Doreen Puglisi, exercise physiologist and educator, was working as a Pilates instructor in 2002 when she discovered that breast cancer patients were discharged after surgeries with no physical therapy plans. Inspired to create a course that would allow women a full range of motion and a retreat from negativity, she founded The Pink Ribbon Program, Post-Operative Workout Enhancing Recovery, a national program based in New Jersey. Busy establishing a way to rehabilitate survivors, little did Puglisi know that she would benefit from the effort. In 2004, after she had a mastectomy, Puglisi healed with the help of the regimen she instituted.
From personal experience, Puglisi knew that women who would gain the most from the program don’t usually have exercise on their minds. Having just experienced a horrifying ordeal, including not only surgery, but also reconstruction and radiation, they’re exhausted and would probably prefer rest to exertion. However, after a brief recuperation of about a month and a half, many refuse to leave their health to chance, taking matters into their own hands.
Up until that moment, they were robbed of a choice. Finding themselves in a scary predicament, they couldn’t control much of what was happening to them. Participating in the program offers them a chance to regain a modicum of control over their unpredictable lives. The Pink Ribbon Program’s psychological component presents an effective means toward recovery.
In addition to healing the mind, the regimen greatly benefits the body. A 2005 Harvard-directed study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that survivors who exercised moderately for three to five hours per week were 50 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than sedentary women. The program’s routine offers relief from the ailments breast cancer survivors often experience. The exercises are customized to address neck pain and muscle tightness in the chest, as well as prevent poor posture development and improve breathing – two possible causes of further pain and loss of mobility. By engaging in subtle movements, such as side bends and arm circles, the patients gradually restore their energy.
Unlike more strenuous and less controlled exercise routines, Pilates is a suitable choice for survivors, whose scapular stability is undermined. In layman’s terms, their nerves often debilitate during surgery, restricting movement. Focusing on teaching women how to move again, the program now includes more than 800 instructors in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Even women whose surgeries are a couple of years behind them can benefit. The exercises accommodate all fitness levels, and the instructors adapt the routine to each survivor, encouraging them when exercise seems counterintuitive.
One of these instructors is Cheryl Turnquist, the owner of Providence Pilates Center, who has been hooked on Pilates since 1999. Boasting degrees in psychology and social work, she tried her hand as a therapist. Later, working as a fitness director at a gym, Turnquist fell in love with the philosophy of Pilates. The mind-body movement appealed to her so much that she started her business in 2001.
Since 2012, she has been a Teacher Trainer for the Power Pilates Program at 5 Lincoln Ave. in Providence. There, she teaches with six other instructors. A busy mom of a 5-year-old son, she doesn’t have much spare time due to a full schedule consisting of responsibilities that include The Pink Ribbon Program classes, which she and Abbi Seward teach.
Turnquist shares that the two of them decided to become certified in April of 2013 because they “knew that it was a disease that strikes a number of people, including [those in their] family, friends and clients.” They “wanted to understand how to support and help those [they] care so much about.” Since September 2013, they have been assisting patients in their healing process. Turnquist says that every client who has come to the center for post-treatment recovery reported feeling happier and physically more capable. Women are thrilled to be able to exercise without feeling too fatigued. Besides providing a safe workout for patients, the program allows them to feel successful and strong.
Just coming out of treatment, the women usually start with a 30-minute beginner segment. Cautious not to strain survivors’ weak muscles, the instructors incorporate stretching and fundamental movements into the regimen. After the patients progress to the second level, they spend 45 minutes working on their upper bodies, trying out an increased range of motion. The third level involves an hour-long workout that’s more challenging.
Currently, the center has offered only private sessions, but Turnquist would like to start offering classes comprised of four to five students in the center’s new group studio space. The instructors are trained to work with all kinds of patients – from the most de-conditioned ones to elite athletes. Understanding and compassionate, the teachers customize the exercise to the survivor’s capacity. Turnquist feels that the program is preferable to other forms of exercise for breast cancer survivors because the instructors have been trained to understand the disease “from the point of diagnosis, treatment decisions, treatment differences, recovery issues, and exercise abilities after treatment.”
IRINA MISSIURO is a writer and editorial consultant for The Jewish Voice.