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Donna Tempra. Picture: Astrid Volzke/The West Australian

Seven years after her breast cancer diagnosis Donna Tempra is still dealing with the emotional repercussions. The spectre of cancer persists in her life with the death of her sister from breast cancer last year.

Now 51, Ms Tempra said yoga and meditation had helped her cope in the tough times.

"I knew halfway through my treatment when I had a meltdown that I really needed to look after my mental health," she said. "Everyone seemed to be taking care of my physical health, but I wondered who was going to help me deal with the anxiety which came along with my cancer diagnosis. I needed to get through this mentally as well as physically."

She was referred to counselling and told about the range of courses offered by Cancer Council Western Australia that could provide some help in dealing with her understandable distress.

Meditation, in particular, was something that really struck a chord at the right time. "I don't know if I would have sought it otherwise - maybe it takes a crisis sometimes to make change and maybe I didn't think I needed it before - but it has certainly been an amazing life skill to have, regardless of what my situation's been."

It had made her feel more empowered and taught her to be more aware of her body and to be present in the moment, to think about what was happening rather than reacting automatically. She used those techniques regularly to help her through stressful situations, including annual medical check-ups.

"Even during an MRI, when it is extremely loud and you're pinned in there and very uncomfortable, it is great to be able to tap into that resource. Of course, you have crazy thoughts as well … but I have learned that when I am in a situation where there are lots of thoughts that are going to be arising, you can let those thoughts pass through your mind but you don't have to dwell on them."

Attending the meditation and yoga courses provided by the council has given Ms Tempra peace of mind because she felt comfortable with other cancer patients and carers who, although at different stages of their cancer journey, shared experiences of diagnosis and treatment and the accompanying anxiety.

"We weren't all there to feel sorry for each other, we supported each other. I know every time I left the group I walked out feeling energised, feeling like I had done something good."

Her sister also found meditation helpful.

"She used it to deal with wanting to stay in the moment, especially when she became quite unwell. I think it was a comfort for her, it was something she could do to clear her mind and give herself peace and everyone saw the benefits she got from it."

Her sister's death last year had been devastating and made the skills Ms Tempra learned through meditation and yoga even more valuable.

To move forward and to recognise this was her own life and her own experience was something she really had to work at, Ms Tempra said.

She recommended anyone affected by cancer to seek help with their stress and anxiety.

"It's so rewarding to know you can tackle these things yourself."

'I needed to get through this mentally as well as physically.'