Becoming part of the solution in the fight against breast cancer

A local gym, whose Pilates instructor is a survivor of breast cancer, participates in Pilates For Pink to raise funds for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

This year, more than 270,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. And, while 90 percent of them will survive at least five years, more than 40,000 women will die of the disease. Except for skin cancer, it is the most common form of cancer to hit women and is the most common reason for early death of Hispanic women.

These are some of the statistics that The Breast Cancer Research Foundation highlights in its message during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month: early detection is the key to successful treatment.

While it is true that on-going advances in the treatment of breast cancer have led to more survivors of the disease, it is also a fact that the incidence of breast cancer has risen in this country to the point that few women can claim it hasn’t somehow touched their lives, whether from their own diagnosis or that of a mother, a sister or a friend.

In an effort to spread the word for the foundation, Shape magazine is promoting breast cancer awareness with a nationwide fund-raiser called Pilates for Pink, in reference to the pink ribbon worn by champions of breast cancer research. Pilates studios and gyms across the country are designating fees for Pilates classes this month to be donated to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.


The Malibu Gym, located at Kanan Dume Road and Pacific Coast Highway, is participating in the fundraiser with the help of, and in honor of, one of its Pilates instructors, JoAnn Fletcher, who is a breast cancer survivor. Fletcher, 47 years old and mother of three teen-age girls, was diagnosed earlier this year.

“My mother had breast cancer when she was only 41, so I knew I had a big risk factor,” Fletcher said. “When my doctor said back in April that he didn’t think I needed aggressive treatment at that point, 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.

“Chemo is really brutal. There’s no other word for it,” Fletcher said. “But I had a great support system of friends here in Malibu and they made sure meals were brought to my home the days following my chemo treatments, so I didn’t have to worry about whether my family was fed.”

With encouragement from her daughters, husband and co-workers, Fletcher was able to regain her normal athletic activity and class schedule. The key to conquering the disease, Fletcher said, is education, preventative action and awareness.

“The fact that I was in shape certainly made my cancer treatment less of a struggle,” she said.

Fletcher has long been an athlete who surfs, bicycles, rides horses, teaches Pilates classes and has been a personal trainer for 12 years.

“I don’t smoke. I exercise, I eat right,” she said. “You’d think that I would be the least likely person to develop cancer. But, it can hit anyone.”

Boosting awareness of breast cancer and helping women who have been diagnosed is now a priority for Fletcher.

“You have to take charge of the situation, so that you don’t live in fear; you live in awareness.”

Accordingly, Fletcher is teaching a number of Pilates classes at the Malibu Gym this month, with proceeds going to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Debi Boyle is the general manager of the Malibu Gym and a longtime friend of Fletcher. When the opportunity came up to show support, she jumped at it.

“We have both mat and re-former Pilates classes,” Boyle said, referring to the two styles of Pilates that encompass floor work and exercise on special Pilates machines. “And JoAnn still has class openings for anyone who wants to make a donation to this wonderful program.”

One need not be a member of the gym or even a veteran of Pilates classes to participate, Boyle said. Just meet or exceed a $25 donation to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation for each class taken, “and 100 percent of that donation goes to the foundation.”

Although this donation is not tax deductible, because it is, in effect, paying for a service, she added, “It’s so worth it for such a good cause.”

Fletcher hopes to set a good example for her three daughters with her awareness activism.

“My girls didn’t believe anything could ever happen to me,” she said. “It was a wake up call to them.”

Monthly self-exams, early screening and regular mammograms should be a 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 a part of the solution.”

More information on the Pilates for Pink donation drive this month can be obtained by contacting the Malibu Gym at 310.457.2450 or online at

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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