Breast Cancer’s Gift – Radical Self-Care

Breast Cancer’s Gift – Radical Self-Care


“I lived a healthy lifestyle by normal standards, but when I asked myself what I needed to make myself happy and well, all I heard was silence.”

It was an average day, and I was five minutes from home when my cellphone rang, and my radiologist’s phone number showed up on the display.  I remember pulling off Venice Boulevard and parking on the side of the road. I took a deep breath as I sensed whether I should call right back or wait until I got home. Before I had a chance to ponder, I was waiting for my doctor’s receptionist to pick up my return call. In a few short moments, I was informed that my needle biopsy had come back positive.

To be honest, I was surprised. Even though it was I who insisted that we do a needle biopsy after a negative mammogram and negative ultrasound exam, there was nothing about my health history, family history, or lifestyle that would predispose me to breast cancer, especially at the relatively young age of 47.

This was the first call to action that served the greater purpose of awakening the warrior in me. This warrior required no armor, but rather a courageous spirit that would fiercely navigate my options for treatment, while lovingly tending to my every need.

One of the most difficult tasks was cultivating enough space to make decisions that made sense to me along the way. But it was this practice that prepared me for something even more vital – radical self-care.

I lived a healthy lifestyle by normal standards, but when I asked myself what I needed to make myself happy and well, all I heard was silence. If I asked myself what family, friends, clients, etc. needed I could always sense an answer. But putting myself at the center of that dialog was sorely unpracticed.

My experience taught me that the world didn’t have to stop, nor did it have to center around me. But when I included myself as a priority in my work and personal life, everything rebalanced. Nearly a decade later, I am still working on building an inner sense of myself and my needs, but I have certainly come a long way, and Pilates has come along with me.

You could say I had a strong and regular Pilates practice prior to surgery, so I was prepared to start again and take as long as necessary to rebuild my body. After following the doctor’s recommendations for rest after surgery, I apologized to my teacher (Jay Grimes) before my first lesson back three weeks later.

Contrology Arm Chair

Sandy Shimoda on the Contrology Arm Chair

To my surprise, I did ¾ of the exercises in my usual workout, leaving out only those which required extreme upper body strength or support. Within no time, I was back where I was pre-surgery, and I was gaining an important perspective on Pilates.

I had been taught to connect my arm movement to my back, stomach, and seat, but for the first time, I felt that certain movement was impossible if I didn’t. The theory became practical and necessary and my achievements in the studio built my confidence in daily life.

Over the years Pilates has helped me recover from 6 surgeries and there are no exercises in the system that I need to leave out due to breast cancer. There are some exercises on the Arm Chair that I found especially helpful during recovery and I invite you to take a look at those on Yet more than any one exercise, the key to my refined self-care has been working out my whole body and letting Pilates reveal my needs each day.


Check out Joy’s series of exercise videos – designed specifically to help strengthen the bodies and minds of those in pre-surgery preparation, post-surgery rehabilitation, and those continuing on with everyday life.
Breast Cancer Recovery Mat Workout Part 1: Introduction
Breast Cancer Recovery Mat Workout Part 2: Clavicle and Rib Cage
Breast Cancer Recovery Mat Workout Part 3: Shoulder, Chemotherapy, and Foot Release
Breast Cancer Recovery Mat Workout Part 4: Exercises on the Floor

Sandy Shimoda is the owner of Vintage Pilates ~ a business that returns to Joe Pilates’ original method of exercise through the guidance of its director, Jay Grimes. Sandy has a sharp understanding of the body that comprises over 30 years of teaching movement. She is best known for her creative but clear approach to teaching and has the rare ability to positively transform her clients through her hands, her words, and her belief in them. Sandy communicates wisdom that encourages deeper understanding and independent thinking, and a leadership style that fosters leadership in others seeking to preserve the original work of Joe Pilates.



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