How Yoga Is Helping Kids with Cancer

June 26, 2019 / Yoga
How Yoga Is Helping Kids with Cancer

Aimee DeLuna practice yoga in her hospital bed. 

The cornflower-blue sleeper sofa. The formica closet. The tea cart clanking by. Jaymee Jiao will never forget the eight months she spent living in this hospital room with her son Savior-Makani Jiao as he underwent around-the-clock treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. But today, the rambunctious two-and-a-half-year-old is in remission, and he’s arrived at his former bedroom at San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital in a red plastic Radio Flyer. “I had to buckle him in because he was going crazy downstairs,” Jiao says when we meet, exhaling. It’s true: Right now, Savior’s energy could fuel a turbine. The familiar nurses who pass by gush over his vivacity and thick, wavy tuft of black hair. You’d never guess that just last year he was undergoing chemotherapy full time.

Five months post-discharge, Jiao is settling into life back at home with her husband and four children, of whom Savior is the youngest. She is visibly tired, yet cheerful. Atop her left shoulder is a large, tight lump, and she points it out, pulling on it as if it might loosen and slip off. “I carry my stress physically,” she says with a shrug.

Also in Savior’s old hospital room is volunteer yoga teacher Liz Fautsch, a smiling brunette who worked weekly with Jiao to ease tension and stress while she was holed up at Rady. “Your shoulder is looking better!” Fautsch encourages. Jiao nods. “Yoga helped relieve my shoulder and back pain,” she tells me. “And,” she says, lowering her voice a little, “it would take my mind off things when we were having a bad day.” But between school drop-offs and shuttling her kids to sports practice and chasing Savior around the house, Jiao admittedly hasn’t kept up a regular yoga routine since she lived in this room.

See also Building a Strong Foundation for Cancer Healing

The yoga program for cancer patients and their families here at Rady is powered by volunteers from the Sean O’Shea Foundation—a nonprofit organization that aims to empower youth through yoga, mindfulness, and optimistic teachings. It was founded by Gloria O’Shea to honor her late son Sean, a children’s yoga teacher who died in a fluke car crash in 2006. He was 32. While the foundation has been running programs for San Diego kids and teens since 2008, it partnered with Rady in 2011 to harness the research-backed benefits of yoga for kids undergoing cancer treatment and their families. Volunteer yoga teachers such as Fautsch, many of whom are health care professionals and specialize in yoga for cancer recovery, visit the hospital’s oncology unit three days a week, going bed to bed to offer individualized sessions to whoever’s in the room—be it patients, parents, or friendly visitors. Sessions typically last about 30 minutes and range from pranayama and meditation in bed to asana on colorful mats carried in on carts by volunteers.

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