Photography by Paul Buceta

"Early in 2022, I didn't feel like myself, and I didn't quite know how to explain that to a doctor," says Alicia Mathlin, a Meditation Instructor and Author who describes herself as a generally healthy and happy person. “I know what works for my body, I know how to manage my own stress, and something just felt off. I didn’t know what it was, but I quickly found out when my left thigh swelled up like a tree trunk—that had never happened,” she explains. “When I went to a walk-in clinic, I was told that I may have a blood clot, so I was sent to emergency at the hospital and when that doctor noticed that my stomach was descended, she ordered a CT scan of my entire body—I thought I was just putting on weight. After the CT scan, though, I learned there was cancer in my bones, lymphatic system, stomach, ovaries, and thyroid.”

At 43 years old, a successful entrepreneur, wife, and stepmother to two girls, Alicia was diagnosed with stage-4 B Ovarian Cancer—the most extreme version of ovarian cancer, spread through the lymph system. She met with her Oncologist on the Thursday, and by the following Tuesday was in her first session of chemotherapy. “I have always been the kind of person who said I would never do chemo,” shares Alicia. “Even hearing my diagnosis, I was very clear that I would not do chemo—I was ready to die, I was prepared to die. I had a lot of peace around dying, which is a nod to my practice,” she says. Her practice is meditation, and it helped transform her life years ago. 

Before she grew into a guide for others as a Meditation Instructor, Alicia was caught up in her own cyclical struggle with the corporate game, toxic relationships, and muting her own voice. Successfully climbing the corporate ladder, earning plenty of money and praise in her late twenties, Alicia worked long demanding hours and didn’t prioritize her physical or mental health—a trap so many fall into. “I was working too much, having Red Bull for breakfast, grabbing an espresso on the way to the office, not eating all day, and over indulging in dinner. All the while, surrounded by people who were adding fuel to the fire. After a while, my body bluntly told me, ‘If you’re not going to stop this, I will stop you.’” Burnt out, Alicia found herself hospitalized. But doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so she was sent home with antibiotics for an infection, and eventually resumed her life.

Her body collapsed again though, at the same time the following year, presenting in the reproductive area, which often occurs for women. “I was told there was nothing specifically wrong with me,” shares Alicia, “but the doctor said, ‘You just need to change your life,’ which stunned me coming from an allopathic doctor. ‘Change your job, break up with your boyfriend, change your circle…’ Something I hadn’t heard before—and it resonated. I knew the doctor was right because I felt so far removed from a healthy, happy person.” So change she did. “Since I had money saved, I decided to take a year off of work to figure things out. I know not everyone can do that, so I’m grateful I could afford the time and space to allow myself to grow.” 

Alicia started with nutrition. “I quit everything unhealthy cold turkey, which knowing what I know now about nutrition and healing, was not the best approach. My body did not react well to all the withdrawal. There was a lot of physical pain (and crying). I was on my own after pulling out of the toxic relationships and I wasn’t distracted by the office, so it was a lot to take mentally and emotionally, too, but the discomfort was also a huge wake-up call that got me reconnected with my body. It was all I had, and it was like my body said, ‘We’re in this together.’ I felt my body in a way that I never felt her. It hurt, and I had to start to try and rebuild from below rock bottom.”

When her mom stepped in, she introduced a new path that would become the way for Alicia. “My mom, who is probably my first soulmate, said, ‘I think we should go to a yoga class, let’s get you out of your head,’ so I did my first yoga class and when I got to savasana, I started bawling my eyes out,” shares Alicia. “It was clear I was starting to let go of everything I was holding onto. I was feeling lighter and I wanted to maintain that.” Alicia says that’s when she really discovered there’s more to her than her mind and her external experiences. “Your body is with you and the only thing that will be with you. It’s this temple that is with you the whole way through life. Imagine the kind of power that is removed from us when we’re removed from that connection,” says Alicia. Her mom also started picking up books for her on Buddhism which started to shape Alicia’s perspective. “Awakening the Buddha Within, said everything I needed to hear,” she explains. “It was the first time I had heard that it was possible to not carry everything for everyone all the time, that I could be free to try and carry my own life, and figure out what that was. I started to get clues about being present, with no idea how that would change the trajectory of my life, and spill over into the lives of others.”

Alicia worked diligently to define success for herself, to grow in her own light rather than continue to play the conventional game that was expected of her—until Paris. 

“Your body is the
only thing that
will be with you
the whole way
through life.”

“A year later I randomly got a job in France,” says Alicia. “Even though I had made all this progress, I had always wanted to work in Paris, so I accepted the position and immediately when I arrived, the first thing I did was have an espresso. I started eating in a way that wasn’t conducive to the healing journey I was on.” Alicia spiraled back to her old way of living. “I was drinking wine, eating steak… and it all just didn’t work well with my constitution at the time. My body was taxed and it got worse, so my partner (now husband)  approached his friend, a holistic wellness professional and doula, for some help.” After speaking with her, Alicia realized she had lost touch with her ethos. “I was doing all the wrong things for me,” says Alicia. “I didn’t even know the person who was doing these things anymore. She explained to me that I was disconnected from my body, that this thing was coming back again because it hadn’t become a profound understanding. My periods were out of control, and our cycles are often a representation of grief. Certain foods I was eating, while they tasted good in the moment, left me feeling flat. I wasn’t moving my body. Between being homesick and not sleeping enough, I was deteriorating.”

So Alicia started running. “It felt like the only thing I could do. The first time I ran it was only for three minutes, and I think I threw up a little,” she humbly admits. She also started to change her nutrition again, unveiling a new curiosity in the process. “As I started to feel better I felt very interested in what I was learning, so I dove into an online nutrition course and fell in love with the ability to change your state just by changing what you eat.” With the shift, Alicia felt so far removed from her day job that, with the encouragement of her partner, she left it and focused on well-being. “I felt like I had to save myself,” she says. Learning about nutrition ultimately led Alicia to meditation and her purpose. “I realized very quickly that to have conversations about nutrition you have to know how to change your own mind, so I looked closer at meditation, which yoga helped with,” says Alicia. “It often gets lost in popular culture, but the purpose of yoga is actually to prepare the body for meditation, so I made sure I did an hour a day and I started to recognize the cumulative effect, which became exponential.” Recalibrated, Alicia soon became the messenger for those around her. “I was calmer, happier, I had more vitality in my eyes and spirit, and people started asking questions,” she says. And so began her service. 

“As I started mixing all of these modalities, I realized that mediation was the most important to me because it created a pathway for everything else. I dove deeper into yoga and started teaching in corporate settings. I really dug into the neuroscience of meditation because I wanted to understand how it was working, so you have a better chance of it working for you. A lot of people attach religion to meditation, but the practice in and of itself can exist simply between you and your breath. Meditation and mindfulness are also not strictly for being calm, they’re there to help you function and move through your life, when faced with the small things or the big things. As a teacher, what I tried to do is refine the practice so that it feels possible for people to learn how it helps in real life, outside the studio.” Which she has applied personally over the past six months, ten-fold.

“Meditation and mindfulness are not strictly
for being calm, they’re there to help you
function and move through your life, when faced
 with the small things or the big things.”

“With everything I’m going through, I wouldn’t be able to wake up every day without it,” says Alicia, who has now had five cycles of chemo. “I had strong feelings about chemo, and even about cutting my body open with major surgery, because I had worked so hard to have a strong relationship with my body – it felt like a betrayal. It’s hard to decide, but you also weigh the feelings of those who love you and want you around.” In October of 2022, just four weeks after her fourth round of chemo, Alicia underwent a total abdominal hysterectomy. “They scraped away any cancer they saw. They took part of my stomach called the omentum…they don’t tell you all the grief that comes with a hysterectomy,” she explains. “It’s really hard. Some days I think it would be easier to not be here—and then my practice comes into play. I take 10 deep breaths—I’ve committed to taking 10 deep breaths, it’s all I can do—reminding myself that it’s good to be here.” 

Alicia says she strives to find her way through hard things as they present in her life. “I try to step right in. I have learned that to resist is to allow things to persist. And I want my life to reflect my effort. When your life reflects your effort, it can be really beautiful. I have come from being someone who has felt very lost to someone who feels very whole,” she says. “I’m in a lot of pieces right now, and my practice has reminded me that I am not broken — my self-acceptance is not conditional on my wholeness.” Alicia’s journey of acceptance became so revealing that she began to document her discoveries through essays and eventually compiled them into her first book: Meditation Pusher, The Future We Make, Volume 001. Which arrived from the printer the day she returned home from her surgery. “The book is a celebration of what’s possible for all of us. A collection of essays that I’ve written over time as a reminder that we are the authors of our own futures. We can rewrite them as often as we need. It feels as though I’m rewriting mine again,” she says. 

“It really matters to me that through my experience and effort I help support women on their personal journeys.”

“What I try to share with people is that transformation is possible, especially with meditation. The smallest step moves you forward. Right now, my practice looks like 10 deep breaths. Even if I just roll over and go back to sleep, just acknowledgement that I’m alive is good enough in this moment. I’m happy that my practice has given me the flexibility to be okay with all this uncertainty. Maybe this is my final chapter. Nobody knows. But the fact that I get to write this chapter, means everything… I have peace with that.” 

“The book is a celebration of what’s possible for all of us. A reminder that we are the authors of our own futures.”

Alicia is currently working on Volume 002 of her writing: The Art of Valuing Yourself. “I think it’s really important that women learn to value themselves without condition. That even when you feel at your worst, you know you are still valuable. I have two stepdaughters, and so many important women in my life, it really matters to me that through my experience and effort I help support women on their personal journeys. Not as a constant figure in their lives forever—but in a way that my work helps them learn how they can be the most powerful person in their own life.” Of course, the result of that awakening is, Alicia is always with those she’s reached. 

Connect with her directly on Instagram, or through her book, to see for yourself.