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. 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