'Let's Radiate' Q&A with Nikki Leigh McKean
My name is Nikki Leigh McKean and I am Radiance. I am a Lover of life & Yoga. Mother to Charlotte & Sofie. Wife and best friend to Victor. Lifestyle Photographer. 2x Cancer Survivor. Restaurateur. Creator of Feel That and the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project. I am inspired by life's romance and serendipitous moments. The ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project is a creative project that was born out of a deadly disease and extremely difficult treatment process. Turning my worst enemy into one of the most magical experiences of my life. This 16-Day Mindfulness Project is bringing light and love to my own personal healing and in the process, a simple, yet powerful way to share this light and love with people around the world - empowering them to find their own light and love in their everyday. We live in a world where it’s too easy to say, “I don’t have time for that”. “That” being anything that we think takes up too much time, not important or deemed not a priority. This Project challenges us to make “time a priority”. Because in the face of cancer - not once but twice - time is the only thing that is the priority.
Q: What inspired Feel That?
A: As a part of my healing journey during my first cancer treatment, I was introduced to Yoga Nidra and began the iRest Yoga Nidra Teacher Training with Molly Birkholm. One of the sessions that I attended in 2017 was an intensive session exploring body intuition. I was able to make some very powerful self revelations during this time and was encouraged by Molly to “feel that” … hanging out in my body’s feelings. After returning from the session, I purchased the www.feelthat.ca website not knowing at the time what it would be used for but knowing that one day I would need it.
Q: What is iRest Yoga Nidra and how has it helped you?
A: iRest Yoga Nidra is based on ancient yogic teachings, but made accessible for modern day life. It is designed to bring the healing benefits of yogic and meditative practices to a wide variety of people. iRest can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether you are a lifelong meditator or if you have never tried meditation before. iRest was developed by Richard Miller, PhD. Richard is a world-renowned spiritual teacher, author, yogic scholar, researcher and clinical psychologist, who has combined traditional yogic practice with Western psychology and neuroscience. He is committed to bringing the healing benefits of iRest to all segments of our population. Richard also founded the iRest Institute, an educational non-profit with the mission of helping people resolve their pain and suffering, and experience deep healing and peace.
I was introduced to iRest through Princess Margaret Hospital as I was having difficulty with my sleep and overall anxiety after I had cancer the first time. I took an iRest course every Tuesday afternoon for 6weeks at ELLICSR: Health, Wellness & Cancer Survivorship Centre at PMH and the overall improvements to my sleep and anxiety was incredible. After the course was done I researched into the program some more as I couldn't get over the immediate benefits I was having so I decided to sign up for the iRest Yoga Nidra Teacher Training with Molly Birkholm. There is no doubt in my mind that the iRest program has changed my life and it has taught me important tools on how to deal with stress, anxiety, fear, chronic pain and how to live with a greater sense of peace and well-being through community. I can't say enough about the iRest teachings... they truly are a gift. One of my most favourite practices is on the link below from Molly Birkholm on Yoga International.
Q: You have been diagnosed with two different Cancers within two years - can you tell us about that?
A: I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer (Stage 2B) on July 17th 2015 (Charlotte was 18months old and Sofie 2months old) and was treated with an intensive course of Chemo/Radiation Therapy which was successful. I blogged (https://ibelieveinunicornsandrainbows.com) about the entire process as it helped me emotionally and especially creatively. I actually remember feeling like it was one of my most creative times in my life - it was incredible.
Fast forward to Monday, May 29th 2017 – days before we were to open our new restaurant, Café Cancan – Sofie ran into my right breast playing in the park. A woman came running up to me asking me if I was alright to which I replied... "Umm... yes? What's wrong?!" I looked down and I had bled through my shirt - I knew right there and then it wasn't good. When you've been in the 'Cancer Seat' it's hard to not let your mind race, every ache, every pain - is the Cancer back?
Tests revealed a diagnosis of a second cancer - Invasive DCIS Breast Cancer, on June 29th, just 18 days shy of 2 yrs from the first Cancer. There was no option to keep the right breast - the mass was 5cm and with concerns that the invasive component would travel to the lymph nodes (note: we later found out that a small component had been found in one of my lymph nodes). Surgery was a MUST, so I opted for a double mastectomy with no reconstruction.
Q: How did the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project come to life?
A: This project came to life on the morning of October 5th while I was waiting for an appointment with my Radiologist to discuss treatment. As I sat waiting for the nurse to call me, a deep dark despair set in as I looked around the basement floor of the cancer hospital. I was overwhelmed by everything around me - the gurgling fish tank, the blaring newscast on the TV, the depressing and terrifying feeling of being surrounded by people really suffering. I could literally physically feel it in every part of my body. A deep sense of “deja-vu” set in and in the same moment of dark sadness of “what’s to come’ came an immediate and visceral reaction of “how am I going to get through this? “ I knew right at that moment that I needed to find a way to bring light and love to my healing journey and to share that with others. I knew that my new diagnosis and my radiation treatment had to mean more than “just this”.
Q: Can you explain the process in which you created the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project?
A: Right after the appointment with the radiologist, I started brainstorming all of the things and people that I feel inspired by and created a vision board. I called my dear friend Laura Wills and asked her if she could help me bring all the things I had furiously thrown together in a couple of hours to life. She immediately came over to the studio and we shared, created, doodled. Over the next few days I spent time meditating and refining my vision, imagining what would make my heart happy during this difficult time and how I could share this with the world. What would help me heal and what I would want for others - to radiate their own love on themselves and others.
The ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project came to life quickly - we created a deck of cards that brought together all of the ways that I could imagine making me - and others - happy. These cards are divided into 3 categories - Daily Activities, Inspirational Quotes and Bonus Activities - to help find light and love, to find time for self-reflection and mindfulness.
Q: What can you expect from the Daily Activities?
A: Examples of Daily Activities include:
Love letter - write a love letter to someone. It could be in your own words or a favourite poem to share. Consider delivering it in person and reciting it in front of them.
Bucket List - What are the top 10 things on your bucket list? TIP: Remove all limits
Silence - Observe 30 minutes of silence - no verbal conversations, music, reading, phone, email, gestures. Observing silence can be profound and uncomfortable - both are important
Ellen - Seriously … turn off the news and watch Ellen.
Q: What has been the most powerful outcomes for you after creating Let's Radiate?
A: We all have a responsibility to contribute beauty and light to the world. Unimaginably beautiful things are happening everyday even in the chaos and darkness and this experience taught me that I am responsible for doing all I can to contribute beauty.
To get through dark days I need to be my most authentic self, to embrace vulnerability and surrender to the light of others. Community is a must. I know that I am loved and I am radiance. I have felt people’s love all over. Literally - I can feel it beam through and that's what healing is. The best part is that we don't need a terrible illness for us to receive it.
Q: What was one of the biggest learning curves for you after your diagnoses?
A: One of the biggest learning curves for me the first time with cancer was how to really “receive help” ... and I mean 'like really receiving help'. When asked... "How can we help?" you need to know how to answer quickly and honestly. I know - it's difficult for some of us, but trust me - people want to help. A dear friend organized for a group of our friends to send 3 personally cooked meals tailored to my specific requests for healthy healing everyday. This proved to be overwhelming and uncomfortable. I felt so vulnerable and yet so deeply appreciative. But something just happens when you surrender and open up your life to the temporary madness and know that we are all in this together if you let it.
Q: What do you wish for with the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project?
A: My wish is to Radiate with everyone and help shine light and love to their healing journey. And everyone’s journey is different. For me it is dealing with an extremely difficult time with my health - for others it might be a struggle to find time for personal reflection or to be (or create) their authentic self. The activities in the Project can challenge you to be vulnerable, mindful and joyful. And in the process, you’re helping me heal by sharing your light with me and with everyone around you.
Q: Where can you find out more about Feel That and the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project?
A: On www.feelthat.ca you can learn more about my journey, the creative process that led to ‘Let’s Radiate’ and purchase your own ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project kit.
Q: Is there a charitable aspect of the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project?
A: Proceeds from the ‘Let’s Radiate’ Project will be directed to supporting my dream journey - a pilgrimage (or yatra) to the Himalayan Mountains with Swami Kashi and to the iRest Institute, a non-profit that promotes healing through yogic and meditative practices. My illness has prevented this journey from happening to date - but as I continue my work with Molly Birkholm I believe that opportunities await, and that love and light have truly been the best magic to my healing process. This pilgrimage will bring together all of the things I love - a photographic journey into the hearts of the people and its backdrops, deepening my spiritual practice, and bringing to life the iRest training.
I'm fundraising money towards Courageous Girls – Healing Through Adventure they support empowering human trafficking survivors with yoga, meditation as well as educational and employment opportunities and Swami Kashi/ Heart Pilgrim which supports learning and educational practices of spiritual practice and surrounding projects in Chaitanya Tapovan.