Personal Best Pilates Studio

Carrie Cohn: My Breast Cancer Story

Hi!  I’m Carrie Cohn, the Founder and Owner of Personal Best Pilates Studio. Prior to September 19, 2011, I would have described myself as an extremely healthy and fit woman.  My whole adult life has been a testament to healthy living.  A fitness and Pilates instructor since 1986, I have exercised almost every single day of my life.  I don’t smoke or drink alcohol.  A vegetarian/pescatarian for over 25 years, my diet consists of lots of organic fruits and vegetables, clean protein, very little dairy, wheat or sugar. 

Yet, on September 19, 2011, I received a phone call from my doctor informing me that the lump in my breast was “invasive ductal carcinoma”. Cancer.

My life, my body and everything I believed about myself and my lifestyle was about to change. I was told by several people that “if you have to have breast cancer, yours is the type to have”.  I was told that I was LUCKY  I had caught my cancer early.  I was LUCKY that the tumor was estrogen-fed, so it could be treated with hormone therapy, instead of chemotherapy.  I was LUCKY that I would not need a mastectomy, and the surgery and radiation treatment I would undergo to destroy the tumor in my left breast would be a breeze.  I was told that my cancer would be little more than a temporary inconvenience and I would bounce back to my normal life and activities in just a few weeks.

I didn’t feel lucky.  I felt like my body had failed me.  

The next 4 months were like a bad dream.  Two surgeries, followed by radiation treatments that left me exhausted and in pain.  Emotionally, I was terrified, confused, sad and very angry.   And that was just the beginning.  

Because of my decades in the fitness industry I knew that exercise would help me feel better and help me to heal.   As soon as the stitches healed from my surgery, I started to exercise.  I started gently at first and gradually tried to work up to my pre-cancer fitness levels.  I couldn’t do it.  Every time I tried to push myself, even just a little, I ended up exhausted, and frustrated.  Although my doctors had shared the “common” side effects of my cancer treatment, no one had warned me about the weakness and limitations of my shoulder and arm.  My “LUCKY”hormone treatment for my cancer had left me with nerve damage and debilitating joint pain,  6 months after I was supposed to be “Back to Normal”, a painful fluid filled pocket (seroma), developed in the tumor cavity left in my breast.   After 5 excruciating seroma-draining procedures by the surgeon, and several weeks of complete bedrest, I felt like I would never feel happy or healthy again.   I also felt if I was having such a hard time getting  back to my normal level of activity, there must be others struggling with the same issues.  I was on a quest for answers – for myself and for other breast cancer survivors.

It was at this point I became aware of Doreen Puglisi, and the Pink Ribbon Program.  Doreen Puglisi, M.S. is an exercise physiologist and educator who transformed her professional -- then personal -- experience with cancer into a successful rehabilitation program for breast cancer survivors. 

The Pink Ribbon Program originated when Doreen began working with breast cancer survivors as a Pilates Instructor and Exercise Physiologist.  She was stunned to discover that survivors were discharged following mastectomy, lymph node dissections and even reconstructive surgeries without a plan for either physical therapy or rehabilitation of the affected side.  With her energy, drive and knowledge of exercise physiology, Doreen has set out to develop a program to help her clients achieve their best possible recovery.

The Pink Ribbon Program was well underway when Doreen faced her own cancer diagnosis. She applied the Pink Ribbon protocol to her own recovery. Today the Pink Ribbon Program is a gentle, staged process that begins when the survivor is either six weeks past her surgery or has received her doctor’s approval to begin gentle exercise therapy. 

In May of 2013, I brought Doreen to train Personal Best Pilates instructors in the Pink Ribbon protocol.  We are so happy to be able to help other breast cancer survivors in Kansas City.  I don’t want another person dealing with breast cancer in Kansas City to have an experience like mine.  

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Personal Best Pilates Studio is the ONLY Pilates Studio in the Kansas City area that requires PMA Certification for all our Pilates Teachers.
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