THE LINK BETWEEN BREAST CANCER, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND HOW I USED BREATHWORK AND BREATHOLOGY TO BECOME MORE THAN A "SURVIVOR", BUT A 'THRIVER"
"".".My Mom in the last months of her life, hanging with me at the opening of the African American Museum in D.C. and her last public picture at the D.C. Senior P agent.
It would be many days of concern as we saw our Mom turn from a healthy senior with no serious health issues, to a shadow of herself, as she literally willed herself to die. She actually begged God to take her home. And, she was so ready....had written all of her obituary, had paid for most of her expenses, and helped me and my two sisters plan her "great home-going EVENT" she called it. She was 92 at her passing, and her contributions in making a better world, was a glowing testament of a life worth-lived. Her home-going was exceptional, just as she planned, with an entire community coming out to say, "thank you Ms. Thomas for a life-well-lived."..
One of her biggest contributions was her involvement as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society and October was “a very important” time for her.
My Mom, at age 17 and at age 91.
My Mom, became afflicted with breast cancer, in 1965, the year before I graduated from middle school and I became part of her “care-taking team.”. MY Dad found her lump, and he often bragged about this. Despite it being a small tumor, it resulted in surgical removal of her left breast (radical mastectomy) and all the lymph nodes under her armpit. After undergoing 45 radiation and chemotherapy treatments, my Mom realized her deep desire to help other women who faced the same challenges.
She joined the “Reach To Recovery Program” of the American Cancer Society, visiting in hospitals and homes of countless, women, supporting , praying and motivating them right after their breast cancer surgeries. Eventually she became a spokesperson, featured on radio, television, and in public advertisements on behalf of the Society, encouraging women that “there is life after cancer”. For her consistent volunteerism, she was awarded the American Cancer Society’s most prestigious recognition, The Bartlett Award, named for one of their pioneers.
Although 7 years after her breast removal, she developed cancer in her hips, and again managed radiation but also incorporated a new paradigm shift in her personal treatment. She said that I had motivated her to use more natural approaches. So, she stopped smoking, became vegan, attended yoga classes, started breathing with me, and did lots of walking, stretching and danced. Mom acclaimed, in later years, that she had survived cancer for over 49 years by living a wholistic life-style of increased breathing for greater relaxation, moving, and limited medicines.
While, I was drawn to a wholistic lifestyle as early as 1970 at age 19, due in part to wanting to be a good example for my Mom’s health, I remember as a young child that I was destined to pursue this lifestyle. I was pushed into eating meat, yet was very sensitive to the fate of animals being killed for us to eat them. I remember being terrified, watching a restaurant cook boil some crabs, while they were alive, and feeling the crabs' pain. I was really into nature, plants, talked to trees, and dis-liked violence of all kinds despite my being a tom-girl who loved to physically, tackle down my older brothers on the football field. Quite an introvert, shy, a reader, a writer of poetry, observant, and super sensitive, I felt the inter-relationships of everything, especially people and their emotions. This empathic nature was recognized by my Mom early on, who was quite similar in nature, and she became my best friend and role model..
From this empathic framework as a helper and a care-taker, I wanted to know how my calm, always in control, small-framed, Mom, attracted cancer in the first place, why did it come back and what this imbalance of cancer, was really about?
I questioned the tension that I felt in my family, despite moments of love and laughter, and I really noticed tension in my body and holding my breath, whenever I was around my Dad. I remember being quite young when began to notice that he would drink something that made his behavior change, and next he would be asleep at the dinner table. I would wake him up and help him into bed. I thought that my Dad was just overly, tired when he fell asleep at the table.
As my Mom was getting back on her feet from her first cancer, she started working again in the day, while my Dad worked evening shifts, both federal. government workers. With their work schedule, I was given the responsibility of helping my younger sisters, 12 and 10 years younger than myself, having to miss many after-school extra-curricular activities.. I grew into adolescence, care-taking my Dad, and in some ways my Mom, too.. As the middle-child, it seemed like I was always the “peace-maker”.. I was “wired” to be a helper and by age 15, I declared I wanted to be a social worker.
But, there was an undercurrent that was not peaceful and I started feeling the tension in my family, more and more. My Dad, sitting alone at the dinner table having his "drink", seemed “different" after a while, going from being a joking, caring person to a person who would tease me harshly, saying unkind things about my crooked teeth comparing me to the cartoon character “Mickey Mouse”.. He made negative statements about my curly, frizzy hair, my dark-brown skin color, my thin frame, like my Mom's and as I grew breast, sexual remarks about my body. He would give us "pocket change" he called it, then demand it back. .He was nice-nasty, and you never knew what to expect from him.
I often clung to my Mom, who would tell him to leave me alone, but then he would turn on her with unkind words. I believe, because my Mom had so much grace about her, with a quiet presence, she could quietly and firmly put you in place, which is often how I remember, she handled my Dad during these increased rants. You seldom heard her raise her voice, nor even show anger. One day, I saw him standing over her on the stairs to their bedroom, screaming in a nasty rage, and she actually took her cigarette out of her mouth, and without a word, put it to his arm and burned him, backing him off.
My Dad, quite handsome in his uniform in World II, as a young kid of 17,
When I look back at my Mom, her manner of dealing with my Dad, must have created a strained peace that went on for years, and that this internalized stress, anger and frustration, eventually became the emotional root of the imbalance from which the serious illness of cancer came from. My Mom survived, ironically, with the help of my Dad, who also was nice-nasty with her, nurturing and loving one moment, then verbally abusive the next.
As I matured, Dad became more verbally abusive and sexual in his language towards me and my girlfriends. However, one day, he made sexual remarks about me, to a male friend, breaking into our phone call. When I confronted him, he physically slammed me into a wooden dresser, then began to beat me, until my brothers stopped him. Totally fed up with pain, I decided to run away from home, to get away from my Dad, leaving out to New York with no plan or connections, which meant, I came right back home after my weekend retreat. I was age 17.
By age 19, I ran away again, this time to Okinawa, to marry my high school sweetheart who had joined the Air Force to get out of his toxic home environment and here, we were introduced to smoking marijuana, dropping pills, drinking and using substances for recreation.. Returning home after 9 months, I pursued my dream of working with people, and went to college to become a human services professional and my husband, Damani, went to work in the federal government at a job, he didn't like.
By the 3rd year of our marriage, I realized that I was re-creating the relationship I had grown up with, watching my Dad and Mom. As drugs and drinking became the “third party” in our relationship, I had a health scare, as my breast thickened, and test showed that I too was at risk for breast cancer. I was truly into wholistic health now, and at the same time, was incongruent with self-abusive behavior with drugs and alcohol. I spoke to Mom to probe deeper into her early childhood, in order to discover how the seeds of her emotions had played into her journey with cancer, to better understand my body.
She shared that while born and raised in Washington, D.C., her grandparents had struggled to leave the South, Rocky Mountain, N.C. so her Mom dealt with serious poverty during the “Great Depression” of the ‘30’s. She had one brother, Gilbert Mitchell, who was 8 years older than her. Because her Dad, left his wife, son and my Mom when she was only a year old, her brother ended up serving as her father figure. I believe, he must have been a good guy, who loved jazz, dressing dapper, who worked as a porter at the Supreme Court. It is from him that my Mom gained a positive perspective about men and parenting skills..
Sad, I don't know his first name, but this is My Mom's father, Mr. Mitchell.
Years later, her Dad came back to the family, just as mysteriously as he left. At the end of the week of his return, he passed out while walking with my Mom, and died that evening. Mommy shared with me, that she did forgive her Dad after he died, for abandoning her Mom and she often spoke about how forgiveness had taught her one of her most valuable lessons in her life, yet she also talked about the resentment she felt, in that she did not really know her father. and that she knew her Mom struggled.
On February 14, 1943, Doris became the wife of Morrie Ignatius Thomas, Jr., my Dad. He was a neighborhood, determined young man, who saw my Mom walking down the street and went home to his mother, and told her, that he had met his future wife. Mom shared that he pursued her assertively, with a determined, "you are the one" attitude. They married on Valentine’s Day, after a whirlwind 3 months courtship and they remained together for over 53-years, until his death. From their union, five children were born and two did not come to term. I was the 3rd born of this family.
World War II interrupted their new marriage, and when my Dad returned from his post in Europe, my Mom had, like her Mom, served as Mom and Dad to their first born, who was 3 years old by the time our Dad came back stateside. Dad returned home an alcoholic, traumatized from the death, destruction and racism he faced in the war.
Doris and Morrie were uniquely different, yet, they worked together despite their differences and many challenges, providing a loving, fun, creative and always exciting family life. So while my Dad, reminded me of "Papa was a Rolling Stone", who worked diligently at his government job for over 30 years, he partied just as hard. My Mom always reminded me of the song, "I'm Every Woman" because she was so vibrantly interested in so many things and pursuits. Since their interests were so at conflict, my Dad had the good sense to NOT curtail his Doris, who was not to be contained, like women often were at that time in the 30's- 50's. My amazing Mom would eventually achiever her dreams to be an actress, a writer and publisher of her poetry and plays; organized and directed a local theater company at age 65 that won national awards for over 25 years; danced, sang, modeled, went to Africa at age 84; and got an honorary PHD in Theater Arts. Not only was her volunteerism noted, but she won many other recognitions, along with being the comforter of so many.. Her bestowed African name "Mother Hajari Kendi, "queen mother of us all". was one such honor to her Spirit.
My Mom was a role-model for many-a Diva, a Queen and a counselor as a great friend
As Dad would be coming home from the after-hours club, Mom would be heading out to church, as it became clear they weren't "spiritually yoked".. She started out at a Baptist church, but left in turmoil and became a member of her catholic church in Southeast, Washington, D.C, the working-class side of the city. For 50-years, she served as a member of the solidarity and the choir. She loved her church home, but also would attend other spiritual and religious services always willing to seek “God” in many mansions". I loved that she went to a Buddhist Temple, a Mosque and services at the Nation of Islam, with me, as my spirituality expanded. My father, would only pray when encouraged over a meal, and never went to any religious services, but he would help many and this perhaps was his spiritual work..
More often than not, my Mom went her way and my Dad his, but we saw more of their unified actions as they worked through their many ups and downs, including her serious health challenge with breast cancer, than his illnesses, as he succumbed at age 62, to brain and prostrate cancer, HBP, obesity, gout and alcoholism. She had weathered his extra-marital affairs, too, and seemed not surprised when a 13 year-old, showed up at his funeral stating she was his daughter.
Seems my Dad had been seriously, abused as a child by his parents, and hurt people tend to hurt people, so my Mom, quietly put up with a lot of abuse from him, to keep our family together.. We were together on the outside but not whole on the inside.
Pictures on the wall of Mom's home of her and Dad
At age 26, a lot of my family’s history and emotional dysfunction came crashing down on me. I held my breath a lot, felt numb, disconnected from my body, and felt angry a lot and wasn’t clear about what I was angry about. I was serving as a counselor, during, social justice work and cultural activism and actually thought I was “pissed” about all of the racism, inequality, poverty and human rights abuses that I was confronting.
I started having a health crisis with an intrauterine device infecting my fallopian tubes and the walls of my breast thickened. I was scared that I was getting breast cancer, and went to the hospital for the required tests.
Then, I took myself into therapy to gain greater insight into why was I so unhappy in my home, with my husband, Damani, a man, similar to my Dad. He was a good man, who was also emotionally abusive because he would shut down, not talk for weeks to punish me, creating distance as he physically became absent in our relationship, With both of us dependent on substance abuse, I found myself seriously depressed...
I was also having issues with allowing myself to be sexual with him, despite having 2 sons. The therapist asked me, “did I think that I had been raped or sexually abused as a child”, to which I emphatically said “Oh no way”.but did tell him that my Dad made sexual and nasty remarks about me. As we talked, he helped me see how my substance abuse was an attempt to cope with anger and diagnosed that the mental health issue of depression, comes from anger that you turn on yourself. After that session, when Damani would "disconnect", I became angrier and the drinking and drugging increased. After 9 years, I left this marriage. Changing my mind-set, my habits, and the suppressed anger that I felt from emotional abuse, I believe helped stop the thickening walls in my breast, I did not incur cancer and I took more self-care time.
But, I continued to attract other disconnected, relationships, very much like the pattern I saw in my Mom and Dad and each time, I would attract a major illness. My gall bladder enlarged, almost burst and had to be removed with relationship No.2 that lasted close to 8 years; Then a small tumor was found in my breast, with my 3rd relationship, to a man, I married from another state, not knowing him well and whose troubled past haunted our lives for over 6 years during the “crack-cocaine” epidemic in D.C.
By now, I.m really into wholistic health, and have gained several certificates in various forms of “breathwork”. I realize now the correlation between emotions and health, so I do a deep dive into breathing, meditation, watched my anger, and worked with my diet. The tumor goes away, once I address how traumatized I felt chasing this man down, in “crack houses”, and being physically and verbally abused in the streets of our home-town. Then, my son Rashid was killed at age 17 (another story), and 2 years later, my Dad laid dying with brain cancer.
Again, I.m. depressed, angry beyond rage, and can barely breathe. The walls of my breast begin to thicken again, and I.m. told that I should consider some type of invasive treatment for the issue. Instead, I take a course, in 1996, in a different, breathing method, called conscious –connected breathing, and get certified as a Transformational Facilitator. This training uncovered and released all the stuck, suppressed emotional anger and subconscious memory of trauma stored within.
After 3 sessions, in which I kicked, screamed and fought off something, the 4th session revealed that I had been fighting off my Dad. I reclaimed the image of him coming into my bedroom after his evening work shift to touch my breasts, fondle me with hugs and kisses and put me on his private area to "ride" him up and down. The trauma of this behavior, for an 8 year old, who silently dealt with these sexual acts, until I was almost age 13 was too much for my young mind to handle, so my mind blocked them out on the conscious level to be stored as stuck energy on the sub-conscious level.
Yet, the trauma laid frozen in my neural pathways, showing up as numbness, anger, guilt and shame turned upon myself which lead to depression. I only felt stimulated and alive as I coped by drinking and drugging and I learned that energy never dies..
Sekou Ayo breathing away "stuck energy" in the heart and gut area.
This discovery at age 40 something, was life-changing for me, as I felt liberated, restored and transformed from years of held trauma, and I made a commitment to myself to keep up my own personal sessions. Thank God I discovered, conscious connected breathing, along with other breathing techniques, cathartic movements, release work, journaling and disconnecting from the negative energies around me, as all of these modalities sustained me to cope effectively with a succession of adversities within a 6 years span..
My first husband, Damani, who when we divorced, became one of my best friends., died at age 50, after a long illness connected with his years of substance abuse.
Then his mom, my mother-in-law and his dad, my father-in-law passed one month apart from each other. Because the deaths were so close together, there was no time to change legal paperwork, which cause mass confusion which eventually lead to the eviction from their house and eventual homelessness twice. Then, I dealt with incarceration of my second son; and the deaths of many of his friends.
I would later have to breathe through the untimely deaths of both my brothers and the divorce from my 2nd husband. By then, I was working and breathing with hundreds of thousands around the world on radio, t.v., in print and in private practice, using my own system of breath techniques, called Optimum Life Breathology (O.L.B.) which included conscious –connected breathing.
At this writing, I.have been addiction free now for over 25 years and in this time, have weathered the ups and downs of my 4th marriage with my addiction-free, husband John. I;.ve had no more breast concerns and no major health issues.
My other best friends, my sibblings, Donna, Maurice, Melvin, Maria and me
.I have also been able to forgive my Dad, who I don’t demonize, but had to be truthful to myself and to my community, that his emotional pain caused serious damage to me, and my family. I found out, that he also inappropriately touched and made sexual advances to other members of our family and to some of my friends. I started speaking on radio about my personal journey as I studied more about trauma and breathed more, gaining greater insights.
In the last years of my Mom’s life, I shared that I had been verbally, mentally and sexually abused by my Dad, her husband, just so I could be authentic and truthful to her during a family gathering. Somehow, the issues of sexual abuse and domestic violence was raised as the root concern of her breast cancer, my scares with breast cancer and my mental health concerns with chronic stress, depression and addiction.
Instead of "stuffing" it down and hiding it, this time, I shared the painful story.. My Mom’s eyes teared up, as she admitted that she often suspected that her husband had done “terrible things” to me, and to others, and she often questioned had she done enough to protect us, as she realized that 4 of her 5 children had, had difficulties with some sort of self-abuse with drugs and alcohol, along with relationship dysfunctions. She apologized for not doing all that she could, and described that in those days, within African American communities, there were many “hidden secrets” of sexual abuse; emotional, physical and mental acts of domestic violence; as well as all levels of child molestation. My Mom thanked me for going public with this issue and encouraged me to continue, even if it meant exposing our Dad’s reputation.
In her name, I continue to share my story and hers, so that the truth may set us all free, not only during the October month of Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness month, but as often as I.m. able to speak up for survivors, the voiceless and those who are seeking remedies for the emotional link to their health concerns. Every October, I thank my Mom, for giving me permission to share freely, as we are still saving lives, helping many become more than survivors, but “thrivers”..
Here is an article on the emotional link to breast cancer that I found very helpful, and felt that it should be shared
Breathology has taken us to 8 countries and 7 U.S.A. states. We have "breathed" with millions over the media changing lives, as people change how they breathe.
As I have continued to help millions on radio, t.v., in print and on stage as a Breathologist and Breathwork facilitator, presenter, and workshop leader, I have been so blessed to share my story of the connection between our breathing and our emotions, health; addictions, domestic violence, conflict resolution de-escalation and cultural, intergenerational, collective trauma. I share here, my personal story, to say, I.m. so thankful to the Creator for blessing me with a solution and a tool to open up suppressed emotional energy blocks before they become illnesses.
Through my wholistic service, PositivEnergyWorks, we offer on-line courses, certifications, on-line presentations and telehealth in Transcendence Breathwork and my signature O.L.B. system to also advance our healing with 60 or more, stress-related, oxygen deprivation, mental health disorders.
We encourage you to breathe better to live better as “the simplest thing we can do to make the most critical impact on our Spirits, Minds and Bodies". I share from experience and training, that "you must feel it to heal it". By simply changing our breathing to change our out-comes, we eliminate long-held, unconscious painful cellular memories that are emotionally and physically toxic. Using breathing as a self-care, tool is free, always available and accessible 24/7, so now, in the times we live in, we encourage you to Breathe Better to Live Better because there is “power in the breath”. Come breathe with us, to regain your power and PositivEnergy to become more than a “survivor” advancing as a “thriver”.
ATTEND her signature training course, WOMEN BREATH AWAY TRAUMA, REAWAKEN TO SELF-LOVE on October 16, 2021. Contact 202-667-2577 or visit: www.PositivEnergyWorks.com.
Ayo Handy-Kendi is an internationally renown, Certified Breathologist, Laughter Yoga Teacher/Leader with 50+ years of wholistic health, counseling and social justice experience; CEO/founder of PositivEnergyWorks, Optimum Life Breathology (O.L.B) and Black Love Day, Feb. 13. She is an author, speaker, workshop leader, cultural/spiritual facilitator and storyteller. She is a Wife, friend, partner, sound-healer/composer with John Davies 3 of Earth Love Tune-Up Crew (ELTUC) and Mother and Grandmother to 22 grands and 10 great-grands. She and John were born in D.C., currently living in Capitol Heights, Maryland with their 4 dogs. She is a survivor who is a “thriver”, who has breathed through childhood emotional abuse and sexual trauma; the death of her teen-aged son; the multiple deaths of many family members; homelessness; domestic violence; addictions and depression.
Ayo Handy-Kendi is reknown as the Breath Sekou, which means in the Guinea language "a master teacher". She has worked with breath techniques for over 50 years and loves teaching "the power of the breath". She has created a system called Optimum Life Breathology (O.L.B.) which teaches 12 common breath techniques with 4 breath practices. As a Wholistic Practitioner she incorporates sound healing, laughter yoga, Reiki, healing touch, movement, behavior modification and stress management and oxygen concepts, such as water hydrotherapy, Aroma-therapy, nutrition, into her trainings.She is creating a "breath movement" to wake people up to their joy and positivenergy with the belief that when you breathe better, you live better. She is also known as Mama Ayo, when sharing cultural presentations or performing as a storyteller, actor, author or speaker. She is the founder of Black Love Day, Feb. 13, the Ritual of Reconciliation, founder/director, African American Holiday Association (AAHA) and founder/CEO, PositivEnergyWorks.