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March 4, 2014

The strength to survive: FMH Pink Ribbon Pilates classes benefit the body

Program provides a post operative workout for women recovering from breast cancer or going through treatment

JEFFERSONVILLE — Valerie Helm says she gets much more than improved fitness from weekly Pilates classes sponsored by Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services.

It also helps the Sellersburg resident cope with her treatment for breast cancer.

“I not only get the physical benefits but there is also an emotional bonding,” said Helm. “I get to hear what other women are talking about and what they are going through.”

Linda Townsend agrees, saying she is at ease when she is surrounded by women on the same path.

“A lot of people are scared to exercise. This is like a support group,” said Townsend, a New Albany resident. “I know I can come here and talk about the things I am going through. It’s family.”

The Pink Ribbon Pilates fitness program provides a post operative workout for women recovering from breast cancer or going through treatment. It helps its members regain strength and mobility, enhance energy levels, control weight and decrease stress and tension.

Not only does it provide physical and mental benefits, but it’s free thanks to a grant from the Floyd Memorial Hospital Foundation. One hour classes are held each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at FMH Physical Therapy, 3891 Charlestown Road, behind Kohl’s, in New Albany. And beginning Wednesday, March 5, a 5:30 class will be added each week.

Both classes will be free for participants in 2014, and hopefully beyond, according to instructor Susie Stewart, a certified Pilates instructor and breast cancer exercise specialist. Stewart said each participant comes into the program a little apprehensive and nervous, but she quickly tries to put them at ease.

“I want to get them back out in the world feeling stronger,” Stewart said. “Maybe they aren’t the same as they were before their surgery. I think they gain strength from each other, and there is always plenty of laughter in the room. Through the program I reassure them they can feel whole again.”

Stewart said participants do a lot of resistance work and stretching to help them regain mobility. She said just because the upper body has been compromised, there is no reason why they can’t work their midsection and regain stability.

Many women, following breast cancer surgery, may not feel like exercising and or suffer from arm or chest pain. But according to a description of the program, moderate exercise after surgery can improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors.

“It really makes me more aware of my body and what I can and can not do,” said Mary Ann Kollros, a Floyds Knobs resident who first underwent breast cancer surgery in 1988 and again in 2011. “I am so much more aware of my core body. Stretching and breathing can help maintain and restore things.”

Townsend said she was unable to put her arm above her head after surgery, but credits Stewart’s class for helping her regain flexibility. Now she raises her arm with no problems.

“Everyone is at a different spot. All levels are welcome [to attend class],” Stewart said. “If you feel like you need physical and emotional help, here it is.”

Stewart said it would cost $7 to $10 an hour for participants in a similar program, which makes the FMH classes even more inviting.  

“Before, I never liked group exercise, but I came here and it’s different,” said Fran Cohn, who is  undergoing radiation after finishing chemotherapy. “I needed some light exercise to strengthen part of my body where I had lymph nodes taken out. This class does just that.”

Stewart has been a certified Pilates instructor since 2006. She completed her Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist training and certification in 2009, and has had family members stricken with cancer. She said with her it is personal.

“It’s very close to me,” Stewart said. “I have an emotional connection.”

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Barbara Brewster has been the organ player at Faith Lutheran Church in Jeffersonville for the past 50 years. Brewster began playing organ with the church in August of 1964 at the age of 17.

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