Beating Breast Cancer With Zumba
At first glance, Zumba is like any other dance-fitness program. But for instructors Michelle Lombardo and Jocelyn Goodwin, it's not just a fun cardio workout—it's a community that became a touchstone of natural healing for both their breast cancer diagnoses. Here are there inspiring stories.
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In January 2012, nearly two years after receiving her Zumba instructor certification, Michelle Lombardo, 45, was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a common type of breast cancer that develops in the milk ducts. To prevent the cancer from spreading to the surrounding breast tissue, Lombardo underwent a partial mastectomy and two reconstructive surgeries. But despite the procedures, that April, Lombardo’s doctor found two tumors in her lymph nodes. That led to a severe round of chemotherapy and radiation treatments—all while Lombardo was working full-time at both a hedge fund and her Zumba studio. (She's since left the hedge fund to solely run the studio.)
"I kinda just kept going," she says. "I own a Zumba studio and found between the staff and participants that I wanted to be here. It's something where you could have a bad day, take a class and leave without worries or troubles—there's just an energy in the room that almost became a little like salvation. I don't know where I would be without Zumba. Quite honestly, I'd be a different person."
Lombardo went for a mammogram earlier this year to see if her treatments had been effective. The results? Her tests were clear, and she says that for the first time since being diagnosed, she feels good. And she wants to make a difference.
To raise awareness and funds for the fight against breast cancer, Lombardo has started hosting Party In Pink Zumbathons (PIP), back-to-back hours of Zumba. "Last year was a celebration of my completion of treatments," says Lombardo, "and this year is a continued celebration of life. I intend to host PIP events each year as a milestone event for my own journey, and for those whose lives have been affected by this disease."
It seems unlikely that a young woman who's healthy and active would get diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet that was the case for Jocelyn Goodwin, 33, who was undergoing a regular breast exam when her doctor found a lump. Because the tumor was very small, and given Goodwin's age, she was led to believe that she was fine and wouldn't need another mammogram until she was 55.
It was only when her doctor called her while she was at the Los Angeles Zumba conference in February 2013, that Goodwin realized she'd been wrong. "I knew at that point that if a doctor is calling me, there is definitely a problem," she says. "I didn't even know what to do. You don't ever expect that moment is going to be part of your life."
Like Lombardo, Goodwin also had invasive carcinoma. The next month she underwent a lumpectomy. But because Goodwin wanted to be a mother someday, at the same time that she was receiving radiation, she also underwent five weeks of fertility treatments, including shots to produce eggs that, as a precaution, would be harvested and frozen. "It was worse than the cancer treatment," she says.
Yet through it all, she continued to teach Zumba. "I couldn't really do my full version, but I did the Zumba Gold version, which is often slower, softer on the body," she says. "I went because I needed to hear the music, needed to be around people that love and care about me."
Today, Goodwin says she is 100% healthy. "People joke around, saying, 'Have you told the doctors how you really got better? Do they know that Zumba is part of the cure for breast cancer?' " she says. "But I never had to go to therapy or a counselor because Zumba is my therapy."
Goodwin also hosts Party In Pink Zumbathons, with her first being this past September. "The people I do Zumba with were as supportive, if not more, than my friends and family. I continually look for ways to pay it back, whether it's a Zumbathon or helping someone who's struggling in a class. I'm so proud to do this and be part of this movement."
Part of the movement means educating other young women. "I tell every single friend, every young woman, that you've got to get checked. You can't avoid it. Don't think you don't need to because you're healthy—you never know," she says.
Video: Can Zumba prevent breast cancer?
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