Wanderlust: So, you’re obviously a health and wellness expert, but do you practice yoga?
Dr. Weiss: I do practice yoga. I’d say that I started about 6 years ago. It's an important part of my life -- it’s for physical purposes as well as spiritual fulfillment. I've been blessed by having some fabulous teachers. So yes, yoga is a big part of my life.
I did go through breast cancer myself about 2 years ago and that did and does still limit my ability to assume certain positions. So I’ve had to modify my yoga practice substantially because of difficulty with my limitations. I am sad about being limited in that way but I do still enjoy it; it's more of a challenge for me physically than anything else.
Wanderlust: Thank you for sharing. I realize that every woman’s experience with breast cancer is different, but are yoga and meditation tools something you find yourself commonly recommending to patients during their fight?
Dr. Weiss: Yes, sure, meditation is extremely important and yoga is a good way to get started with that. Turning your mind off for a chunk of time is not something we can do easily. It's a skill that takes training. Yoga is a great way to start that skill.
I tell my patients that learning meditation skills is an investment. Taking care of yourself is not easy, but it’s also not optional – it’s mandatory. When illness strikes and one is forced to make changes, it no longer becomes optional.
A lot of times what I’ll do is send someone to a physical therapist first to make sure that they go over their strengths and weaknesses now to look at how the person can resume physical activity in a safe manner. It's not safe to go to a yoga class and just jump in, especially for people with illness. It looks simple, but those positions are challenging. Plank positions, downward facing dog -- those are challenging positions. You don't want to injure yourself.
Wanderlust: Yes, of course. These positions are hard enough as they are, let alone having a serious physical illness also!
Dr. Weiss: Right, but it’s so important. First of all, the values of the practice – for example, not judging yourself and not comparing yourself within the yoga community -- is a critical life lesson. What so often happens to women in general, as well as women who have had breast cancer, is that they do judge themselves and compare themselves to other people. Everyone else is in better shape than they are; they see themselves as less healthy than the women around them. This can lead to depression and isolation. One of the key things that we hope that our work provides are tools for women to learn how to feel good about themselves, to be comfortable and confident in their own skin.
People living with a diagnosis of breast cancer need a mantra every day to keep themselves positive and focused on their recovery. For example, you can say to yourself, “I am happy to be alive, and I'll do the best I can each day,” and then really get centered on that.
Wanderlust: That’s such a powerful lesson for all of us. Can you tell us a little bit more about Breastcancer.org?
Dr. Weiss: Of course. I started Breastcancer.org 12 years ago so that women could have the best information and online support for their battle. More than 25 million people from more than 230 countries depend on us for their medical expertise and community support and we help them find answers to their most pressing questions about breast health and breast cancer. We help them deal with anxiety and uncertainty. A lot of times when faced with a serious illness, people say, "Oh, I have a bad prognosis and my life is short." That’s not our message. Life is a stream and a series of moments -- and this is your chance to enjoy it today, savor each moment. It takes a common purpose and a passionate community to help catalyze changes in our lives. So Breastcancer.org is a haven for medical expertise on breast cancer and a support community for those going through treatment and living with its effects.
I’m excited to share and expand our community with Wanderlust this year.
Wanderlust: Well, we’re excited to have you! What are you most excited about for Wanderlust Vermont? Can you tell us a little bit about what you have in store for your hike and Speakeasy lecture?
Dr. Weiss: The Speakeasy presentation will focus on prevention. Only 10% of breast cancer is actually inherited. Over time we eat something, drink something, take supplements, get stressed out, and these things all have a significant effect on our internal environment. Although I am a breast cancer doctor, I would like to see breast cancer prevented rather than treated. Physical activity -- for example for just 3 to 4 hours a week -- is a great step that women can take towards preventing breast cancer. That is how change happens, and that is how movements are built.
Yes, I’m excited to be leading a hike up the mountain on Saturday morning! People lead by example, so I don't want to be just up there to give new information. I want to demonstrate. I want to mix it up, get in nature, move around, and be alive.
I’m personally looking forward to meeting some of the teachers and taking classes. I love meditation and yoga and can’t wait to learn from some of the teachers who are presenting.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president, and guiding force behind Breastcancer.org
, the world's most utilized online resource for expert medical and personal information on breast health and breast cancer — reaching 28 million people globally over the past 11 years. A breast cancer oncologist with more than 20 years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing and empowering individuals to protect their breast health and overcome the challenges of breast cancer.