Brick Bodies, TU group work to fight breast cancer
The chairs in the gymnasium at Brick Bodies Gym in Timonium slowly started to fill with women. Out of 22 women, over half of them had either a short pixie haircut, a wig, bandana or skin-colored sleeve.
They were awaiting the first “Boot Breast Cancer Camp.” The camp is a joint effort between Towson University’s Pink PAWS (Proud Athletes Who Serve) program, Brick Bodies and the American Cancer Society. The program is specifically geared towards helping women with breast cancer get exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle while having the opportunity to meet other women who can understand what they are going through.
“We’ve raised over $25,000 in three years,” Pink PAWS co-founder Meredith Kennedy said. “The money goes to providing treatment and buying wigs for the men and women who can’t afford to.”
Kennedy decided to get involved when a friend and Towson University staff member Bobbi Madison was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Kennedy wanted to bring her support a step further than the ‘Pink’ games that Towson athletes traditionally host where the athletes and attendees wear pink.
“When Bobbi got diagnosed I wanted to take the Pink games at Towson and give more value to them and what they do,” Kennedy said. “So we started the Pink PAWS Effort.”
While Madison has fully recovered from breast cancer she must still wear a skin-colored sleeve on her arm for her Lymphedema, a condition that causes the arms or legs to swell due to fluid build-up after having lymph nodes removed as a part of cancer treatment.
“It’s nice to be around other survivors because they understand what I’ve been through and don’t make me feel uncomfortable because of my sleeve,” Madison said.
One of the survivors who has taken an active role in helping women with breast cancer is two-time survivor Elissa Bantug. When she was 21 years old, Bantug found a lump in her breast and fought for 18 months before a doctor would order a mammogram. On her 25th birthday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.
“I did everything right,” Bantug said. “I ate right, exercised, but stuff happens and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband walked out on me saying he couldn’t look at me with no hair and one breast. I had a little baby looking to me to take care of it and I was only 23 years old.”
The room of women listened and nodded as Bantug spoke about her struggles emotionally and physically with breast cancer.
“It took me a long time to trust my body again,” Bantug said. “Every time I had a headache I thought the cancer had come back. I started to resent the pink breast cancer ribbon because I felt like it marked me as someone with cancer and constantly reminded me of that. It felt like my scarlet letter.”
Many of the survivors like Barbara Hill, had been cancer-free for several years only to find out they must fight it again in their second breast, while others, like Cathy Elky, were diagnosed barely over a year ago.
Elky, a class of ‘66 Towson University alum, was diagnosed in 2012. In less than two years after being diagnosed she has gone through four surgeries, six rounds of chemo, a year of Herceptin injections and 39 radiation treatments.
“It’s been my life,” Elky said. “It’s really good to have a support system to cheer you on.” Lynne Brick was in attendance to say a few motivational words and demonstrate some of the exercises the camp offers. “Everyone has different lives, but what you plan today can help prepare your future,” Brick said.
Brick Bodies also offers free memberships to those going through chemotherapy treatments, as well as nutrition advice and the boot camp to help the survivors and those currently fighting cancer. There will be more seminars on Oct. 5, 12 and 19 from 9-11:30 a.m.
“It takes a long time to feel your body, it takes even longer to feel your soul,” Bantug said.