Tag Archive | "Fighting Chance"

Yoga Offers Hope to Cancer Patients

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web yoga

By Emily J. Weitz

Every two weeks in Sag Harbor, people fighting the battle of their lives join together to practice yoga. Teacher Eric Pettigrew does not believe that cancer should be treated like a death sentence, and his goal is to empower students and survivors to be their most vibrant, even in the face of illness.

Pettigrew, a homeopathic doctor and yoga teacher, trained as a teacher for cancer survivors through Om Yoga Center in New York a few years ago.

“As a homeopathic doctor, I have patients who come to me with cancer because they feel they have nothing else,” he says. “They have no hope and they’re ready to try anything. I am here to listen, and to make people feel more at ease with the condition. It’s not good news, but there are options in terms of how you live your life.”

There is a host of reasons that yoga is beneficial for people dealing with cancer, whether they are the patients themselves or the caregivers.
“Yoga and breath awareness are not just exercises,” says Pettigrew. “I present them as tools in your healing journey.”

Two of the most profound benefits of yoga for those dealing with cancer are the increased lymphatic flow and the strengthening of bone density.

“Any movement increases lymphatic flow,” says Pettigrew. “This is crucial in cancer healing. The lymphatic system is very compromised, especially with the removal of lymph tissue. We’ll do lots of movements up and down, pumping the legs and arms to stimulate the movement of lymph.”

Chemotherapy has been proven to decrease bone density, and it can bring on early osteoporosis, Pettigrew explains.

“By doing yoga and weight bearing,” he says, “you are stimulating the bone cells to regenerate.” He’ll bring students to a wall or chair for support if necessary, and then will instruct them to hold balancing poses like Tree Pose for many breaths.

These physical poses represent the asana aspect of the yoga practice. Pettigrew believes that movements like these are essential because it’s empowering for patients to feel like they have some control in this illness, which takes so much out of their hands.

But even more transformational, Pettigrew has found, is the breath work.

“Breath awareness is at the top of the list for dealing with the anxiety that comes with this diagnosis,” he says. “We get so caught up and we forget to slow down and observe the movement of the belly, the weight of the head on the floor. It helps them from getting too overwhelmed with what’s happening around.”

Cancer patients are not the only ones who suffer from the treatment process. Caregivers, whether they’re spouses, children, doctors, or nurses, usually need a strong reminder to care for themselves too.

“Often the caregiver in the story is forgotten,” says Pettigrew. “They are stressed, they don’t know how to breathe, they’re running like crazy. It’s very tense. And we need to soften.”

In addition to the mental and physical benefits of practicing yoga, this class gives students a sense of community and a well of emotional support from which to draw.

“When I have new students,” Pettigrew says, “I try to make them feel comfortable right away by talking about the ‘C Word.’ We say cancer. We are not afraid of it.”

Because there’s a common struggle, participants feel they’re in a place where they can feel accepted.

“It makes them more friendly with themselves,” says Pettigrew, “and that’s the first step. Down the road, it creates this beautiful dynamic of the group. They realize they’re not alone.”

Pettigrew attributes much of the success of this program to Fighting Chance, which facilitates the yoga class as well as support groups. Social networking, and meetings.

“To come into a room and sit in a chair in a circle and close your eyes and feel your body and your breath in a place where you’re allowed to do that, it’s powerful,” he said.

Yoga for Healing and Wellness is offered every other Thursday from 2:30 to 3:30. It is free and open to anyone dealing with cancer. Registration is requested: 725-4646.

Anthony Brandt

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Author Anthony Brandt who leads “Cancer Journeys: Writing Our Stories,” a monthly writing workshop for cancer patients at Fighting Chance.

Author Anthony Brandt who leads “Cancer Journeys: Writing Our Stories,” a monthly writing workshop for cancer patients at Fighting Chance.

By Annette Hinkle

Author Anthony Brandt who leads “Cancer Journeys: Writing Our Stories,” a monthly writing workshop for cancer patients at Fighting Chance.

You’ve been involved with Fighting Chance as a director since its beginnings. You’re also a writer yourself — was this writing program your idea?

It was. I felt it was a way I could contribute without having money to contribute. I believe in the program. It does a great deal of good. My brother died of cancer, and I saw this not so much as a payback, but something I could do that was helpful.

Are writing programs for cancer patients commonplace, or is yours unique?

There are writing programs for psychiatric patients, but not a lot. There have been some studies on the usefulness of narratives to people who are either ill, have been ill or, in general, for anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience.

But it grew out of my sense that writing is therapeutic. It doesn’t have to be, but it can be. It springs out of traumas of all kinds. I thought it would be useful for some of these people to tell their stories.

Does it take some coaxing to get patients to tell their stories in the workshop?

The program is there for them – for those who want it. Not everyone is comfortable writing. I’d say most people aren’t comfortable writing. For those who are interested in it we’re there. Bill Disipio, who I work with, is on the Fighting Chance staff and he is a clinical psychologist of considerable talent and great reputation.

How does the structure of the program work?

We ask them to write in whatever form they want and they submit the writing. Everyone in the program reads it. You can comment or not. I usually make encouraging comments — I’ll suggest how to fill it out or that they think it through more thoroughly. Some of them get caught up in it. There’s one woman who writes all the time now. She’s a natural writer, and hadn’t done much before. Now she’s keeping a journal. Others write it once and they’re done with it.

There are no real requirements. They are their own audience and we encourage them to share it with their families because they have lived through this with them and it’s done damage to them too. Cancer causes anxiety. There are the costs and everything else associated with it. Many of them think ‘How could I have done this to my family and gotten sick this way?’ as if it’s something they could have controlled.

Do you find that there is a specific time in the journey when people are ready to share their stories of battling cancer?

Usually it’s later in the process. People are more comfortable writing about something they’ve been through rather than something they’re going through. You can see the whole and make it into a story. The real advantage to this kind of narrative is it does put it into a story, and once it’s there you can manage it. It puts it at a distance from yourself. It’s still your story, you own it in a way, but when you’re being shuttled from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, you don’t own it. Once you write it out it becomes part of you and it’s something you can always refer back to and share with others. You also have the other patients to share it with. There are all sorts of cancer but just the one experience.

Do the patients ever read their work aloud in the group?

Sometimes they read aloud. And sometimes they cry. They have different reactions. We’re all sympathetic. You have carte blanche here.

What are the stories that people choose to focus on?

Well, there is no single type of story that they tell. One guy told the story of his attitude through the whole thing and how he kept his spirits up — by cracking jokes, being positive and leading as normal a life as possible while treatment was going on. His was a triumphant story.

There was a woman who, just a month after her husband died suddenly, found out she had breast cancer. She was hit with all this grief and had not been married that long to the love of her life and now she’s sick. She has a lot to deal with. She’s full of questions – partly ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ questions, but also questions like, ‘Do I get remarried?’ ‘Where do I find someone I can trust and love again?’ ‘How do I live my life and how do I deal with all this?’

What do you think the writing does for the patients themselves?

Mostly they say that it clarifies things. When you have to explain something, you have to first explain it to yourself, which you then transfer to the writing.

How do you go about coaching the writers?

There was one woman who had so much happen to her, she didn’t know how to begin. I said make a list of everything that has happened to you. She couldn’t do it. She was still in treatment and in trouble.

The thing about cancer, you never feel you’re completely free of it. It’s a spooky thing and you’re never sure. So often it comes back. All these people have to deal with that for the rest of their lives. In a way, they can say you’re cancer free, yet it haunts you. You don’t feel cancer free.

Right now, the patients’ stories can only be read by Fighting Chance members in an on-line blog. Do you have any plans to share the writing with the wider community?

Ultimately we will collect enough stories and put them in some sort of publication. Some of these stories are pre-existing and go back to Fighting Chance’s early days when a trained sociologist answered questions on the website and would take telephone calls from people all over the country. She would get these long stories of people telling her everything that happened. I thought when they started happening, its got to be a book. But now they’re coming slower because we don’t do that service anymore. [In making something like this public] there are all kinds of liabilities, so you have to be careful.

Has this program changed you in the process?

I can’t honestly say it has. I’m a good guy. I’ve always been sympathetic to people. It hasn’t made me more sympathetic. I’m too old to change anyway.

“Cancer Journeys: Writing Our Stories” will be offered next on Monday, October 10 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Fighting Chance, 34 Bay Street, Suite 201, Sag Harbor. The group meets the second Monday of every month.

Swimming Across America, Or at Least Gardiner’s Bay


By Francesca Normile

Swimming Across America is an organization born out of an incredible feat that occurred in 1985, when two young men, Jeff Keith and Matt Vossler, ran from Boston to Los Angeles with the goal of fighting cancer.

And as if running that distance wasn’t impressive enough, Keith ran it with one leg missing, a result of his childhood battle with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that most frequently plagues children. Their success, raising over $1 million for cancer research, has since stretched beyond that triumphant run into the creation of Swimming Across America, a non-profit group the two friends founded in 1987, which this year will benefit two local charities.

The group has grown rapidly, now with over 3,000 swimmers participating on an annual basis (ranging in age from seven to 78, including a large number of past and present Olympians) and raises around $4 million annually as accumulated from its numerous participating locations across America. This week, on July 3, Swimming Across America is joining up again with East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad and the Sag Harbor-based Fighting Chance for a one-and-a half-mile swim in Gardner’s Bay in Amagansett.

Gerry Oakes, who has been chair of the Swimming Across America Nassau/Suffolk Committee since 2001, speaks of the evolution of SAA in Long Island. Starting in Nassau County, the Nassau/Suffolk Committee has since expanded across the island as more communities have sought its presence and offered support to the group. Addressing their presence on the East End, Oakes explains, “We connected with Fighting Chance about two-and-a-half years ago. We were really impressed with how many people their organization was helping on the East End, free of charge. I told [founder] Duncan Darrow, ‘We’d love to help you grow more, and a way to do that is to start an [SAA] event in your neighborhood.’”

Talking to Jim Arnold of the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad soon after that, Oakes saw that the event had great potential to be a success, pulling together three organizations that shared a common goal of raising money to fight cancer. Steve Brierly, EH VORS Captain, expressed his enthusiasm about the collaboration saying, “The Ocean Rescue Squad is very excited to be a part of this wonderful event. I myself being a cancer survivor after being diagnosed less than a year ago with Prostate Cancer and another OR member, Jeff Bogetti, presently fighting brain cancer, made it a very easy decision to [partake in this event].”

According to Oakes, around 120 swimmers and 60 volunteers are expected at the event, including the potential participation of two former Olympians. These are Carlos Arena of the 1996 Mexican swim team and Craig Beardsley of the 1980 American swim team.

It is evident from SAA’s growth in participation, the group’s physical expansion in the U.S., and the financial success that it has enjoyed, the organization has become increasingly influential.

The proceeds from the July 3 event, according to Oakes, will go to local beneficiary, Fighting Chance, as well as towards specific areas of research/work in three cancer institutes in the metropolitan area — the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx.

Oakes expressed how impressed he was with the advancements that these three centers have been making in cancer research for a number of years now.

“Sloan-Kettering is working on providing incentive for your own immune system to attack your cancer, Cold Spring is researching to identify why bodies resist traditional lung cancer drugs, and Montifiore is the tip of the spear in a bone research that is making great strides,” says Oakes.

Oakes explains that, essentially, what SAA does is urge people to use it as a catalyst.

“What we really want to do is provide an opportunity to anyone in their community to fight cancer. And it’s a fun way to do it,” says Oakes. “You just can’t make people smile like that. I mean, everyone [participating] has a Cheshire cat grin on their face. Really. And that’s a natural reaction to doing such a good thing for their community.”

Swimmers, volunteers and supporters are welcome on July 3 at Fresh Pond Beach on Gardiner’s Bay in Amagansett, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. for the race.

Non-Profits Feel Economic Pinch

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Across the board local businesses are hurting from the recession, but perhaps local non-profit organizations are feeling the impact more acutely. With the government contributing very little to their budgets, many local organizations are primarily funded by individual donors or corporations. Kristina Lange, of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, said that although the volume of donations has remained the same, the amount donated has substantially declined. Bay Street Theatre, which relies on a combination of donations and grants, recently learned that grant money they were expecting from the New York State Council on the Arts had been put on hold, as Governor Paterson cuts down the state budget. Both ARF and Bay Street Theatre reduced their annual operating budgets by six and fifteen percent, respectively.

Although Fighting Chance, a free-of-charge counseling and resource center for East End cancer patients, has a ‘rainy day fund’ of $80,000, they have trimmed their budget, instead of tapping into these funds. The organization cut their expenses, primarily by reducing their advertising expenditure, and is operating on an “austerity budget for 2009,” said Duncan Darrow, founder of Fighting Chance.

Anticipating a shortfall in donations, many local non-profit organizations also trimmed their already lean budgets for this year. Kristina Lange reported that ARF implemented a hiring freeze, and subsequently reorganized their staff.

In addition, the non-profit cut down on community programs. Last year, ARF offered spay and neutering clinics for pet owners, as well as pet micro-chipping. These programs were cut from the budget.

Even with these setbacks ARF was still able to provide their key services, like a dog agility and obedience school, pet therapy, a pet bereavement support group and, of course, their kennel for animals up for adoption.

Despite the fact that ARF reduced their programs, Bay Street Theatre found ways to increase their programming without breaking the bank. On inauguration day the theater’s doors were open to the public for a free screening of the day’s festivities. The theater will televise the Oscar celebrations on Sunday, February 22, which will also be free to the public. During these screenings, Bay Street operates a concession stand, which helps defray the cost of keeping the theater open.

“For us to put on a full blown Equity show is outrageously expensive,” said general manager Tracey Mitchell. “We recognize that people don’t have a lot of cash. This is one way we can provide something free to the community.”

The new programs at Bay Street include a children’s theater camp, “Cabaret at the Bay” evenings and “Saturday Morning Picture Show” screenings of classic family films. The children’s theater camp will run in accordance with the school breaks during February and April. Mitchell said the camp was created to lend a helping hand to working parents.

As the economy continues to take a downturn, almost every local non-profit organization has noticed an increase in community demand for their services. ARF reported a 26 percent increase in pet adoption from 2007 to 2008, as nearly 731 dogs and cats were adopted last year.

“I attribute this in part to people finding comfort in animals. It feels good to rescue an animal from a shelter,” said Lange. ARF is noticing higher rates of pet abandonment and the non-profit is also housing more puppies than usually.

Darrow, founder of Fighting Chance, said that nearly half of the cancer patients on the East End contact the organization.

“Patients are now looking at the stress of a cancer diagnosis, coupled with the stress of surviving the recession,” said Darrow. “Most of these people are not highly affluent, and some of them are losing their jobs. Even in the best of times, chemotherapy and radiation treatments are stressful.”

Darrow added that Fighting Chance has established various programs to help these people. The organization offers a “Help-at-Home” neighborhood fund, which awards cash grants of up to $500 for existing patients. Darrow said these funds are often used to repair the patient’s car, since they often have to receive treatment once a day for a number of weeks. Fighting Chance also arranges for cancer patient transportation to treatment centers, with the help of Twin Forks Limo company.

These non-profit organizations remain an integral part of the community, but some non-profit staff wonder if they will be able to outlast the recession. Of ARF, Lange said “we have been around since 1974 and we have never felt anything like this.”


Above: Sag Harbor resident Carol Wesnofsky with Richu, a Peckinese she adopted last year at the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons.