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.

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