Breathing as one

Veterans and those new to yoga gathered Sunday to unite in the fight against lung cancer and breathe as one.

The inaugural Free to Breathe Yogathon at Descanso Gardens raised funds for the National Lung Cancer Partnership to support research, education and awareness programs. As yoga places its focus on breath, organizers said it was the perfect choice for the event because lung cancer robs its victims of the ability to breathe.

Many of those rolling out their yoga mats in Van de Kamp Hall were co-workers of event organizer Stephanie Gatschet of Burbank and star of daytime drama “All My Children.” Others attending were fans of the show and people Gatschet has met through her affiliation with the partnership.

“Today exceeded my expectations,” Stephanie Gatschet said. “That 60 people showed up in the rain blew me away. I felt we were all in it together.”

Almost everyone finished the 108 sun salutation poses led by instructors Sommer Thome, who teaches at Yoga Blend in Burbank, and Nicole Sciacca.

“The cause is what kept us going” Gatschet said. “I can only hope it’s this good next year.”

Her mother—and inspiration—Nancy Gatschet, a lung cancer survivor, came in from Philadelphia to help her daughter with the event. She was diagnosed in 2006 and is now cured, she said.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women and men in the United States, according to the National Lung Cancer Partnership. It takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. However, federal research funding for lung cancer lags behind many common cancers and diseases. The mission of the National Lung Cancer Partnership is to decrease deaths due to lung cancer and help patients live longer.

“Survival is low but we can change that through awareness,” Stephanie Gatschet said.

The partnership hopes to raise funds for research so that eventually there will be a way to detect lung cancer early, Nancy Gatschet said. The partnership has also served as an advocate to get care for patients who are not referred for treatment.

An example was one patient named Doris. At 93, she was diagnosed for a third time with lung disease. She couldn’t find a doctor who would treat her, Nancy Gatschet said.

“We found her a doctor through the partnership,” she said. “He told us ‘from her evaluation, I can tell she has a lot of life left.’

Those participating in Sunday’s yogathon were doing so in honor of family members in the midst of their battle with lung cancer and remembering those who had lost it. The names on signs pinned to their backs read —My Dad Brian, Nancy and Roger, My Daddy.

A contingent of women from the Mrs. California United States Pageant included Janice Ward, 42, of Santa Monica, who lost her mother to lung cancer five years ago. The pageant team had raised more than $250 for the yogathon through donations made to its website.

“Our job as advocates is to spread the awareness that lung cancer can affect anyone,” she said.

Even those who don’t smoke can become victims, like Christy Bell’s mother, who has been battling lung cancer for five years.Her mother never smoked, Bell said.

Another pageant contestant Julie Winkle of Santa Clarita lost her uncle to lung cancer.

“I’m here in memory of my uncle who died at age 51 of lung cancer,” she said. “He died three months after he was diagnosed.”

Several cast members from “All My Children” attended the event, including Jill Larson, who plays Opal, and Cameron Mathison, of La Cañada Flintridge, who plays Ryan.

Larson lost her aunt three weeks ago and a close friend in 2009 to lung cancer, she said.

“The yogathon is allowing me to release some of the pain and mourning of losing them,” she said.

Mathison is a big believer in meditation and also does hiking, swimming and boot-camp fitness, he said.

“It was a whole different type of workout, making sure you breathe in and out at the right times,” he said. “It’s nice to combine meditation with a physical workout.”

Actress Alexandra Chando, a close friend of Stephanie Gatschet, was running the registration table for the yogathon. Her uncle passed away in October, a victim of lung cancer.

“The yogathon was a great idea. A lot of causes do runs and walks,” she said. “Yoga is a craze right now, but it’s something everyone can do. It deals with energy. You are doing it as a unit. You are putting out good vibes and energy for the cause.”

Donations to the yogathon will be accepted for two more months by visiting

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