After breast cancer, pilates helped Ann Marie Turo, OTR/L, regain her strength and independence after breast cancer — and now she is helping others do the same, one pose at a time.
Turo, a yoga and Pilates instructor with the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living at Dana-Farber, teaches six classes a week for patients and survivors. First diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, when she was 31 and a full-time OT, Turo had a lumpectomy and partial mastectomy. Eleven years later, while fulfilling a longtime goal of becoming a trained Pilates teacher, she learned the cancer had returned to the same breast. Another partial mastectomy left her with such extreme chest and shoulder pain that she could not lift her arm to comb her hair or take milk from the refrigerator.
She got the OK from her surgeon to resume her Pilates training, and as she describes in her book, “It was the best thing for me then. It helped me regain my strength and the confidence to navigate the world after undergoing life-changing surgery and treatment … the opportunity to regain control over a body that had betrayed me as well as providing a safe and nurturing space to relax and focus on healing and recovery.”
The experience gave Turo a new life’s mission. She opened her own health and wellness studio in 2004, where she gears her yoga, Pilates, and other classes to people recovering from cancer and other medical challenges. In January 2015, she also began teaching at the Zakim Center, where she has quickly attracted a dedicated group of students.
“Ann Marie has a quiet way about her that helps people stay calm and focused,” says Diana Stork, a breast cancer survivor who regularly attends Turo’s classes at Dana-Farber. “She is an inspirational teacher whose students feel better and stronger — because of the classes she teaches and the person she is.”
Turo’s offerings are designed to help people at different stages of treatment and recovery. Chair yoga and chair Pilates are best for patients who are weak or dealing with balance issues caused by surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, while mat Pilates and hatha yoga are typically for stronger patients. Turo also teaches a hybrid class called “Yoga-Lates” and another for “energizing the feet.”
“Many patients make a natural progression through my classes as they progress through treatment,” says Turo, who also has more than 35 years of experience as an occupational therapist (OT) and is trained as a wellness advocate and Reiki master. “Often I will have several different people in the same class working at different levels. There is no competition like you sometimes see at health clubs; it’s a safe environment filled with camaraderie.”
Turo says she has become so familiar with the different challenges patients face that she can often accurately assess an individual’s treatment stage by how they walk into class, put down their gym bag, and get down into a pose. She may be quiet, but she is always watching – and watching out – for her students.