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Friday, June 28, 2013

Over the years, I've had the amazing privilege of working with many cancer patients and survivors. These men and women have inspired me so much. Their courage, tenacity and strength of character was evident in every second of the time spent with me; their unspoken fear was also tangible. They did not give in. They pushed through.

Eve Gentry, a modern dancer, choreographer and one of the founders of the Core Dynamics method of Pilates instruction, was a breast cancer survivor, and a prime example of that special sort of sacred determination. When her massive mastectomy was performed in the mid-1950's, she was left without most of her pectoral muscles and without proper use of her shoulders. For anyone, this is debilitating, but for a dancer, this is the unthinkable.

Eve had been working with Mr. Pilates prior to her diagnosis and surgery, and when she returned to his studio after her procedures, he said, in his notoriously staunch and heavily accented German way, "...don't worry. We fix."

After working with Mr. Pilates, Eve regained full range of motion in her shoulders and arms. Her medical doctors were so astounded with her progress, they accused her of being a different woman than the patient they had treated! She returned to Mr. Pilates with the news, and he asked if she would agree to perform the exercises he had designed for her, topless, so as to prove she was the same person. They both also hoped to convince the medical community that Mr. Pilates was a viable rehabilitation technique for those in the same situation as Eve.

The archival footage of that workout still exists. As viscerally moving as it was, and still is, it failed to impress Ms. Gentry's doctors. In their mind, Joe Pilates had no formal medical training, and therefore dismissed his work entirely.

This dismissal still happens today in some rehabilitation circles. The tides are definitely changing, but the shift has been long and difficult. However, among physiotherapists in New Zealand and Australia, who have always been on the cutting-edge of innovative treatment, Pilates is a widely-used method within traditional rehabilitative settings, especially by incorporating the work of Brent Anderson, PhD, PT, OCS. There are a plethora of Pilates-based rehabilitation programs in that region, and there is even a fund set up for patients in need of such treatment. More on that next week!


(P.S. I am happy to say that the people I worked with undergoing treatment survived, and are living vibrant, full lives as world-travellers, mothers with  ninja tennis skills, and even Pilates teachers!)

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