Editor’s NOTE: In support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we thought we’d revisit one of our newsletter articles showing how Pilates can be a great benefit both before and after breast cancer treatment. An interesting read with some very applicable points.
Breast cancer is currently the most widely diagnosed cancer in women in both the United States and Europe. This sobering fact impacts us all, not just as therapists and Pilates instructors serving others, but also is likely to hit close to home. My first exposure to breast cancer was as a work-study student at the Breast Screening Center in Oakland in the 1970s while a student at Mills College. Little did I think this exposure would help me cope when my own mother developed the disease. She later passed away from cancer after the cancer had metastasized into her bones at the age of 82, having lived quite a number of years in remission. In fact, breast cancer is now considered a chronic condition; many women will be diagnosed, but go on to live past the initial diagnosis and treatment.
“Don’t worry; we fix.”
My mother’s experience was not unlike that of Eve Gentry, professional New York modern dancer and protégé of Joseph Pilates. Eve was, according to Gentry historian Michelle Larsson, “devastated” when she received the diagnosis in 1955 and underwent, like my mother, a full radical mastectomy, which removed the entire pectoralis major. One thing Eve had was the push of rehabilitation from Joseph Pilates. Pilates’ reported response upon hearing the news was, “Don’t worry; we fix.”
Watching vintage footage of Eve’s work out one year post-mastectomy is nothing less than amazing. I was lucky enough to study with her just before she died in the early 1990s and can attest to her vitality up to the end. Certainly not all of our clients will be world-class athletes like Eve, but as we all know, the versatility of the Pilates Method, its principles, concepts and equipment, makes rehabilitation possible for everyone.
Just recently while teaching my breast cancer rehabilitation course in Los Angeles, an attending therapist revealed she had had a double mastectomy. The therapist was unfamiliar with the Pilates Method and Eve Gentry, yet was completely enthralled as she watched the vintage footage. It was great confirmation as we went through the weekend course material, concepts and exercises that the Method indeed works extremely well for those recovering from both the physical and psychological effects of medical intervention.
Breast cancer for women is a double insult. Not only is it a life and death issue, it can threaten gender identity. The intimate environment of Pilates can bring a person into full healing so that a survivor can truly go on to thrive in life.