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Picking Ourselves Up

I just read a wonderful book about a father’s firsthand account of his young daughter Zoe's struggle with cancer. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say there is a happy ending.

Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back by Elisha Cooper is a beautiful memoir of a father’s love for his daughter and how unmoored he feels by this seriously unfair, life threatening illness. Cooper is funny, honest, and wholehearted in taking us down their family’s path to recovery and I can’t stop thinking about it.

His title Falling - the utter lack of control and total surprise – makes me think about what it means to be in free fall both literally and figuratively.

Falling. We’ve all done it. Missed a step, flailed our arms, crashed. It feels fast and yet so slow. Time stands still. Everything grabs our attention: surprised faces, exposed helplessness, sharp pain. No one falls with you. You’re alone.

Older people dread falling. They know a broken hip means the end of independence. Children rebound quickly from a tumble, running off with a scraped knee. Old and young – none of us have escaped falling.

As a yoga teacher, I help students practice finding their balance - shifting weight into one foot, lifting the other, gazing at a fixed point, breathing, seeking stillness within continual movement.

My training focuses on bringing ease to those who feel they are in free fall: an unexpected diagnosis, a life-changing illness. Last June I spent a week at Duke Integrative Medicine studying mindful yoga for cancer. This fall I’ll be teaching at the newly established UAB Integrative Medicine.

How do we pick ourselves up when we fall?

Author Elisha Cooper shares his experience. The story begins with a lump under his five- year-old daughter’s ribcage. He feels it while holding her on his lap at a Chicago Cubs baseball game. It is cancer.

His daughter Zoe undergoes surgery, followed by chemo, followed by radiation, followed by waiting. Daily life continues. The family moves from Chicago to New York. His wife Elise starts work at NYU; he draws pictures in the mornings for a children’s book on farms and cares for Zoe and her younger sister Mia in the afternoons.

Keeping life normal while feeling that things are decidedly not normal, Cooper endears us with funny stories, keen observations and hard questions. I absolutely love Cooper’s clear devotion to his daughters and wife and I could deeply feel how impossibly hard this journey was. Falling is never easy. Falling is never easy but learning you’re not alone makes getting up possible.


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