quit her job and went back to school to get a master’s degree in psychology. She also became an active volunteer helping breast cancer patients.

Lanctôt’s doctoral research involves finding evidence to support yoga as a therapeutic technique. It worked for her and may help others.

Lanctôt practises Yoga Bliss, developed and taught by Dr. Madan Bali, 85, a native of India who immigrated to Canada in 1969. Bali yoga promotes itself as a “practical methodology to tap into the body’s full potential for healing and wellness.”

“It’s yoga exercises mixed with relaxation techniques, breathing techniques and Eastern philosophy adapted for the West,” Lanctôt said.

“It’s not Buddhism, but there’s an influence of the oriental approach to well-being.”

She still practises yoga each morning and takes classes three times a week. Lanctôt is an active supporter of the Cedars Cancer Institute, and she’s found time to develop Serenity, a free support program for breast cancer survivors. She also co-authored a book, Tu n’es pas seul. The collection of cancer – breast and other varieties – testimonies is in its second edition and has been translated into You Are Not Alone.

I asked if there were therapeutic benefits in writing about the disease.

“I think so,” Lanctôt said. “But the women wrote mainly to help other women and men. The message is one of hope: Life changes after cancer, but there can be good coming out of it.

“All the women wrote about a rough ride that changed their priorities. They’re not bothered by superficial things and tend to focus on the moment and the beauty of being alive.

“Cancer teaches lessons: Value the important things, like your family and friends, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

“You become more compassionate toward people who face tragedies in their lives. It makes you stronger.”
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