Late-afternoon sunshine filtered through the windows of the quaint bungalow in old Roseville, casting a calming glow through the yoga studio where a handful of women perched on folded blankets atop exercise mats.
Susan Whitaker, the instructor, asked if anyone had requests. One woman said her upper body had been hurting; another advised that her joints ached. They breathed deeply as instructed, letting their eyes close as they slipped into relaxation and away from the concerns and physical demands of cancer, if only for an hour.
The yoga class is just one of the offerings at Wellness Within, a mind-body wellness center for cancer patients and their families. There, programs focus on individuals and their journey through small groups, meditation, nutrition, art, writing and photography.
The nonprofit center, established in September 2010, provides services free of charge to all who need them, from breast cancer survivors to parents of children with leukemia. The center is requesting that Book of Dreams readers provide funds to purchase supplies for various activities and food for nutrition classes.
“Most people who come in feel like they’ve been robbed of everything,” said Patti Brown, executive coordinator of Wellness Within. “We try to restock the shelves.”
Brown started the organization after having worked in private practice as a therapist for 20 years and watching many, including a childhood friend, battle cancer.
“I always believed that we do have the resources within ourselves to heal – not cure, but heal,” she said.
For Suzi Rupp, the journey toward healing began the minute she stepped into the comforting, home-like atmosphere of Wellness Within.
Rupp, 67, battled invasive breast cancer that had traveled into her lymph nodes. She learned of the center from renowned Kaiser surgeon Dr. Balazs “Ernie” Bodai, and began going in June, as soon as her radiation burns had healed.
“I was just overwhelmed with a feeling of comfort and home,” Rupp said.
Rupp is at the center three to four times each week. On Tuesdays, yoga. Thursdays mean iRest, a guided meditation class. On Fridays, insight meditation. A few times a month, Rupp will frequent nutrition classes to learn how to integrate more cancer-fighting and preventive foods into her diet.
“I really believe in going forth with everything I’ve got,” she said.
Before cancer, Rupp was a classic workaholic, toiling 14-hour days and telling herself she’d catch up with sleep on weekends.
But since frequenting Wellness Within, the media and public relations professional has learned an all-too-important lesson in recovery.
“I’ve given in to the reality that until my body is healed and my mind and mental and emotional state are all integrated, I’m not going to be the valuable employee that I thought I always was,” she said. “I was always applauded by every boss I’d ever had, but it came at a price. What’s changed is now I have a different approach to life. It’s going to be in balance, and I won’t take advantage of my body.”
It’s also given her the gift of friendship with others like her, especially the women in her yoga class.
“We are a sisterhood, though not one that any of us thought we would ever belong to,” Rupp said.
And at times, the sisterhood experiences loss. Such was the case in early November, when a fellow Wellness Within participant, whom Rupp described as “indefatigable,” died unexpectedly.
Whitaker shared the news with the women after having led them through yoga.
“We were devastated because she’s our friend. She’s valuable and she leaves a hole in the universe,” Rupp said. “But she left all of us grateful for having known her.”
And grateful for Wellness Within, where healing is a beginning, not an end.