Taking charge to fight cancer

JoAnn Fletcher helps Diane Carter stretch during a Pilates class. Both were diagnosed with breast cancer. Fletcher is now cancer free. Carter is still battling. The two are part of the Pilates for Pink campaign. Proceeds from Pilates classes at Malibu Gym throughout the month of October will go toward cancer research and awareness. Photo by Melonie Magruder / TMT

Pilates for Pink raises awareness and strength.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

A movement at a local gym to raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research has grown tremendously in the past three years, raising more money than any other gym in the nation-$150,000-through the Pilates for Pink campaign.

Promoted by the women’s health and fitness journal, Shape magazine, contributors donate proceeds from Pilates classes at gyms across the nation to benefit the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

JoAnn Fletcher, elite athlete, Pilates instructor, mother of three and breast cancer survivor, has headed the Pilates for Pink fundraiser at Malibu Gym during the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, for the past three years.

Joining her are a group of Malibu women who are determined to fight the disease, which affects one in eight American women during their lifetime, and kills one woman, on average, every 13 minutes.

“The thing you learn about breast cancer is to not sit back and let things happen to you,” Fletcher said. “You must take control of the disease and your treatment.”

Fletcher realized this quickly when she was first advised by her doctor that a lump she had found was “probably nothing serious” and to wait for further prognosis.

“I didn’t feel right about it, so I went to another doctor who biopsied me,” Fletcher said.

The biopsy revealed an aggressive form of cancer and she was scheduled for immediate surgery and 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

Now cancer free, Fletcher brought her message of awareness to her gym clients and found a number of women facing the same diagnosis of dread.

Diane Carter, a 14-year Malibu resident, was diagnosed five years ago one Friday afternoon.

“The radiology nurse called to tell me I had cancer and I learned that my doctor was on her way to Europe,” Carter said. “My first reaction was disbelief and fear. They told me just to return in six months to ‘confirm favorable results,’ but I had a sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42. I knew I had to jump on this.”

It turned out that Carter had a very invasive form of breast cancer, requiring immediate surgery and a dense dose of chemotherapy.

“Chemo is awful,” Carter said. “I lost all my hair and my eyebrows twice. But when I think if I had waited six months, as they had first suggested …”

Carter enlisted Fletcher’s help in fighting the debilitating effects of cancer therapy.

“The gym thing is critical,” Carter said. “You go through chemo, you take Tamoxifen. You suddenly feel so old. Fortunately, my daughter was a tremendous help and support and pushed me to start working out. Now, I’m better than I was before the illness, physically and mentally.”

Fletcher believes Pilates, an exercise discipline developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, is one of the best ways to develop core strength and concentrated breathing to facilitate full blood circulation.

“I call Pilates ‘intelligent exercise’ because it develops your breathing, stabilization and your discipline,” Fletcher said. “These are all part of learning about your body and what you can do. You are stronger. You are more in control of yourself and that is the attitude you need to fight cancer. You need to take charge.”

Carter agreed. “The message is that you must be proactive,” she said. “You are vigilant, you get your mammograms and you don’t miss appointments. Because if you catch it early, treatment is very effective.”

As part of her fundraising efforts, Fletcher has arranged for a silent auction of several items by Malibu artists: jewelry designed by Irit Ehrlich, a photograph donated by her husband Richard Ehrlich, and a painting by David Ashwell.

Irit Ehrlich first worked with Fletcher at Malibu Gym two years ago. When she learned of Fletcher’s cancer diagnosis, she offered her a bracelet for good luck.

“I told JoAnn I’d give her one piece of jewelry for each of her chemo treatments,” Ehrlich said. “So she told me she was going once a day for a month.”

Carter will be bringing her daughter and some friends to support Fletcher in her fundraising Pilates classes next month.

“It’s surprising how many women in our small community are affected by this disease,” Carter said. “But with JoAnn’s leadership, we’ll be doing something about that.”

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 www.malibugym.com