Nothin’ like a little bit of cancer to put life into perspective.
At least that was the case for Caryn Antos O’Hara, founder of Yoga Benefits. Primarily a kids’ yoga instructor, Caryn teaches at Charleston studios and schools. Until recently, she worked part-time at Lululemon. She joined the yoga apparel company for extra money before her dreamlike European-slash-New-Years-Eve wedding in late 2012.
She had been experiencing some abdominal pain. Something was off, but the discomfort was intermittent. “When I get back from vacation…” Caryn said. In Italy, her pain worsened. In Spain, she left Christmas Eve early. A few days later, she woke up in the ICU. It was colon cancer.
If it sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. But Caryn describes it—waking up to oxygen masks, feeding tubes, monitors, and zero understanding—as just “weird.”
It’s the way Caryn talks about her whole experience that seems weird. When she shares details of her multiple surgeries both overseas and at home, chemotherapy, living with an ostomy bag, taking her first post-ICU steps and sips of water and bigger-than-big hospital bills, Caryn simply says: “I feel so lucky.”
“I felt so blessed that I had years of a yoga practice behind me. There were so many nights I would just lay there and focus on my breath. I can’t imagine what I would’ve done without that.”
That’s not to say she never felt scared, weak or vulnerable. She absolutely did. She just chose not to dwell on despair. Instead, she practiced deep gratitude to her Barcelona nurses for their tender bedside manner (and the 1/10th of the cost her bills would’ve been in the United States). She listened more closely as her fiancé read the comments from donors and loved ones back home. And she had the conversations with her father and grandmother that she’d been putting off.
“I did a lot of crying,” Caryn recalls. “Not because I was sad. I just felt so touched.”
On December 31, 2013, one year after her nine days in the ICU, Caryn and Matt finally had their first dance, as husband and wife.
“It was perfect,” Caryn describes. “Pure, sweet, simple. It was really about us.”
When Caryn talks about her experience, she speaks as someone on the other side of it all. Someone with newfound purpose. Now energized by working with adults, she is developing state of mind coaching and holistic health consulting, as well as creating programs to help people through grief, in all its forms.
“I want to elevate people. The way I was elevated,” Caryn says.
In March, Caryn was keynote speaker at Roper’s Colorectal Cancer Symposium. She told her story to doctors and nurses as a woman on a new path.
And as a patient who’s been cured.
Words by: Jessica Kenny
Photography by: Mark Stetler
Hair and makeup by: Stella Nova Flagship