One thing that I love about Pilates is that it always seems to meet you where you are. Although I know my own personal journey with Pilates has been life changing, it’s always incredibly inspiring for me to read about how other people’s lives have been changed by Pilates, especially those that have faced great physical and health challenges. So when I read Chelsea’s post in our Sisterhood Facebook group a few months ago, I knew I had to reach out to learn more about her story.
Here is a little snippet of what she shared with our community:
This week is a big week, because it’s a lot of “anniversaries.” One year ago: I found out that I was absolutely, without a doubt, tumor and cancer free, for the first time in over two years! I also got the okay to start exercising so I joined The Sisterhood and started training for my first 5K!
I had no idea then how much this group was going to change my life.
Those first few months were tough and I can’t count how many times I wanted to give up. I spent many years having those first couple doctors tell me I wouldn’t be able to do any physical activity, or possibly not live into my twenties. That doubt and fear became a constant voice in my head. I was plagued with self doubt and consistently telling myself I couldn’t do it.
But the beautiful women in this group always picked me right back up! You guys never doubted me and reminded me that it wasn’t about being the fastest or the strongest, it was about loving myself and my body. A year later and I’m running a 10K (with the amazing team of doctors who did believe I could run again!) and this morning I had the core and upper body strength to hold a headstand without the wall!
I know that I wouldn’t be this healthy, but more importantly happy, without the strength, support and advice of Robin and my sisters.
How amazing is that?! Truly inspired by Chelsea’s journey, I asked if she would be willing to share more of her story with us here on the blog. I hope you enjoy!
Hi Chelsea! Will you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I’m 24 years old and I live outside of the Philadelphia area with my husband, our two kids, two dogs, a cat and a rabbit so I live a very busy and very full life! I currently work full time as a watercolor artist and I’m finishing my Masters in Creative Writing this June.
Wow, you certainly have a lot on your plate! Will you share with us a little about your life before you joined The Sisterhood?
Before I joined The Sisterhood, I was finishing undergraduate school while also undergoing treatment for tumors caused by a rare genetic disorder I have called VHL (von Hippel-Lindau disease). In late 2013 I was diagnosed with the disease after tumors started to show up in both kidneys as well as my spine, along with liver cysts. It forced a dramatic change in lifestyle for me and came as a shock to my family and myself, since I had been very healthy my entire life. Still, I decided early on that I wasn’t going to allow it to stop me from graduating on time. It required a lot of strength and support from my family, friends and school (I’m an alum of Chestnut Hill College, so shout out to them for being so accommodating!) but despite all those obstacles I graduated in May 2015 alongside my fellow classmates and friends. I was even awarded the Lynette S. Bishop Medal of Valor at graduation, which is an award for those who go above and beyond in their pursuit of higher education, but I always tell people my then boyfriend, now husband, earned that medal alongside me for his unwavering support and dedication to helping me achieve my dreams.
What was it like to hear that you were cancer-free?
When we finally received the news that the tumors were gone and there were no signs of cancer, it felt like I could breathe again. I spent so much time worrying about what the next appointment might reveal and how to finish school that I forgot what it was like to truly relax. So when they said there was nothing on my scans I realized it was time to start making the changes in my life I needed to, so I could recover from the mental and physical side effects of treatment.
What was it about The Sisterhood that prompted you to sign up?
As soon as I was leaving treatment, my doctors urged me to get on a regular exercise plan and someone suggested I look into Pilates. Robin’s beginner series was one of the first programs I tried and I immediately fell in love with the message of living a balanced life. I joined The Sisterhood after the Pilates Body Challenge in March of last year, because I wanted that support system telling me it was okay to have bad days and that there wasn’t a need to be “perfect”, and to remind me that it is about my personal journey, which is exactly what The Sisterhood has done for me.
After battling cancer and then being cleared to exercise, what were the initial challenges you faced resuming exercise? How were you able to overcome these challenges?
The initial issue was creating a habit of consistency because I hadn’t been making exercise a part of my life for so long. The hardest part though was facing the urge to give up when I felt like I couldn’t achieve my goals. I needed to overcome the negative voices inside before I could do anything else.
It was Robin and The Sisterhood that helped me overcome those challenges!
Robin’s realistic approach to working out, and her 10-minute videos, gave me the perfect starting place for building consistency, which then lead to a healthier body so I could achieve my goals. The support from my fellow Sisters helped me get back up on those days I said I couldn’t do it anymore and without them I think I would have most definitely quit early on.
In my life, Pilates not only provides physical benefits, but also mental benefits. Have you experienced this? What does that look like for you?
Pilates helped me overcome the mindset I developed during treatment that said I would never do the things I wanted to do again. I’ve always been an avid runner, and when I first got diagnosed I convinced myself I would never race again. Through my time in The Sisterhood I learned to peel that layer off and instead say, “what can I do today, even if it’s something little, to achieve my goals?” So I would walk for 10 minutes a day, then when I felt ready, I would jog for 20 minutes a day and now, a year later, I’m training for a half marathon! It took little steps, sometimes all I had was the energy for 10 minutes, but without that change in mindset I wouldn’t have dared to try.
So now I try to carry Robin’s philosophy of building off of “ just 10 minutes” into other aspects of my life as well. When I wanted to build on my skills as an artist, I decided to try 10-minute daily projects, which I used to not only improve my skills, but learn new ones as well. I’ve since then seen myself grow so much quicker than I anticipated because I’ve build a consistent art practice the same way I build a consistent exercise practice.
The Balanced Life Sisterhood is all about empowering women to approach health & fitness with a balanced mindset. How do you handle the pressure as a woman to look or act a certain way?
I rely on the fantastic women I’ve been able to surround myself with since I joined The Sisterhood. I think as a woman, the best thing you can do is surround yourself with a tribe of women who will build you up and remind you that there is no one way to “be a woman”. We all have those days where we stare too long in the mirror or compare ourselves to Instagram posts or magazine covers, but when you have a tribe of women to support you, you’ll always have someone there to remind you that those images are not what being healthy and happy are about!
What advice would you give woman who is thinking about joining The Sisterhood?
I would say that no matter what stage of life you’re in, if you’re a newbie to Pilates like I was or a teacher of Pilates, if you’re a busy stay at home mom, career mom or not a mom at all, whatever background it is you come from, that none of it matters in The Sisterhood, because we welcome all women in all stages of life with open and loving arms! This is a place where you will find unlimited support and inspiration to carry you through whatever phase of your personal journey you’re currently on!
Thank you so much, Chelsea! We are so grateful to have you in our community.
Pilates can truly be life-changing and for those of you who feel like just getting started is an uphill battle, I hope Chelsea’s story inspires you to just start where you are.
Chelsea is a watercolor artist and her artwork and current projects can be found by visiting her personal website: chelseaswalker.com. You can also find out more information about her genetic disorder,von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL), as well as ways to help, by visiting: https://vhl.org/.