by Lou Mancincelli
Each year for the past decade, an event hosted on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been growing. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with art.
It started with 100 people. But on May 15 of last year, more than 1400 people converged on the tiered museum steps for Yoga On the Steps, an annual breast cancer fundraiser. Those 1400 people raised around $290,000 for breast cancer education and support.
Yoga On The Steps is the annual fundraiser hosted by Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), a national Haverford-based group dedicated to providing women with the information and resources they need to deal with a diagnosis of breast cancer. This year, the group has set its fundraising goal at $330,000.
“We think of ourselves as a high-touch organization,” said Jean Sachs, chief executive officer of LBBC, a Mt. Airy resident. That means anyone who seeks the support of LBBC will be provided with information that is relevant for her particular situation.
While there are common experiences, Sachs says LBBC does not want to assume anything.
“Everyone’s diagnosis and reaction is different,” says Sachs. “We want to be the organization that has the tools they need.”
Founded in 1991 by radiation oncologist Marissa C Weiss, MD, in response to a woman’s need for breast-cancer-related information, support and networking, the organization was run by Dr. Weiss out of her home with the help of volunteers during its early years. Since Jean Sachs became the non-profit’s Executive Director in 1996, its budget has expanded from $100,000 to more than $3 million. During her tenure, LBBC staff has grown from two to 18. Each year LBBC reaches out to more than 70,000 people in need of information and support.
The LBBC website (lbbc.org) serves as a comprehensive education portal for those interested in learning about breast cancer — from treatments and symptoms, like insomnia, hair loss and lymphedema to quality-of-life issues to planning for the future. The site maintains up-to-date materials that cover the range of issues associated with the disease. A 60-person medical advisory board with representatives across the country helps to generate information. While some breast-cancer organizations have moved their educational outreach efforts online, LBBC continues to print brochures and newsletters.
It is also nationally recognized for the quality of its education programs and culturally sensitive publications for African-American and Latina women. “Getting Connected: African-Americans Living Beyond Breast Cancer,” produced by the LBBC staff, has won an Award for Excellence in Patient Education Materials by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Sachs, a 1985 women’s history graduate from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, says her knowledge about how to raise funds and increase programs started during her past experience working with organizations like the National Breast Cancer Coalition (1993-1995), where she was one of the first staff members hired.
She also worked on the campaign of Pennsylvania State Senator (now U.S. Congresswoman) Allyson Schwartz, where Sachs drafted breast-cancer and women’s health legislation as a legislative aide.
“I’ve always been interested in women’s health,” said Sachs, 49, who has lived in Mt. Airy for 20 years with her husband, John. Their son Max, 16, attends Abington Friends School. In 1991 she earned a master’s degree in social services and social policy from Bryn Mawr College. Her mother’s experience with breast cancer inspired her to help women facing the disease. Sachs’ mother survived breast cancer for two decades, but it was lung cancer that eventually caused her mother’s death just over a year ago. Sachs joined LBBC after the founder approached her 16 years ago.
This February, the second annual Barefoot Ball was hosted at the Mercedes-Benz of Fort Washington. The event was a local kick-off event for the larger Yoga on the Steps event, which will be held on May 20, the 10th year for the fundraiser. At the event, hosted by owner Mike Sloane, an LBBC benefactor, in collaboration with Twisters Wellness Centers, participants do yoga exercises on the auto showroom floor. Over 140 people took part in the event, which raised more than $7,000.
Yoga on the Steps is similar to walk-a-thons and marathons like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life or the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure. Instead of walking or running, though, individuals form teams to raise funds and come together for a large scale outdoor yoga class.
In 2011, Twisters Wellness, a yoga center with sites in Erdenheim and Ambler, raised $27,000 for the event, the most donated by any team. Sachs is an old friend of Twisters co-owner Tricia Fleming, a Wyndmoor resident.
“Jill Miller, the leader of our team, really deserves a lot of credit,” said Fleming, “because she does all the organization for this event … Pretty much everyone is touched by breast cancer in some way, shape or form, whether it’s a mother, sister, child or friend.”
In a 2010 a study at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found 31 percent of participants who had at least moderate problems with sleep following cancer therapy realized improved sleeping patterns after practicing yoga.
For more information about Living Beyond Breast Cancer, visit lbbc.org. For more information about Yoga on the Steps, visit yogaonthesteps.org.