Ocean or Mountains?

The Yoga & Talk series features Joybooter stories and words of encouragement to nurture, heal and inspire— and in doing so, helps us to get to know one another, stay connected and to remind us that we are never alone in our healing journeys.

Rakefet Laviolette brings a zest for living, open curiosity and deep empathy into our community.  Her willingness to take risks and embrace new adventures inspires others, as does her honesty and generosity.

Share a little bit about yourself.

I am a 42 year old woman, yogini, breast cancer thriver, meditator, mother of two amazing bonus daughters, mamma to two sweet chihuahua-mix rescue puppies and a grey tabby kitty, wife, world traveler, mental health therapist in training, vegetarian home chef, and lover of deep connection. I've lived many different lives. 

I was born in Israel hence the name Rakefet which means cyclamen (a three petaled flower that looks like it is falling up that grows on the mountainsides in Jerusalem). 

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania next to a cow pasture. 

We were the only Jewish family in the school district. I am the eldest of three daughters + many foster teens my family took in when I was 11-18 years old. 

I served 8 years in the US Army Reserves as a forklift operator and truck driver. I was deployed to Hungary and Bosnia during my first year of college. I am now a disabled veteran due to hearing loss and tinnitus. 

I spent 20 years working in non-profits who worked with issues ranging from domestic violence to child care advocacy and Judaism. I've lived as an adult in NYC, San Francisco and now Austin for the last 10 years. 

In 2007 I walked for 30 days from the base of the Pyrenees in Spain to Santiago de Compostela on El Camino de Santiago. I went on to travel for 6 more months over land and sea through western and eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and Israel. 

For the last 6 years my husband and I ran the Rattletree School of Marimba, a community music school teaching Zimbabwean marimba and mbira music.

Share a little bit about your cancer experience.

I have been getting mammograms since I was 35 since my mother had breast cancer when she was in her early 40's and my maternal grandmother had it in her later years. I do not have the BRCA gene. In May 2018, they found a lump in my left breast which turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma, ER/PR positive. My health care is through the VA system and the part-time male breast surgeon in Temple told me that I was too skinny for DIEP and that the most important thing was to get the cancer out quickly. I chose a bilateral mastectomy. He said that he would leave me with flaps of skin that could later be filled. My husband and I were both in shock and didn't know any better. 

I process things through sharing with community and fortunately, I shared a FB live video talking about the surgeon's recommendation a week or so before the scheduled surgery.

A fan of our marimba band reached out privately and he said that he and his wife, who happened to be one of Austin's best breast reconstruction plastic surgeons, would like to invite us over for dinner to share information about other options for care. 

It turned out to be Dr. Christine Fisher. She and her husband graciously spent 2-3 hours with us in their home over dinner talking in clear accessible language with us as human beings about the possibilities. She truly saw me as a human being and helped to pair me with the right breast surgeon and guided my care once I asked her to be my plastic surgeon. Her staff worked tirelessly with me to climb the chain of command at the VA to approve outside treatment in Austin. 

I am blessed beyond measure. I had a bilateral mastectomy with delayed DIEP flap reconstruction, 3 revisions including the addition of small gummy bear implants to fill in the hollows that fat grafting couldn't without several more surgeries. All together I had 5 surgeries, one infection, and lots of humbling poking and prodding. I'm now on tamoxifen for 5 - 10 years. 
The brain fog, night sweats and fear of cardio toxicity from tamoxifen are what I work with every day.

How has it benefitted you to be part of the Joyboots community?

The Joyboots community has been there for me throughout my cancer journey. I love coming into the yoga space and being able to be 100% myself. I don't have to explain anything. I feel held and seen. The movements and breath work feel nourishing to my body and soul. 

Kelly is an inspiration to me personally and is one of the reasons I am pursuing a career in mental health counseling. I love the way she weaves together movement, breath, chanting, and community into promoting wellbeing for the Joyboots community.

What is your meditation practice like?

I have an on again, off again meditation practice. My life was changed dramatically when I attended my first 10 day silent Vipassana retreat in Kaufman. I meditated for 10+ hours a day and for the first time in my life I was able to truly drop in. 

Being in silence and not having any responsibilities or roles to fill was transformational. It was the first time I remember being truly alone with myself. I have since attended one more 10 day Vipassana retreat which brought up a lot of fear. I haven't been back to Kaufman since the cancer diagnosis, but I plan to go when my schedule allows. 

For now, I am taking part in a 50 day introduction to meditation course through the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. He approaches it through his background as a neuroscientist and avid meditator. I find the 10 minute meditations simple to stick to and profoundly interesting in exploring the landscape of my inner world. Here is a link to a free month of the app for anyone who is interested in trying it:
Waking Up

How has yoga and meditation benefitted you?

Yoga has brought me community first and foremost. Yoga and meditation have allowed me to get to know myself more and more each day. My practices change as I grow. They give me space to pause and drop into my body, soul and mind spaces. I feel more now and have more tools to be in the world in an authentic way. I have more opportunities to consciously act instead of react to stimuli.

What practices have benefited you the most?

Yoga, breath-work, and meditation.
What are you still struggling to cope with?

The fear of recurrence. How to tell my story of who I am becoming each day and who I was. The night sweats and brain fog from tamoxifen. Figuring out how to take care of myself while being there in a healthy way for friends who are with me on the cancer journey. I am particularly having trouble with fear and deep empathy when I connect with friends who have metastatic cancer.

What brings you moments of joy?

Being greeted by my Penny (6 month old chihuahua mix rescue). Time with my bonus daughter Siena. Cooking in my instant pot. 
Sunshine! A good yoga twist. A workout that takes everything I have and leaves me spent in a great way at the East Austin Athletic Club through Team Survivor.

What is something you'd like to share with the community to help them along their healing journey?

I'm really enjoying this book Walking Wonder by John O'Donohue, Walking in Wonder. It is available as an audio book for free from the ATX public library through their Hoopla app.

WILD CARD: Ocean or Mountains?

I grew up on the east coast and had the narrative in my head that cold and winter are the devil. They meant cold, damp, hard, icy, and grey. I had such negativity around even the mention of cold. 

Last weekend I was gifted the opportunity through B4BC Boarding for Breast Cancer to go to a retreat in the mountains of Wyoming near the Grand Tetons. The weather was in the negatives and teens the whole time. I wasn't sure about going but something told me to try it. The tamoxifen hot flashes were a blessing :-) Also, the dry cold with the powdery snow that felt like clouds hugging me was transformational. 

I learned to ski and had no fear of falling on icy patches of snow. Instead, falling was a delight into the powder. I was surrounded by women on their own cancer journeys. I was gifted the right warm clothing and was nourished with home cooked healthy food. We did yoga every day, received acupuncture treatments and were supported as we explored something new. 

So as much as I love the ocean, I'm choosing mountains for now.

If you wish to connect with Rakefet, you may connect with her through email at rakefet@rattletree.com.

Step One is Always the Same

In almost every healing tradition, the first step is always the same: Getting honest with yourself and others about what is really happening.

This is what we’ve been exploring in week one of my Healing Well: Reconnect to your LIFE course that began last Sunday.  I’m so impressed with the depth of the sharing and the synchronicities, similarities, and differences being discovered in the group. Working together moves us all forward!

In the case of people going through a cancer experience, there can be a lot of support for being in denial and pressure to put on a happy face, even when the inner experience is far different. The pressure can come from family and friends who feel uncomfortable or awkward in the presence of strong feelings.

Sometimes, the pressure comes from within. You may believe that allowing yourself to acknowledge your fear or anger or grief will make you feel worse or somehow make the cancer grow.

I don’t subscribe to this.  In my experience, it’s far more damaging the suppress your real feelings, for your body, your relationships, and your emotional healing.

You can take this very moment to check in with yourself about what you are feeling today. Look at the list on this post’s graphic.  Do any of these resonated with you today?  If not, what word better describes your experience of this moment?

Being Who We ARE

Lois brings such light to a room and to her fellow survivors. Maybe because she’s been brave enough to really peer into the darkness she’s had to face. Her ability to use all the tools from yoga, meditation, music and drumming help her work in both subtle and joyful ways with her own energy. I always enjoy and trust the kindness and encouragement that Lois offers the JoyBoots community.

In her interview, Lois mentions how much she benefitted from the 6 week Healing Well: Reconnect with Your Life After Cancer course.  The next one starts January 12 and I’d love you to join us.

Share a little bit about yourself.
I am a drummer, a singer, and an application developer with 3 fur kids. I am a world traveler.Share a little bit about your cancer experience.
I went into the doctor for what I thought was a kidney stone on Wednesday and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer by Friday. Nothing in the world prepares you for that news. I am luckier than many with ovarian cancer. I had lots of side effects from treatment like cancer rash and nephropathy, but it was caught early and as of this past week I am 2 years NED.How has it benefited you to be part of the Joyboots community?
Going through cancer alone is tough.  Even for those with family to help them, there is no one who understands just what you are going through like another survivor – especially emotionally. Finding the people out there who get it and who let you be where you are each day without expectation of anything has felt like a miracle. It’s a sisterhood no one wants to be a part of but this group has helped me heal in so many ways.What is your meditation practice like?
Right now I am participating in the 40 day healing meditation practice. We are using a healing mantra that I used quite a bit in the 6 week Healing Course and it is my “go to” for balance and breathing space most days. I am now expanding to other mantras to meditate on as well.

How has yoga and meditation benefited you?
When I found Kelly’s class, I was barely walking, living in a constant state of fear and anxiety and on the edge of giving up. Yoga and meditation has helped me heal all of that and helped me find balance emotionally and physically as I try to return to the “real world” after cancer.

What practices have benefited you the most?
Kelly’s 6 week online course helped me really look at the emotions I had burning during and after treatment. Weekly class is my safe space. I always know if I can get that far in the week, I will be ok. Moving, breathing deeply, and sharing energy with this group of survivors is what helps me deal with whatever else is going on in the world around me.

What are you still struggling to cope with?
My body is still stiff and my mind easily rattled when faced with the pace and cruelty I see in the world. My weekly yoga break allows me to re-enter and be okay with where I am in all aspects of my life.

What brings you moments of joy?
The joy and laughter we share as a group. We have all been through some really tough times but when the group comes together to rally around and uplift each other, my heart soars. It is one of the few places where, when someone asks “how are you?” you know they actually want to know and will listen. And then there is Kelly. She brings such joy, compassion and heart to the classes. She makes it so easy to share our own joy and bright light.

What is something you’d like to share with the community to help them along their healing journey?
Find people who lift you up. Go where you are appreciated just as you are. Accept nothing less. Kelly and this group has taught me so much about loving myself, finding my strength in vulnerability, and opened my heart to healing not just myself but those around us. Just by being who we are.

If you wish to connect with Lois, you may connect with her on Facebook as Elle Brown or Instagram as DolphinLBL.