My beautiful life with cancer, teaching, gardening, and Qi Gong


Greetings from Chicago! I hope this finds you well, safe, and enjoying the New Year thus far! I am honored Sharon asked me to write about my experiences in the past few years, so here I go. . .

First a bit about me to connect the Qi dots— I am an opera singer, voice teacher, and gardener. I began my Qi Gong journey in 2008 together with my student and dear friend, Sean Stanton. We completed three MZI classes together: IRQ Beginners in 2008, Advanced Healing in 2010, and Advanced Healing One in 2013. Both Sean and I knew immediately that MZI Qi Gong methods would explain many ‘whys’ for singers, so after a few years of continued, deeper practice, Master Zhao and Sharon gave us their blessing to teach workshops using both MZI methods and integrated, holistic classical voice techniques in 2017. I have never been more humbled and honored to be trusted to be one of the first people to share MZI methods outside of the institute.

Our work together brought out not only the BEST in ourselves, but also our students. The experience of teaching MZI methods created a new, welcome vantage point for me to appreciate both Qi Gong and Master Zhao on a much deeper level. I understand why Master Zhao and Sharon live and love to teach MZI methods. I understand the importance of regular practice for clarity and connection with self and universe, and most importantly, I understand that all Qi Gong practice and healing work must come from a place of kindness and love. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to teach workshops since December 2018; my life took a crazy turn— I was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer.

What I’m about to say might sound silly, but cancer has been a blessed gift. The only negative is what it does to my body, I ask those pesky irregular cells to leave my body peacefully, the positives are EVERYTHING else. Cancer has deepened my understanding of Qi. Cancer is devoid of kindness and love, it clings and holds in my body. It takes. My job is to do all I can to get it to leave. And I do. Every day. My spirits and gratitude have and continue to remain high. I’ve had 4 cancer surgeries, 30 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, and healings with Master Zhao. My healing sessions with Master Zhao and Sharon both minimize the side effects of chemotherapy and the cancer in my body. I have MANY heroes in my life: Dr. Pappas (my surgeon), Dr. Masood (my oncologist), Rebeccah (my amazing infusion nurse), and Master Zhao and Sharon. Together, along with their colleagues at Rush and my university colleagues and despite enduring aggressive treatment for two
years, I am STILL able to live a life with purpose, which is BEYOND super. I am well enough to teach and garden. I am thankful for that gift every day. Along with cancer and because of my Qi Gong journey, I have a clarity in my life I’ve never experienced before. While overwhelming at times, cancer provides a reason for simplicity, love, truth, and peace. My Qi awareness allows me to feel the love, support, and prayers from those who care for me. I feel that warm Qi around me. This pesky cancer also helps me cherish time, I value every conversation and hug, and realize everything, except Qi = love and connection, is temporary. Given all this, I say to you, when practicing Qi
Gong, embrace the loving Qi you feel in and outside your body. When healing a patient, embrace love in your body before scanning and connecting with external Qi. Feeling Qi is experiencing love in its purest form. Most importantly, embrace imperfection, you’ll live a more balanced, less judgmental life that seeks right via kindness versus hate.


Cancer has also helped me appreciate my teaching in new ways, and frankly, the more I reflect while writing, I realize cancer has been an advanced Qi Gong class of sorts. One of my goals in practicing Qi Gong and MZI healing methods, has been to use MZI scanning techniques to accurately diagnose vocal faults in my students. While I have always been happy in my work, I have been happier in my work since my cancer diagnosis. It’s a good day when I’m well enough to teach, to share the lineage of my mentors, and accurately assess my students to help them improve their understanding of their voice and technique so they improve every week. The cool thing is they do. I use my advanced MZI training and practice to hear Qi and hear the source of the problem in their instrument. I hear where Qi is blocked. That, along with the knowledge from my mentors, my students develop a solid technique and beautiful tone. I realize, like Master Zhao and Sharon, the importance of setting a good example for my students. I work hard to sing well with detailed, beautiful technique and also do little, special things for my students. It’s important my students know I ALWAYS have their best interest in mind, I understand my job is to inspire them to practice their art, and I show respect and care for them every time we work together. A fun aside to share with you all, is I began teaching Sharon this past spring. It is SO much fun for me to share my art and Qi with her to help her find her voice. The lessons are informative and joyful, we celebrate her understanding and progress. I am a vocal technique nerd, so Sharon wanting to know all the ‘whys’ is refreshing and makes working with her a lesson I always look forward to, lots of good Qi to be sure!

My journey has always been drawn to a search for simplicity and connecting with Earth, so exploring gardening as a serious ‘hobby’ was a natural fit. As with all other aspects in my life, Qi Gong has brought a deeper understanding and appreciation while gardening. I love every aspect of digging in dirt, picking plants to cherish, and because of my efforts, creating an outdoor environment around my Chicago bungalow that’s calming and beautiful to be in and look at. I feel so alive, relevant, and connected with this planet we live in when I’m gardening. My Qi is so present, I feel shared Qi with all the flora, trees, and soil. It’s an exchange of life experiences to heal and rejuvenate. What I love most about gardening is that I help nourish plants which bring beauty and sustenance in my life, plus it’s always a constant reminder to be patient.


It’s important I share that while so much in my life is good, there’s one thing that’s missing in my life— my friendship with Sean. After some unfortunate nastiness between us, he shared he couldn’t be the friend I needed, despite my serious cancer diagnosis and treatment. We both are devastated and know we both love each other dearly. While it created a giant void in my life, it opened me up to better, deeper connections with other people. I’m grateful for everything I have learned from all these experiences. I cherish the many, happy times with Sean. I sincerely hope to reconnect with him when he is ready. It’s important we both have peace, especially before my soul leaves this Earth for the next journey.


I wish you, my dear friends in our special MZI community, love and peace in these difficult times. The challenges are many, but remember, all is better and easier to endure with Qi Gong. Be grateful for your journey, life is not a straight line, it’s a river that meanders and flows— enjoy the ride.

Always be a student, it will keep you humble and curious. Always put your best, kindest foot forward. Most importantly, be with your Qi, that bright light within you. Choose goodness. May it glow and bring you love, good health, and happiness always!


My best and loving Qi always,
Annie