Pilates helps women with breast cancer

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 05:45 PM

After a cancer diagnosis, life for many women is put on hold. The focus becomes the cancer, and there is not much time to think about anything else. 

For Sarah Sawtelle of Monroe, Pilates helped her to regain that focus. Sawtelle was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2011. She has been cancer-free for two years. 

After she completed cancer treatment, she began taking Pilates classes at Core Studio Pilates & Yoga with Owner Jill Hinson. 

“When I met Jill and saw the studios, I knew then that would really be something good for me,” Sawtelle said. 

Sawtelle was having mobility issues in her right arm after a surgery to remove the lymph nodes. 

“I wanted to start and see if we couldn’t increase the mobility range,” she said. 

Sawtelle said Hinson did “a great job” and she is almost back to 100 percent mobility. 

Pilates is a common exercise regimen for rehabilitation and core strengthening, often used by dancers. 

“It helps you focus,” Sawtelle said. “You have to be very focused as you’re going through the exercises...it’s a very slow process, but it’s very calming, it’s very focused and gradually you begin to see how the exercises are really helping to strengthen.” 

“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Pilates,” she said

For Sawtelle, the exercises did more than bring back her strength and mobility. 

“(It) helps you regain control of yourself,” she said. “Cancer takes control of you. Everything is about the cancer. You sort of lose yourself sometimes and I think doing the Pilates helped me to focus on me and realize I can be healthy again.” 

When Hinson first received Sawtelle, however, she was a bit nervous about the training. 

“I just felt like I was in over my head and I just needed some extra training, something more specialized,” Hinson said. “So I went through Pink Ribbon Program training.” 

The program is a two-day workshop that teaches about the surgeries and treatments the women endure, good exercises to do, what exercises to avoid and other aspects of training. 

After the training and working with women in recovery, Hinson decided to offer a Pink Ribbon class. No one signed up for the class, though, and when Hinson asked a few hospital employees why, she was told they probably could not afford it after trying to play medical bills and other expenses. 

“That’s when we started the nonprofit,” Hinson said. 

The Core Compassion Project, which began in December 2012, offers scholarships to women. The group awarded their first $500 scholarship, which covers 10 private classes. The classes do not have to be are Core Studios, they can be anywhere in North Carolina, but the studio must be certified in Stott Pilates and the Pink Ribbon Program. Currently more than 15 studios in North Carolina meet the criteria. 

While the goal is to eventually help men and women with other types of cancer, they are currently focusing on women with breast cancer. 

Hinson hopes to expand outside of Union County and eventually outside of North Carolina. 

“There’s nothing like this that offers scholarships” that they know of in the nation, Hinson said. 

Heather Bostic, the vice president of the Core Compassion Project Board said the response has been amazing. 

The group kicked off a Girl’s Night Out in September that ultimately raised more than $5,800 for the organization.

They are in the process of signing up for a 501(c)(3) status.

Bostic said her mission for the next 12 months is to create partnerships with other studios and raise money toward scholarships.  

Sawtelle, in addition to continuing with Pilates, is looking to start a support group for other women with cancer. 

“A lot of times it just helps people to know they’re not by themselves,” Sawtelle said. “Sometimes you feel a little isolated and we’d like to start something where we can get together...and just realize there’s more than just yourself.” We can help each other.” 

While Pilates may not be right for everyone and may not be advised by someone’s doctor, Sawtelle thinks it is important to find peace. 

“I think the main thing is to find something that can bring peace for them. Something that can encourage them and help them to realize that they can be strong again,” Sawtelle said. “I think, for me, that’s what it was. Cancer isn’t in control anymore. I am.”