The Whole You: Meditation, Yoga and Breast Cancer

In this post for our Wellness Weekend series, The Whole You, Ayanna Kalasunas writes about how meditation and yoga helped her after she learned she had metastatic breast cancer. Understand how cancer impacts you physically, emotionally and spiritually during Wellness Weekend, taking place September 18-20 in Denver, CO.

Let’s face it – hearing “you have cancer” is one of the scariest moments of anyone’s life.  A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago on the day I was set to start chemo was downright earth-shattering.  I, like many others, asked myself “how the hell am I supposed to handle this?” Having battled depression and anxiety in the past, I was truly concerned about the coping mechanisms I would need. I felt lost, angry, afraid and hopeless.

Then I thought about my mother. She too had been diagnosed metastatic after a stage II battle seven years earlier. She maintained a zest for life and continued to be the life of the party despite various bouts of chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries. She had cancer and I was aware of that but she was so much more than her disease.  My now husband once commented about her saying “I honestly forget that she is sick. Not in a bad way…she is just so fun and happy all the time.” Thinking about this reminded me that I could do it, too.

I was also very lucky to have a few close friends that used meditation and yoga as part of their regular routines. Part of their support as caregivers was offering information and resources regarding meditation, mindfulness, acupuncture and other complimentary therapies to my medical treatments, which I continue to pick up along this journey. Each one has grounded me and brought me to a life that is filled with hope, positive thinking and empowerment.


I did not morph into this person overnight. I read a few articles here and there, followed some inspiring people on social media, went to a yoga class with a friend here and there and spent a few Sundays super-souling on my sofa with a cup of coffee. I tried some mediation challenges and apps and slowly have found a sense of power in each of these moments.  I learned that I am in fact in complete control. Cancer is in my body so yes, it is real, but I am not my circumstances. Continue reading

Connection, Information and Inspiration: Wellness Weekend

Wellness Weekend brings together two of our most popular programs, our annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experienceswith our signature fundraising eventYoga on the StepsRead this letter from Catherine L. Ormerod, LBBC’s vice president of programs and partnerships, to learn about this event in Denver from September 18 – September 20, 2015.

Photo credit: Rich Grant and VISIT DENVER

Photo credit: Rich Grant and VISIT DENVER

Welcome to Wellness Weekend—three days of connection, information and inspiration from Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

Today, a breast cancer diagnosis requires more than just having the facts. To make the best decisions for your treatment and your life, you want information that helps you understand your options and the possible side effects. Getting good care means knowing where to find help and support, for yourself and for those who love you. And it means caring for yourself as a whole person—understanding how cancer impacts you physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Catherine-Ormerod 1At Wellness Weekend, we connect you with people across the country who share your concerns. Our annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, offers tailored information via three tracks:

  • Triple-negative breast cancer, presented in partnership with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
  • Hormone receptor-positive or HER2-positive breast cancer
  • Metastatic breast cancer, with information on all subtypes

Select a morning plenary and follow the tracked workshops throughout the day. Or mix and match to make the day your own. You’ll also find workshops specific to young women, those coping with inflammatory breast cancer, and caregivers.

Take advantage of opportunities to connect, including our opening reception Friday evening and optional offsite activities Saturday night.

Denver welcomes its 3rd "Yoga on the Steps" fundraiser at Cheesman park. The event is Living Beyond Breast Cancer's signature fundraiser and engages and connects participants at a large, outdoor yoga class suitable for all ages and skill. A Healthy Living Expo is also a keystone to the day.  "Yoga on the Steps" educates the community about healthy living and quality-of-life-issues regarding breast cancer while creating awareness of and raising funds for LBBCÕs education and support programs, which are always provided for little or no cost. ©2014 Rob Clement | RCVisual

©2014 Rob Clement | RCVisual

Cap off your weekend with Yoga on the Steps: Denver. On Sunday morning, we’ll gather outdoors at Cheesman Park, where the Denver community will join us in an all-levels yoga class and Healthy Living Expo to raise awareness of LBBC—and to celebrate our collective strength.

It will be a weekend of connection, information and inspiration. We hope you can join us.


Cathy's signature

Catherine L. Ormerod, MSS, MLSP

Vice President, Programs and Partnerships
Living Beyond Breast Cancer

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 Read Kate’s blog at

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