Woman who escaped cancer works to help others

When Lisa Goldberg's daughter, Devon, started school, the then 39-year-old decided to return to work. Her husband, Derek, urged her to find a passion, rather than a time card to punch. Stellar advice, but in the process of taking it, Goldberg was diagnosed with cancer.

While pursuing a passion for work, she discovered a passion for life. Now, the two are forever interconnected for the Las Vegas local.

Goldberg wanted to teach yoga and became certified to do so. The clear path to her dream job hit a roadblock, however, after she stretched into a headstand pose during a yoga class just more than a year ago. She felt chest pains. They became so severe Goldberg couldn't turn her body to put her car in reverse two weeks later. She scheduled a doctor's appointment.

The good news: The cancer was in stage 1 of development. The bad news: It was a rare form of lung cancer, adenocarcinoma. (Goldberg smoked socially and quit 10 years prior.)

All cancer carries a level of doom. Lung cancer, notoriously aggressive, has its own brand of doom.

That's why Goldberg will never forget Valentine's Day 2012. Seven months after removing the cancerous nodule and one-third of her lung's upper left lobe, her doctor, a cancer specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told her she had a 5 percent chance of the cancer ever returning. The mother to a then 5-year-old heard that as a 95 percent chance of seeing her daughter grow up. A stark contrast from the original prognosis, a 50 percent chance of being alive in five years.

"I feel so lucky," she says, "that I have to help people who aren't so lucky."

She became a yoga instructor, but her pupils aren't exactly balancing their bodies into crane poses when they take her classes. She conducts "guided imagery" yoga through The Caring Place, a center that provides services to cancer patients. For one hour twice a month, she helps her students here forget about their cancer.

With the lights dimmed, flutes and chimes emitting from her iPod and Goldberg's soothing voice leading the way, she asks her students to put themselves in a "safe, healing place." Depending on their mobility, they're either seated in wheelchairs or lying down. She talks them through exercises that relax, not so much their bodies as their thoughts.

Sometimes they sleep the hour away. Other times they weep through it. Goldberg feels fulfillment from both.

"Right when I go in I say, 'My name is Lisa and I was diagnosed with cancer,' " she says. "They're relieved that I know what they're going through. I feel like I'm really helping them. ... The whole thing is very inspirational."

She teaches 20 yoga classes a week. Her cancer-patient students learn to use their imaginations again. Her other students haven't yet stopped.

In a room bursting with primary colors, Goldberg recently asked four yoga pupils to sit in the "crisscross apple sauce" position. Each of them had a pinwheel greeting them on their yoga mats before class started. They made imaginary smoothies, took a trip to Hawaii and grew to the sky as flowers in sun salutations. One student even muttered "woof-woof" when Goldberg mentioned the downward dog.

Her children's yoga classes are for ages 1-15 and provided through Kidville at Tivoli Village and the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada.

One child recently came to class with a picture she colored for Goldberg that read, "I love yoga." Between the kids and the cancer patients, she says she's found her life's purpose.

"I'm having the time of my life. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be," Goldberg says.

When her 40th birthday came this year, she greeted the significant age with an enthusiasm most women wouldn't understand. She was overjoyed to have gray hair and a few more wrinkles. Signs of aging, after all, represent signs of life.

Her husband calls Lisa his hero.

"She found what she loves," he says. "She's helping people at the end of their lives and the beginning of their lives."

For more information about Lisa Goldberg's yoga classes, visit yogajr.com.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.