Shay Moraga is the founder of Shay’s Warriors, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was formed in the Coachella Valley to help women who have gone through breast and other reproductive cancers. Shay was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2016, and after her own struggles searching for local resources, she had a passion to do more. So with that, Shay’s Warriors was brought to life in hopes of providing a healthy, inspiring and safe space for survivors to thrive in life after cancer. Shay’s Warriors helps build community, connection and authentic conversation around what life is like after cancer so that fellow warriors live “hope in color.”
How has your yoga practice and teaching changed through your cancer diagnosis, treatment and healing?
I originally taught kids yoga because my daughter, Jalen, has done yoga since she was inside my belly. As she got older, and I got stronger with my practice, I became a power yoga teacher, then a yoga sculpt teacher. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I remember the very first thing that happened to me in the doctor’s office as soon as she told me was I clenched my fists, and held my breath. I wasn’t able to find the natural rhythm of my breath, I don’t even know how I was breathing, to be honest. I was just gasping, and what yogi doesn’t know how to breathe?
One of my friends who owned a yoga studio called me and said, “Shay, come and get on your mat.” I said I couldn’t because I was too scared. “Just come and be in Savasana,” she offered, that was probably the thing that I was most scared of. The moment I was still, was the moment I would have to think that I had breast cancer and I didn’t know yet if I would lose my breast, or if I was going to die.
She walked me through a class with a ton of modifications. I couldn’t do a Chaturanga, because they had just put my port in my chest for chemo, but I could do a high plank. I could no longer go down on my breasts after my surgery, but I could do a tabletop. It was really learning how to be able to navigate the poses, to let go, to give my body grace to be able to heal.
Learning how to redo yoga all over again was a big deal for me. Your balance changes after you have surgery, especially breast cancer. Luckily, yoga allowed me to get full mobility back fast. I now teach yoga for cancer at a cancer center, in Rancho Mirage, CA. I went from power yogi, to teaching what I call “move to heal.” It is the practice of movement and healing at the same time, mind-body connection work. It’s also about challenging yourself, and pushing yourself past fear to live.
Tell us what inspired you to create your website, shayswarriors.org. I was particularly struck by the great illustrations and design.
After I was done with chemo, I was just kind of like, “This sucks.” There’s no support locally after you are done with active treatment. I didn’t know who to talk to because everyone went back to their normal lives except for me. I went through all of this stuff, and I couldn’t teach yoga. I had major fatigue, no hair, I was so bloated from all the chemo and radiation. I was looking to connect with others like me, so as I continued to write a blog about my life after cancer struggles, I realized a need to do more. I wanted to create a community and connect with those who also were going through these same emotions and after cancer feelings.
I went online, but I just couldn’t find anything that spoke to me. All the websites were so doctor-like and sterile. I’d go to these websites, and it felt like I was sitting in the freaking hospital again. I have a creative imagination and background, so I called my talented girlfriend Lindsey, and asked her to help create a website that stood out and was full of color. Happy big bold and beautiful colors. Because I see things differently now, I live life with new meaning. The flowers are brighter. The birds chirp louder. The music hits my soul more. Cancer was a stop sign that shouted stop and start living! Let shit go, you only live once.
When I was little, my dad would always say, “After a storm, look up in the sky there’s a rainbow. That’s the sign of hope.” That became this palette of colors that we resonated with, which is also somewhat like my personality.
The theme of this issue is inspiration. How did you stay inspired during this time? What was the light that kept you going through?
The light that always kept me going was my faith and my daughter.No matter what, at the end of the day, I was going to live for her. She was my will to live.
The second will to live was the connections to the people I met when I went every Thursday to the chemo room. I would see the same people every visit, and it’s important you get to know those people. The one thing that was the common denominator among us was that we were there so that we could live. None of us wanted to die.
What was the thing that surprised you the most about going through this process?
People are so much more resilient than they give themselves credit for, and your mind is such a powerful tool in healing. Focus on the present moment and do stuff that fills you up — it makes it that much easier to get through things. Get rid of drama. Give yourself permission that while you are going through the hardest thing in your life, to be selfish. When you are sick, let people show up for you so you can take the back seat for once. Allow yourself the time to heal.
You think that some of the people you have known all your life will show up for you and be there by your side, but that doesn’t always happen. Then there’s people that come out of the woodwork, they are perfect strangers that will bend over backwards to help you with whatever you need. When people find out you have cancer they go through their own journey, because they are also faced with their own mortality. Easier said than done, but try not to hold it against them. If it hurts you, try hard to let it go for you, not for them.
The power in community is incredible when people ask for it, and you have to be willing to be vulnerable to ask for it. That’s where the resiliency comes in. It takes a lot of courage to ask, and when you do ask, it’s like your heart is ripped open and the love just starts pouring in those bold, bright beautiful colors.
Learn more: www.shayswarriors.org