How a bizarrely organized, sparsely attended charity yoga event, saved my friend’s life.

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Opening the workshop with Dechen Thurman and Geralyn Lucas

The plan was to organize a charity event at Jivamukti Yoga School to bring awareness to early breast cancer screening  — and to honor the memory of Andrea Klein, a student and friend who had recently passed. I enlisted the help of my friend Geralyn Lucas, who currently tours the world educating women about early detection. Geralyn was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27, and her journey to recovery was documented in her book, which was made into an Emmy nominated movie, “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy”.

Excited to have Geralyn on board, I also asked Dechen Thurman, Andrea’s teacher and close confidante, to co-teach the event. We were excited, but didn’t know how to structure or advertise a yoga / breast cancer awareness / charity class — so the messaging was… confusing. A week before the event, no one had signed up and I was starting to feel like I had failed Andrea.  Maybe I could have made it cooler. A Phish-themed yoga event at a nearby school had sold out less than a day after registration opened. Should I have advertised we were playing psychedelic music with laser lights to be more like the cool kids?

Should I have advertised we were playing psychedelic music with laser lights to be more like the cool kids?

Just as I was telling Dechen that we needed to cancel, Dara Holzman sent me a message that she had registered. Dara is a friend and student, who holds a special place in my heart.  When I was a new teacher, she was unbelievably supportive — in a world where students have long-term favorite teachers and are resistant to give substitute teachers a chance…she was the only one, during my first year, who was excited that it was my name on the schedule. Other students would pick up their mats and walk out the door when they saw it wasn’t their beloved teacher leading the class, but she always stayed.  I will always remember that kindness.

I was at a crossroads. I consulted with Dechen, who’s response couldn’t have been any more unexpected. Two teachers and a speaker directing all of their attention to a single student – this could be “the best workshop ever!”  Nonetheless, I begged my friend Sam* to join so that there would be more than one student.

Dara and Sam formed the core of a sparsely attended class, but we had a blast nevertheless.  Geralyn is a gifted speaker and had us in hysterics sharing her survival story and the importance of getting our tatas checked out.

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Post workshop with Geralyn Lucas and Dara Holzman

Unbeknown to me, Geralyn’s words struck a chord with Sam. She scheduled a mammogram for the next day and within a week discovered that she had early stage aggressive breast cancer. She endured multiple surgeries, but recovered fully without radiation, chemo, or losing her hair. The doctors told her that the prognosis would have been very different if she had waited only a few months. If she had waited a year, the cancer would likely have been fatal.

A year later, Dara and Sam came to an event that Geralyn was hosting. At the podium, Geralyn asked all the breast cancer survivors to stand up. I remember watching Dara’s mouth drop when she saw Sam stand up. At the cocktails after the event, we approached Dara and told her that Sam was alive today because of that one message she had sent. One voice, one positive message, set forth a chain of events that would forever change another person’s life. No prior Phish music knowledge required.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

~Mother Theresa

To learn more about Geralyn Lucas’ work and the importance of early screening and detection, find her here: http://www.geralynlucas.com

*real name, and identifying details has been change to protect the identity of my friend


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