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La Jolla’s SK Sanctuary hosted an ongoing event last Tuesday, Oct. 28, inviting more than 30 breast cancer survivors to receive free spa treatments. The monthly event has become a juggernaut, connecting women and men — experiencing all stages of breast cancer — to offer support and courage.
Dr. Stephen Krant – called a Cary Grant look-alike – introduced speakers to the women that night.
“My life was a fairy tale that had collisions with a Stephen King novel,” said Deena Deardurff-Schmidt, former Olympic swimmer, gold medal winner and breast cancer survivor.
Deardurff-Schmidt and other cancer survivors revealed bits of their struggles to the group as they sat in an alley behind SK Sanctuary, creating not just a support group but forming a club that allows women currently battling similar issues to garner some insight — to understand they are not alone.
“Surround yourself with people that support you,” said Deardurff-Schmidt, adding that for her, it was important to stay positive. “It was not just the fear factor but that people would say the wrong things.”
Deardurff-Schmidt added humor into life’s examples, such as family members who constantly updated her with statistics on cancer survival rates and a family rule, she explained, claiming certain days “cancer free.” Meanwhile, she said, she left a trail of hair behind her, a side effect of chemotherapy and her own 500-pound gorilla.
After winning the gold medal when she was 13 in the 1972 Olympics, Deardurff-Schmidt tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at 19 years old and then made a career of coaching, she said.
Four years ago, Deardurff-Schmidt said, she found a lump in her breast while taking a shower, and doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer.
“I lost my job and I was very lost. I didn’t know what my path was,” Deardurff-Schmidt said.
She said she walked to the park, where she saw a woman in a pink hat, and found out the woman was dying of cancer. Her mother and sisters died of cancer, Deardurff-Schmidt said. In tears, Deardurff-Schmidt said she realized she needed to “get over herself.”
“One of my hardest obstacles was surrendering,” she said. “Try to find a place where you can get to where you can surrender. My life is nothing like it was before – I’m meant for other things.”
Some women wore wigs or scarves wrapped around their heads to hide chemotherapy’s effects. Whether the women had hair or not, all sat in a sea of cream-colored robes, unified as they listened to another woman’s story. As the women listened to Deardurff-Schmidt’s story, some took tissues to their eyes, slowly at first and then more vigorously.
Deardurff-Schmidt reassuringly said that her story was disastrous. Everything that could go wrong medically did. But she made it through. So, she said, it was part of her journey to pass on what she has learned.
As Deardurff-Schmidt pulled out her Olympic gold medal, she passed it to the women, telling them she stopped taking it to third-grade classrooms because the children would giggle. She realized it was because the year she competed, the medals pictured nude men — which is how the games used to be played.
Krant introduced Eve Selis, singer in The Eve Selis Band, and Mattie Mills, The Heroes Band, authors of “Forty Schmorty.” The women sang an altered version of “Survivor,” interacting with the audience.
SK Sanctuary offers cancer spa nights each month. The spa is located at 528 Nautilus St.
For more information, call (858) 454-3161.
Urban Refuge Spa, Mandaluyong: Hours, Address, Urban Refuge Spa Review: 5/5
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