On a recent Sunday morning, close to 2,000 people assembled on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a colossal yoga class.
But the sea of sun salutations was not solely for stretching purposes. The spiritual gathering aspired to spread awareness and raise funds for breast cancer resources.
Marking its 18th yearly event, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a national nonprofit working to provide support and resources for individuals recovering and living with breast cancer, once again hosted its annual Reach & Raise fundraiser, a one-hour, all-levels yoga class held on the steps of the art museum and hosted by Yoga Alliance certified instructor Jennifer Schelter.
Since its inception, the event has raised close to $2.5 million in funding for the nonprofit, according to its website, and just this year’s event alone, which has currently earned close to $380,000, was attended by dozens of teams that raised as much as $11,000 per group.
A handful of these groups were led by natives and residents of South Philadelphia who have experienced personal ties to breast cancer.
“The great thing about Living Beyond Breast Cancer is it connects people with needed resources,” said Bella Vista resident and yoga instructor Christopher Pinto, who led the eight-member Team Sparkle & Shine team, which raised close to $1,000. “If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, they connect you with needed resources – very trusted, credited resources, and they connect you with a community of people going through it.”
For Pinto, breast cancer is near and dear to his heart, as not only are his mother and fellow yoga friend survivors but his best friend’s mother passed away from the disease.
The Bella Vista resident describes the day of the event as inspirational, witnessing survivors and individuals living with breast cancer, all of whom wore burgundy ribbons, embrace one another through the yoga class.
“It was wild because you see these people wearing these ribbons and they don’t even know each other and they’re hugging each other,” Pinto said. “You’re connected with the resources and this community.”
As someone who has witnessed the effects of the disease, Pinto stresses that services provided by a Living Beyond Breast Cancer are extremely beneficial to those living with breast cancer.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer was founded in 1991 by a radiation oncologist as a safe haven where women can learn more about diagnosis, treatment options and post-treatment care, and connect with others living with cancer.
“We make it our mission to present content and information in a way people can understand easily,” said East Passyunk Crossing resident Joanne Bursich, who is also the chief of staff of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. “So, people can make informed decisions about their treatment and really everything about their lives…What makes (Reach & Raise) unique is it really provides a way for people to connect one-on-one. It’s more than the traditional walks or runs like other organizations do.”
Bursich, whose 20-member team Heather’s Squad raised $4,500, says Living Beyond Breast Cancer touches approximately 600,000 people per year through the nonprofit’s various resources.
These services include assistance through in-person connections, phone calls and online programming.
The nonprofit aims to foster an uplifting community of individuals experiencing breast cancer, specifically those who are recently diagnosed, in treatment, living with a history of breast cancer, living with metastatic breast cancer and young women affected by the disease.
“It’s such an incredible feeling to feel whenever we’re all connected,” said Lower Moyamensing native Susan Semola, who led the six-member South Philly Sue team, which raised about $200. “And that’s what we’re trying to teach everyone – that we’re all connected in one way, and we all need to be supported and educated and spread the word that Living Beyond Breast Cancer is there for these women and men to utilize.”
Semola, a fitness instructor now based in Cherry Hill, also says she has loved ones who were diagnosed with the disease, including her mother-in-law.
The South Philadelphians say that the scale and scene of the Reach & Raise event is evident of the region’s compassion for breast cancer.
Close to 2,000 individuals practicing yoga on a significant Philadelphia landmark unveils an effective approach to fighting breast cancer.
“You really can’t explain the energy from these women and men now,” Semola said. “It actually brought tears to my eyes…To hear the stories of the women that are fighting, whether it be met cancer or to survivors. It’s just incredible to see and support.”
Since starting in Philadelphia, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s “Reach & Raise” has spread to Denver, Fort Myers, Florida, Kansas City, Memphis and Washington, D.C.
The 2019 Philadelphia Reach & Raise event is still accepting donations online toward its $400,000 goal.
However, even surpassing the steps of the art museum, Living Beyond Breast Cancer continues to provide care to current and former patients. This outreach includes the nonprofit’s hosting of the 2019 Living Beyond Breast Cancer Conference on Sept. 20 and 21 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel, 201 N. 17th St., which links leading medical and wellness professionals with those affected by breast cancer.
“Proving a comfortable and respectful place for women dealing with such a hard issue is really what attracted me to Living Beyond Breast Cancer,” Bursich said “…We just want people to know that beyond this event, we are a great resource.”
For more information on Living Beyond Breast Cancer, visit: www.lbbc.org/.
To make a donation to the 2019 Philadelphia Reach & Raise event, visit here.