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Descanso Yogathon to raise funds for lung cancer group

Most people selectively remain in the dark about lung cancer until, by a twist of fate, they are forced to learn. For Stephanie Gatschet, that moment came in 2006, when her mother and best friend, Nancy, was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer.

“Now I know more about lung cancer than I ever thought I would know or hope to know,” said Gatschet, a 27-year-old Burbank resident and star of ABC’s daytime drama “All My Children.”

Gatschet’s mother pulled through treatment and today remains cancer free. So far, she’s beaten tremendous odds. A vast majority of lung cancer patients — nearly 85%—will die from the disease. Today, both mother and daughter are advocates who host events to raise awareness and funds in support of lung cancer. This month, that mission will come to La Cañada.

Gatschet is organizing a “Free to Breathe” Yogathon to be held March 20 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Descanso Gardens, and she’s invited her “All My Children” co-star, Cameron Mathison, to join her. The event, which will raise funds for the National Lung Cancer Partnership, is looking for registrants as well as community sponsors.

Participants will perform 108 rounds of the “sun salutation,” a flowing series of yoga poses that change with each breath and are designed to warm and stretch the entire body.

Free to Breathe events, held nationwide, are designed to bring together lung cancer patients, survivors and family members who know or may have lost someone to lung cancer. Some events take the form of races, walks or golf events, but Gatschet saw yoga as the perfect activity for LA residents and in support of lung cancer awareness.

“It’s an appropriate activity because of the focus on the breath,” Gatschet said. “We just want people to breathe together. I think that’s beautiful and symbolic.”

All members of the community, including those unfamiliar with yoga, are encouraged to come out, partake in a yoga session in support of the cause or learn more about lung cancer, the deadliest form of cancer in both men and women.

The American Cancer Society predicted that in 2010, an estimated 222,520 Americans would be diagnosed with lung or bronchial cancer and as many as 157,300 men and women would die from it. Despite its association with smoking, about 10% to 15% of people living with lung cancer are not smokers or have never smoked.

Because of the low survival rate and the stigma attached to lung cancer, support groups for the disease are few and far between, said Regina Vidaver, executive director of the National Lung Cancer Partnership.

“Patients and their families often feel isolated in their fight,” she said. “Free to Breathe (events) give survivors, those who come to support them and those who come to remember loved ones lost a way to unite and feel they are part of the movement against lung cancer,” Vidaver said.

That’s exactly why West Hollywood resident Jenna Bryant, 22, is bringing her yoga mat to Descanso March 20. She lost her father, Bill Bryant, in 2006 when she was 18. He was an orthopedic surgeon who never smoked and lived an amazing three years after being diagnosed with advanced stage III lung cancer. He was 52 when he died.

“The relationship I was able to have with my dad for the 18 years he was with me was something most children don’t have in a lifetime,” she said. “It was his spirit that kept him alive.”

Since then, Jenna Bryant has been an advocate for lung cancer awareness and raising important funds to find new treatments. When she first met Gatschet through the Partnership, she appreciated talking to someone who’d shared her own harrowing journey. Now, she wants to reach out to others and raise funds to help people like her father have more time with the ones they love.

“I have to hope this can help save a life,” she said of the Yogathon. “Or at least calm the mind of another teenager who is going through what I went through.”

Registration begins at 9 a.m.; costs range from $25 to $30. For more information about the “Free to Breathe” Yogathon, or to register as a participant or community sponsor, visit