by Kim Keller
On Sunday afternoons in Lower Manhattan, a very special sisterhood of breast cancer survivors comes together to support one another and to heal. And they gather at a very special place: The You Can Thrive! Foundation.
You Can Thrive! is the product of one woman’s vision. Luana DeAngelis Halpern was 35 years old and newly married when she discovered she had breast cancer. Luana found acupuncture and meditation were essential to her continuing wellness after surgery, and she also quickly discovered how easily a serious illness like cancer can drain a bank account. She needed a special kind of place that simply did not exist in New York City, so Luana set about creating one.
Her idea was to “give survivors the tools they need and the education and resources they need to build long-term survivorship plans. Educational resources, physical-risk-reduction resources, nutritional resources, [all manner of] wellness services.” She contacted various professionals in the field and asked if they would donate their time, and they agreed. In 2005, You Can Thrive! was officially born. The organization is a registered non-profit: All services are free but, naturally, for those who can afford to pay something, You Can Thrive! accepts donations.
I learned about You Can Thrive! through one of our In Care of Dad contributors, Lisa Wolfson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She told me that this program helped her turn cancer from a negative force in her life into a positive one. Lisa is grateful to the program and, to give something back, she’s been volunteering her time there for a couple years and was just recently named Program Director.
Currently located on the 8th floor of 95 University Place (between 11th and 12th Streets), You Can Thrive! accommodates about 30 women every Sunday. Because of the limited space and finances, the foundation is only open once a week and the treatments are by appointment only (the phone number is 917-463-4267). Luana’s goal for You Can Thrive! is to find a permanent location with more space, allowing them to be open every day of the week and to include people with other types of cancer.
The idea of You Can Thrive! so intrigued me that I asked if I could stop by one Sunday afternoon, and I’m certainly glad Luana agreed to let me visit. The minute I walked through the front door, I knew I had stepped into a remarkable place. I was struck by the overwhelmingly positive vibe, and it actually brought tears to my eyes as I watched various women sharing themselves warmly, receiving treatments, interacting with each other on every level. You Can Thrive! is a textbook definition of “support group,” and you can tell that the clients here consider it their own special safe haven.
Here’s some of the program’s main offerings:
1. On your first visit, there is a patient advocacy meeting to begin tailoring a personalized survivorship plan, with follow-up meetings during the course of the program.
2. Each week you undergo a regimen that includes (a) an acupuncture treatment, (b) aromatherapy, and (c) one of the relaxation/stress-reduction therapies, such as reflexology, massage, reiki or polarity.
3. Every other week nutritional counseling is provided. A strategy for healthy eating is developed.
4. Most weeks EFT — otherwise known as tapping therapy — is available.
5. There are workshops on a variety of topics like energy therapy, gratitude journaling, yoga and guided meditation. The week I was there, I saw a demonstration on the benefits of a raw food diet, featuring different recipes using kale. The presentation was quite interesting, and the food was delicious!
I should probably mention the pet therapy that’s also available at You Can Thrive! Luana has a sweet and adorable little Maltese named Fonzie, who’s a regular at the foundation and who immediately jumped into my lap the minute I sat down to interview Luana for this article. Luana asked me if everything was okay with me, and while I was a bit taken back by the question, I found myself explaining that, no, actually I was having a particularly stressful morning. Luana smiled and said that she asked only because of the dog’s reaction to me. Fonzie senses when someone is having a hard time, she explained, and he responds by showering that person with affection. I was touched.
In fact, I imagine that everyone who enters Luana’s You Can Thrive! world is touched. My friend, Christine Taylor, who was diagnosed with breast cancer about seven months ago, has been going to the program since November. Knowing how important the program has been to her, I asked Christine to help explain why the place is so valuable.
“You Can Thrive! is an environment of pure love and healing,” she began, “where everyone who is there shares a deep understanding of what it’s like to live with cancer. Practitioners, volunteers and clients shower me with compassion, support and useful information every minute I am there. Every time I leave, I feel stronger, more energized and more healed. Coming to You Can Thrive! has been a critical part of getting my body and soul healthy during treatment.”
As I walked out of my interview with Luana, I was feeling something very close to those words of Christine’s. I immediately called my sister and said, “I’ve just been inspired!”
Luana and her organization are truly remarkable. I leave you with this quote from her: “Remaining balanced in the face of adversity is its own reward, its own opportunity. It’s a lesson that has truly freed me.”
I just love that! If you’re able, please consider a donation to this exceptional program.
Kim Keller is the co-founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.