Cheryl Solomon chokes up when asked about her breast cancer treatment.
“I’ve had 35 chemo treatments to date,” she says. “One surgery, one to be had next week. I’m still fighting.”
A few weeks ago, Solomon joined others in the fight. Surrounded by friends and family, the “Fight for Cheryl” team rolled out their yoga mats for the 13th annual Yoga on the Steps event.
Each year, the local non-profit, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, takes over the Art Museum steps in Philadelphia for a free yoga class and prayer chant, called a kirtan. Wafting “om”s and “namaste”s down the Parkway, the event raises awareness and money for women and families impacted by the disease.
This year, the event brought out around 1,500 participants to stretch under crystal blue skies. That number is up from a few dozen participants at the first event 13 years ago.
Jennifer Shelter cofounded the event and leads the yoga class each year. She sees the growing numbers and momentum for the event as a sign of changing attitudes about mental health care.
“I think people are looking inside and asking ‘what will sustain me, not just financially but emotionally and mentally’,” said Shelter. “I think mental health is being taken a little more seriously in general, as it should be.”
NBC10’s Lu Ann Cahn opened the event and identified herself as a survivor of breast cancer. “23 years,” she said. Speaking to fellow survivors, she praised the event as a chance to build community.
“Look to the left, look to the right, look to the front and behind you. If you take away one thing today, I want you to know that you’re not alone.” Following her opening remarks, other survivors were invited to share their stories before the class.
Robin Bender Stevens shook off some nerves before jumping onstage to share her story of an unexpected bout with cancer. Talking about her treatment for the first time in front of a crowd, Bender Stevens said, “It’s all so new to me, so bizarre. Well, nobody expects [cancer], right?”
As a former board member for Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Bender Stevens found out she had cancer after relieving herself of that responsibility. “I was on the board for eight years because I had a number of friends who had breast cancer,” said Bender Stevens. “I rolled off the board and about six months later was diagnosed myself. It was earth-shattering.”
The experience made Bender Stevens drastically reorder her life. “I’ve retired from my job and have decided to take on a second act.” She said the diagnosis gave her the courage to finally act on some of her goals and pursue a second career in philanthropy. “I’ve talked about it for years but this gave me the push – if not now when?”