It’s About You: Kate Garza’s Story

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KateGarza2 for 5 28Kate Garza is back with a new blog post for our fall conference blogging series, It’s About You. The yoga instructor, writer, wife and mother of three discusses the “breast cancer journey” concept, while discussing her own and her anticipation of Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences.

Everyone calls it a journey – the breast cancer journey. And if I weren’t so sick of that term, I would use it, too. It is descriptive to a point, and it allows other people to remember that you are not living the life you had in mind anymore. But this so-called “journey” is really more the life equivalent of being kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven in the dark to an unknown location. That’s the image that flares in my mind anyway, when I hear “journey with breast cancer,” a junket with only sketchy clues about where you may end up. 

I was diagnosed with stage II invasive breast cancer at age 53, almost 2 years ago now, when my kids were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Life would have been complex enough with three kids moving up and out, but throw breast cancer on top of that project and I had more moving parts than I could track with sophisticated software. 

I had a fairly garden variety diagnosis of estrogen receptor-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer. I followed the standard treatment with lumpectomy, 8 cycles of chemo and 30 doses of radiation therapy. It was the most difficult health crisis I had run across in my life and treatment left me exhausted and brain-fried, but grateful that I traversed without complication. I finished a week before number one graduated from high school. After a month off for R&R, I began taking an aromatase inhibitor (AI), letrozole. 

After 3 months of difficult joint pain side effects, I switched to anastrozole. Again, the difficulties with pain and mobility arrived, but I stayed with the second medicine for 6 months until, completely frustrated and full of pain with every movement, I gave up. I was done. I couldn’t see the point of prolonging a life that felt this bad. Did I mention that I am a yoga instructor? I couldn’t move. Not even enough to practice the yoga that might help me feel better. And working, in my chosen profession, was out of the question. So by the time my second child graduated this past June, I was 2 months into my medication vacation and starting to feel much better. I could move again. Pain with walking and the sleepless nights were beginning to fade away.  Continue reading

Yoga: A Survivor’s Tool for Strength

KateGarza2 for 5 28Kate Garza is a mother of three teenagers, cancer survivor and yoga instructor in Cheltenham. Her “Team Kangaroo-om”  participated in our event, Yoga on the Steps: Philadelphia, on Sunday, May 18.  For more information or to register for a Yoga event near you, visit yogaonthesteps.org. Read Kate’s blog at LotsaHelpingHands.com.

I climbed the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum last Sunday for Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Yoga On The Steps, a sun drenched block party of yoga enthusiasts and breast cancer affiliates. Occasionally my thoughts traveled back to last year’s event, which I attended during my own active treatment, bandanna wrapped around my chemo-bald head. On that gray day a year ago I felt as bad as the cold fog and drizzle that enshrouded the steps.

But last Sunday, bathed in sunshine, I shook off a year and a half of living with breast cancer treatment. I gathered with a large team from my kids’ high school, faculty and students together. I was there to give and gain support and to advance LBBC’s mission of bringing patients together with resources throughout the journey, one that can thankfully now include many years of health beyond treatment.

Cancer survivors have long had an intuitive sense that yoga helps body and mind, but now we have studies to prove it. In March, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a study of 191 breast cancer patients by researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It linked yoga to improvements in self-reported quality of life, including measures of mood, pain and fatigue. Practicing yoga also appeared to help regulate the stress hormone cortisol, which is tied to poor survival among breast cancer patients.

Aware of these unique qualities of yoga, Living Beyond Breast Cancer has held Yoga on the Steps as its signature fundraising event since 2001, and in recent years has expanded to other cities — this July in Kansas City and September in Denver. Last year, LBBC, the Ardmore-based national education and support organization, published a Guide to Understanding Yoga and Breast Cancer, detailing the benefits of yoga to coping with anxiety, fatigue, strength and body image.

But what exactly is it about yoga that helps? Continue reading

Yoga on the Steps: Philadelphia Kickoff!

Yoga Peach YOTSReturning blogger, yogi and friend of LBBC, Keli Engelson -aka Yoga Peach- dishes about her excitement and passion for Yoga on the Steps and raising funds for people affected by breast cancer. Want to join in? Register Today!

On May 18, 2014 LBBC will host it’s signature education and fundraising event Yoga on the Steps on the historic steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  The one hour class is an all-levels yoga class and afterwards participants are encouraged to attend the Healthy Living Expo where local and national health and fitness vendors display their products and services.   Information about local area nonprofit and service organizations is also provided. Yoga on the Steps educates communities about healthy living and quality of life issues and all funds will benefit Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s education and support resources.

I’m looking forward to this year’s event.  I am extremely passionate about yoga and being able to volunteer, raise funds and share something I love with the community to support LBBC is meaningful to me. This will be my third year to attend Yoga on the Steps.  The energy of nearly 2,000 people gathering on the steps of the art museum to support LBBC is an exciting and moving experience. It is extremely fulfilling to combine health and wellness for such an important cause so I hope to see even more people at Yoga on the Steps in Philadelphia this year!

Keli Engleson, “Yoga Peach” is a registered yoga instructor, certified birth doula, and triathlete.   She also arranges destination weddings and yoga retreats in Belize.  Keli enjoys blogging about yoga, health and wellness.  She also shares healthy recipes and personal stories through her journey in yoga and fitness.  http://www.yogapeach.com

Our New Vision and Mission

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This morning, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s CEO Jean Sachs released the following message to our friends and supporters:

Dear Friends:

All of us at Living Beyond Breast Cancer are excited to share our new vision and mission statements with you:

Our new vision

A world where no one impacted by breast cancer feels uninformed or alone.

Our new mission

To connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support.

These new statements were developed with the help of over 1,200 of you who responded to a survey we sent out earlier this year. Your input was used in a day-long retreat with members of the board of directors and staff. We learned what LBBC services are valued most and why so many have come to depend on our educational programs and services that allow for connection to others diagnosed with breast cancer.

For me, these new statements say with clarity what we strive to do every day and what we hope to achieve over time. Yesterday, I spoke with a long-time friend who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was overwhelmed, scared and shocked. Our conversation and the resources I was able to put in her hands grounded her and provided her with enough comfort and confidence to take the next step.

This is what LBBC does every day, and it is exactly what the new vision and mission statements express.

I hope you share my enthusiasm and, as always, if you have comments I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Jean 

Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP

Chief Executive Officer

LBBC

YOGA ON THE STEPS: WASHINGTON, DC REGISTRATION NOW OPEN

 

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Registration is now open for Yoga on the Steps: Washington DC, the signature education and fundraising event for Haverford, PA-based nonprofit Living Beyond Breast Cancer.  The event is scheduled to take place rain or shine beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13 on the northeast quadrant of The Washington Monument.  The highlight of the event is a one-hour yoga class for all ages and skill levels designed and led by Yoga Alliance certified instructor and founder of Yoga Unites® Jennifer Schelter, MFA with Kirtan accompaniment by Yvette Pecoraro and other local area musicians. After the class, participants can enjoy refreshments while visiting a Healthy Living Expo where event sponsors, local area businesses, yoga studios and nonprofit organizations will feature products and services promoting health and wellness.

“While Yoga on the Steps is similar to other nonprofit grassroots fundraisers it really is a one-of-kind event,” explains Jenna Jackson, LBBC’s special events manager.  “People are asked to register as a team captain or participant at yogaonthesteps.org and then fundraise for LBBC by asking family, friends and colleagues for donations. But instead of using a walk or run as our event’s centerpiece, we feature a yoga class.  Jennifer has designed the class so that anyone, regardless of skill level or body type can participate. Yoga on the Steps is a unique and powerful education program in its promotion of yoga as an important part of a person’s overall wellness plan.” t is scheduled to take place rain or shine beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13 on the northeast quadrant of The Washington Monument.  The highlight of the event is a one-hour yoga class for all ages and skill levels designed and led by Yoga Alliance certified instructor and founder of Yoga Unites® Jennifer Schelter, MFA with Kirtan accompaniment by Yvette Pecoraro and other local area musicians. After the class, participants can enjoy refreshments while visiting a Healthy Living Expo where event sponsors, local area businesses, yoga studios and nonprofit organizations will feature products and services promoting health and wellness.

What has grown into LBBC’s signature education and fundraising event began after Schelter’s friend and student, Courtney Kapp, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Kapp wanted to use her home as a place where women with the disease could form a support network through the practice of yoga. She asked Jennifer to teach the class and also introduced her to LBBC’s executive director (now chief executive officer) Jean Sachs, MSS, MLSP. Together, the three women founded Yoga on the Steps.

“Now,” says Sachs, “thousands of people, most with no formal training, annually attend Yoga on the Steps in different cities to raise awareness of LBBC’s resources, stand in solidarity with women diagnosed with breast cancer and honor the memories of those who are no longer with us.”

Studies continue to indicate a correlation between yoga’s stretching exercises, controlled breathing and relaxation techniques with stress reduction, lower blood pressure and improved heart function. “More and more studies we’ve been seeing, especially over the last few years, really confirm the relevance of Yoga on the Steps,” states Sachs.

 

A study conducted by UCLA researchers suggests that yoga can help women overcome post-treatment fatigue which is estimated to affect as many as one-third of women currently in breast cancer treatment. The research, which was published December 16, 2011 in the journal Cancer, discovered that after three-months-worth of twice-weekly yoga classes, “a group of breast cancer survivors in California reported significantly diminished fatigue and increased vigor,” Andrew M. Seaman of Reuters Health said. Cancer, Volume 118, Issue 15

In addition, at the 34th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium held in 2011, a study presented findings that women with metastatic breast cancer might benefit from the practice of yoga, as well. A small randomized trial was collaboratively conducted by yogis and physicians, including S.K. Gopinath, MD, from the Department of Surgical, Medical and Radiation Oncology at the HCG-BIO Super Specialty Center in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. The researchers found data that suggest the practice of yoga might reduce psychological distress and modulate abnormal cortisol levels as well as immune responses in patients with stage-IV disease. Medscape News Today

In 2011, LBBC began the implementation of a national Yoga on the Steps expansion initiative developed by the organization’s Board of Directors and senior staff as part of LBBC’s 2011-2015 strategic plan.  “Yoga on the Steps is a low-cost, high-return way to introduce LBBC resources to communities that may not know of their availability,” explains Sachs.  “We’ve established annual events in Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Denver with Kansas City, Missouri recently named as our fourth Yoga on the Steps host city.”

“The increasing popularity of yoga is a big factor in the growing success of the event,” she continues. “But more than that, it’s LBBC’s reputation of sound fiscal management and the trust our supporters have in us that energizes Yoga on the Steps participants to fundraise for LBBC at the grassroots level. We maintain the lowest overhead possible for the event ensuring our resources are always available to anyone in need.”

LBBC’s most recent annual report, released in July of 2011, shows that 86 cents of every donated dollar is used to fund services. For eight consecutive years LBBC has been awarded a four-star rating by Charity Navigator, the  country’s leading organization that evaluates American nonprofits, signifying it exceeds industry standards and outperforms most other charities within its cause. LBBC 2011 Annual Report

Businesses wanting to learn more about national and local sponsorship opportunities and benefits are asked to contact LBBC’s associate director of marketing and corporate relations Kevin Gianotto, at kevin@lbbc.org. General Yoga on the Steps and Healthy Living Expo questions should be directed to Jackson by emailing jenna@lbbc.org. 

About

LBBC provides services designed to help improve quality of life for women who are newly diagnosed, in treatment, recovery, years beyond their diagnosis or living with metastatic breast cancer as well as resources for family, friends and caregivers.  National conferences, monthly teleconferences, regional community meetings, the Guides to Understanding Breast Cancer and a toll-free Survivors’ Helpline are examples of the services that are provided to help them make informed decisions for themselves and their families. 

If you are or someone you know is living with a history of breast cancer, regardless of stage of diagnosis, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or ability to pay, LBBC can help. For more information, visit lbbc.org to download a free copy of Empower, LBBC’s general information brochure or call (610) 645-4567.

A Reflection from Amy Annis

On May 20, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of its signature education and fundraising event, Yoga on the Steps.  In addition, this September LBBC will release “Yoga and Breast Cancer,” a new title in our expanding library of “Understanding Breast Cancer” guides. Recently, the blog introduced Amy Annis who wrote an intimate piece about her connection to yoga while in recovery. Due to some thoughtful questioning, Amy would like to share more accurately her knowledge of the yoga practice and the issue of Lymphedema in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Many survivors will tell you that in an odd way cancer is a gift. Of course it certainly doesn’t feel like that in the beginning. But many women, during and after diagnosis, pull up something deep from within themselves and become much stronger than they ever thought they could be. Subsequently, survivors are often perceived as courageous, partially because they are, and partially because they had to be. When you are given that kind of news it is an eyeball to eyeball with death moment, and most of us suit up with all of the strength we can muster and walk head first into treatment.

When I received my diagnosis, I admittedly crumpled at first but wasn’t given much time to wallow in pity and disbelief. Within weeks I was heading into chemo. That was by far the first big risk I took in this cancer journey. I say this because for a practicing yogini who typically led a very healthy life the idea of pumping poison into my veins felt really wrong. It was a health juxtaposition that messed with my mind and my spirit.

Throughout the next few months I had moments of panic where despite all of the great medical advice I was given I wanted to stop the whole process and retreat. During my treatment, Suzanne Sommers released a book suggesting that chemo was a pharmaceutical conspiracy and it just about put me over the edge. Every day I questioned myself and my very amazing medical team. And each time I had to eventually put myself back in the right frame of mind that I did not have total control, this was a process of eliminating cancer, and I needed to jump in full force.

After treatment, and as I mentioned in my prior blog, I used yoga as a means of recovery. My mat was my safe zone and I very slowly began to practice again. I discussed this process with my surgeon and oncologist and they both suggested that I needed to trust my instincts with the poses I chose. This was not a foreign concept at all. Years of yoga had taught me patience and I knew that you never push through pain. I was very familiar with the idea of listening to my body’s signals.

Following my mastectomy and node removal and familiar with the recommendations that you don’t incorporate certain poses initially, I inched my way from gentle restorative yoga towards a more vigorous practice. I say inched because it was a challenge for me; I wanted that strength back so bad. Tears of frustration were not uncommon. But after a period of several months of practicing modified poses, I was back on my mat holding my downward facing dog.

At this point in life I am literally doing hundreds of downward facing dogs. I am familiar with the risk of lymphedema in my right arm from this pose and have made the conscious choice to keep practicing it.  I also know that I can get lymphedema from flying, cutting my arm while gardening, or even an insect bite.  I will still fly to spend time with friends I love, hike in the great Northwood’s amongst mosquitoes, and practice downward facing dog. On the flip side, I will use the potential risk of lymphedema to get out of any gardening duties assigned (wink). But the decision to do certain yoga poses is a calculated risk I am willing to take. And so far the rewards have outweighed the risks big time.

Today I saw my surgeon for a check-up. He went over mammogram results, checked my arm and wrists for swelling, and spent a good deal of time up in my armpits. When he asked me to rise my arms he made mention of my incredible range of motion. And he asked me how the yoga biz was going. Before he left he reminded me of the aggressive nature of my form of cancer. It was the only somber moment in the room. Despite all of the rewards of living this very full life I will always face the possibility of cancer’s return.

Armed with this knowledge, I dig my heels into the ground a little further determined to practice yoga despite its potential risks for a patient with a history of breast cancer. As a teacher, I do my best to inform all my clients of any potential risks (understanding every physical activity has an element of it) only after I sing yoga’s praises. For me, and many of the clients that I work with, yoga has so far brought forth only benefits, not only of a healthy body but of a peaceful mind. And if someday I do get lymphedema, I won’t blame myself… or the yoga. I will find other ways to modify and practice, be at peace with the changes in my body, and continue to feel grateful for my amazing life.

After her bout with “crazy” cancer in 2009, Amy decided to take her dreams to the next level and developed her yoga retreat concept on beautiful Madeline Island, WI.  She also found her writing voice and recently launched her own blog.  As a yoga mamma, wife, outdoor enthusiast, and dog lover she delights in life a little off balance.  Lately, she is very grateful for hair. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Rachel: A Job Fit for Her

Introducing Rachel Pinkstone-Marx, the newest member of the Living Beyond Breast Cancer team. Rachel comes to LBBC with a variety of marketing skills. Best of all, as a certified yoga instructor, she’ll provide great insight for the planning of the Tenth Anniversary of Yoga on the Steps.

Joining the Marketing and Development team here at Living Beyond Breast Cancer was truly a matter of fate. How else do you explain an available position for a gal with a writing background, previous experience working for a non-profit, and a personal connection to the disease who is also a yoga teacher? Of course, that was not the exact criteria for the job, but I think it makes for a fantastic fit. Honestly though, my prior connection to the organization makes working here such a pleasure, and it’s because of that particular story that I know this is the place for me.

Five years ago I was introduced to a wonderful woman, Beatrice Marx, and five years ago, I was also introduced to LBBC. I never knew Bea without cancer, and yet she never let it define her. She was a woman focused on maintaining her quality of life and providing other women like her with an inspiring example of how to truly live with cancer. Her relationship with LBBC was a huge part of that and the resources that this organization provides made such a impact on her–whether it was while in treatment when she needed the help or during her strongest days as she volunteered on the helpline.

The message of LBBC, “empowering all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life,” is why I am here and why I am happy to be here. Bea (who three years after our meeting became my mother-in-law) proved every day that she was a mother, a wife, a friend, a yoga teacher, a reiki-master, a novice knitter, a dog lover and so many other things WHILE she had cancer and the people here at LBBC helped her do just that. Walking through these doors every morning to be a part of that process—helping women living with breast cancer to live with confidence and courage—is an honor. Being able to give back to the community here at LBBC that proved its value one-hundred times over to my own family is worth more than I can mention. So I will pump up my support, I’ll ramp up my fundraising, and I will be here for those women—whether they’ve just been diagnosed, are five years in remission or living with metastatic cancer—because I’ve seen what this organization provides and I know I want to be a part of that. That’s the kind of serendipity that you don’t let pass you by.