Embracing Community and Participating in Yoga on the Steps

FullSizeRenderMarisa Gefen, MD is a 35-year-old physician and mother who has now added “patient” to her resume. She was diagnosed last April with ER/PR-positive breast cancer. Marisa reflects on how this journey led her to Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Yoga on the Steps.

After my shocking diagnosis in April 2014, I immediately went into survival mode. I hyper-fixated on getting through the current phase of treatment and onto the next phase. It was a whirlwind of getting a port, quickly followed by starting chemo, managing chemo side effects, finishing chemo, then on to a 9-hour surgery comprised of a double mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy, and free flap breast reconstruction. Soon, I was home recovering from this massive surgery and then stumbling into radiation daily for 5 weeks.

Then, I woke up one morning in January and suddenly realized that active treatment was all over. Now what? In this frightening journey, I was missing a sense of community of others with similar experiences, both past and present. The endless support from my husband, family, and friends, did not fill the entire void.

I heard about Living Beyond Breast Cancer right after my diagnosis. When I happened to be looking for local office space, my tour of commercial real estate ironically took me right through LBBC headquarters, which I toured. The office was warm and full of young, vibrant people. I wasn’t ready at that moment to reach out.

I was reintroduced to LBBC in December, when I tried frantically to interpret the results of the Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial (SOFT). This major trial will likely change the standard of care for me and other women under age 35 with ER-positive breast cancer, by recommending induction of early menopause (as if we haven’t been through enough) and possibly switching from tamoxifen to an aromatase inhibitor.

LBBC seemed to read my anxious, confused mind: Within a few weeks, before anyone else knew how to handle the results that would specifically impact me for at least the next 5 years, LBBC posted a podcast about the SOFT trial. The podcast featured a leading expert on breast cancer in young women, Dr Ann Partridge. Dr. Partridge explained the results of the study and the implications it would have on various patient populations, including my own. I could now process the hormonal therapy options I faced. LBBC.org quickly became a favorite go-to website of mine.

Finally, after 10 months of treatment, I was ready to embrace a community of others where I would belong. I saw an ad for the Yoga on the Steps Kickoff Party and decided to start there. When we formed a circle and introduced ourselves to the group, I instantly felt connected to the survivors and their supporters in that room. As part of my healing, I knew I needed to give back and now I found the way. The fundraising came surprisingly easy to me. I was drawn to the concept of a yoga class on the Art Museum steps rather than the typical 5K run/walk.

After making my own donation, I asked my sisters and a few close family and friends to join my team. I also hung up a flyer in each of my two exam rooms at work. When my large support network saw that this cause was important to me, they too wanted to get involved. It has cascaded from there.

Marisa Gefen, MD, is a 35-year old physician and mother of four children ages 5 and under. She is a primary care provider practicing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Don’t miss out on an amazing morning of yoga and the opportunity to raise money for women affected by breast cancer. Register now for Yoga on the Steps: Philadelphia on May 17.

4 thoughts on “Embracing Community and Participating in Yoga on the Steps

  1. Thank you for posting this. I finished chemo 3 weeks ago. I’ll be talking tomorrow to my oncologist about starting hormone therapy. I will listen to the podcast tonight to decide whether or not this trial might be right for me. Good timing!

    • Carrie, I hope the podcast was helpful and you were able to make decisions with ease. If I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask. Marisa

      • Thanks. We are doing just Tamoxifen for the time being. My oncologist feels the other meds come with a lot of side effects without too much benefit. We are going to see how I do on tamoxifen and maybe reevaluate later

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