Linda McCaleb never thought she would do yoga.

“I have to be honest—I was kind of intimidated by it,” McCaleb said. “I thought, ‘I have seen those poses and that’s nothing I can do.’”

About six months after her breast cancer returned in 2016, a friend invited her to join the yoga class for patients at Spectrum Health Cancer Center at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

She soon found herself hooked.

“It really helps,” McCaleb said. “It’s not anything that you can’t do. And (the instructor) modifies it to fit your body or your pain.”

Along with her body feeling stronger and better, McCaleb’s mood improved.

“It helps me focus on something beyond my pain and beyond my issues,” she said. “I go beyond myself and I look into nature and what God has done for me. Now I can see beauty and something other than focusing on the negativity and the pain.”

She attended the in-person class for years at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

When COVID-19 struck, organizers had to cancel the class.

But McCaleb missed yoga.

Even more, she missed the camaraderie of her fellow classmates, who she now called friends. And she wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Instructor Denise Karsen started hearing from class participants.

“They were emailing me and saying how much they missed it and asking, ‘What can we do?’” Karsen said.

Karsen’s husband helped her create four virtual classes, which she posted on YouTube for anytime access.

“I was trying to figure out how to continue with an online presence,” she said.

But Karsen, McCaleb and others felt it just wasn’t the same.

They still missed one another.

That’s when Karsen worked with technology partners at Lemmen-Holton to create a live virtual class, allowing participants to safely attend class via Zoom in the comfort of their own homes.

Now McCaleb can see Karsen and the other students.

At the end of each yoga session, they gather for their usual conversations.

“That’s what I missed the most, the social camaraderie,” McCaleb said. “I missed them. Even though we can’t be together in person, we can still see each other and we can still talk and laugh together. I’m grateful that we are able to do it through Zoom.”

Better still, McCaleb can now attend both classes each week—Mondays at 4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.

Prior to this she only attended once a week because it required driving to downtown Grand Rapids.

Staying connected

McCaleb’s breast cancer diagnosis came in 2008.

She underwent a lumpectomy on her left breast and then radiation treatment.

Following that, she had an allergic reaction to the medications she’d been given to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

In 2016, a few months after she retired from her job as a paralegal, a mammogram showed the cancer had returned in her left breast.

She had a bilateral mastectomy and has now found a cancer-suppressing medication she can tolerate.

In the coming year, she’s looking forward to marking her five-year anniversary of being cancer-free.

As a result of her radiation treatment, McCaleb suffered numbness and muscle tightness on her left side.

The yoga has helped relieve it.

Karsen said the class focuses on restorative yoga, designed to alleviate stress and promote healing. They use deep breathing and gentle yoga poses—nothing too difficult or strenuous.

Paid for with a grant from the Spectrum Health Foundation, the class is free to participants.

It’s open to cancer patients and survivors. No prior yoga experience is required.

In addition to yoga, Karsen makes sure there’s time for socializing and supporting one another on their cancer journey.

“It’s been a wonderful way to keep our community connected and together, which I am so thrilled about,” Karsen said. “They all missed each other.”

The virtual class has been such a success that members are asking for it to continue as an option, even after in-person classes are possible again.

“It’s not the same as being in person, but it’s the next best thing,” Karsen said.