Pilates for a good cause

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JoAnn Fletcher, a Pilates instructor at Malibu Gym, last year (left) and today. In October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all proceeds from Fletcher's classes will go toward The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

A local gym with a Pilates instructor who is a breast cancer survivor raises funds for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and hope for others with the disease.

By Vicky Shere / Special to the Malibu Times

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the statistics are grim.

More than 240,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. And, while 90 percent will survive at least five years, more than 40,000 women will die of the disease. Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer to hit women and it accounts for 15 percent of cancer-related deaths in the nation.

Yet two Malibu women and a local gym have brought home the message that arming yourself with information, listening to your body and exercising can help you control the disease.

For the second year in a row, breast cancer survivor and Pilates instructor JoAnn Fletcher will conduct core fitness classes at the Malibu Gym, located at Kanan Dume Road and Pacific Coast Highway; class fees will go to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation during the month of October.

With her tall body and abundant hair the picture of health, she is a walking billboard for fighting the dreaded disease.

Debi Boyle, Fletcher’s longtime friend and former manager of the Malibu Gym, has connected the local fundraising effort to the nationwide Pilates for Pink program for the second consecutive year.

Referring to the pink ribbon worn by champions of breast cancer research, Shape magazine promoted the program where Pilates studios and gyms across the country designate Pilates class fees to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

One doesn’t have to be a member of the gym to participate in the program, Boyle said. Just meet or exceed a $35 fee for the one-hour class and 100 percent is given to the foundation.

Fletcher, a lifelong athlete, has regained her strength after an aggressive battle with breast cancer. She believes she recovered without complications because she learned about the disease, acted on her instinct and was physically fit.

“My mother had breast cancer when she was only 49, so I knew I had a big risk factor,” Fletcher, 48, said. “When my doctor said last year that he didn’t think I needed aggressive treatment, it just didn’t feel right. You have to listen to your gut because you can’t afford to mess around with this.”

A biopsy showed that her cancer was more advanced than thought and she underwent immediate surgery, followed by 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

Her husband, three children and friends were a great support system, Fletcher said. They brought meals to her home the days following her chemotherapy and encouraged her to regain her normal athletic activity and class schedule.

With a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science and a former career with pharmaceutical companies, Fletcher found out everything she could about her condition.

“As I learned about the stages of cancer and exercised, I started to relax and knew I would be fine,” she said.

“By coming to work, I showed people I was handling the situation. You have to take charge so that you don’t live in fear, you live in awareness.”

Monthly self-exams, early screening and regular mammograms should be part of every woman’s basic health plan, Fletcher said. “We want to alert women so that they control this disease. Once you are a breast cancer survivor, you want to be part of the solution.”

To Boyle, a television commercial producer-turned personal trainer, Fletcher is a hero.

“JoAnn is a pillar of strength, emotionally and physically,” she said. “We were all in awe of her. She showed us that cancer is not a death sentence, that you can get stronger.”

Last year, Fletcher was such a role model that the donations of 60 individuals amounted to $8,000.

“Even though we are a small studio, we were one of the top contributors in the country,” Boyle said.

But Pilates for Pink offers more than a fundraising gimmick for Fletcher. It makes her feel valuable by helping other women take charge of their health.

“Pilates makes you feel good. You become more aware of your body. With more and more health care practitioners recommending Pilates for strength and balance, you can do something good for yourself and give to a good cause.”

More information on the Pilates for Pink donation drive in October can be obtained by contacting the Malibu Gym at 310.457.2450 or online at www.malibugym.com