As a breast oncologist, Amy Comander saw first-hand how the financial stress of her patients’ diagnoses impacted their treatment and recovery. So, she decided to step out of the box and support those affected by breast cancer through yoga.
On Sunday, April 24, Comander gathered patients, friends, local residents, and medical professionals for a yoga class on the green outside The Street Chestnut Hill shopping center that raised over $20,000 for the Ellie Fund, a Newton-based organization providing financial support for breast cancer patients.
Comander currently serves as an oncologist at Newton Wellesley Hospital and director of breast oncology and cancer survivorship at the Mass General Cancer Center in Waltham. In her day-to-day caring for breast cancer patients from the time of diagnosis throughout treatment, she said she noticed how some patients’ essential needs can slip through the cracks when they are first diagnosed with cancer.
“Many of our patients, when faced with a new diagnosis of breast cancer, are very overwhelmed and certainly need a lot of support, whether that’s when they’re embarking on treatment, whether that’s support for transportation to appointments, assistance with childcare,” Comander said in an interview. “I hate to say it, but it’s expensive to have a new diagnosis of cancer.”
After seeing how the Ellie Fund assisted her patients — one was a young woman with a 2-year-old who was able to get chemotherapy without the stress of needing to find and pay for childcare — she decided to get involved and met with Executive Director Meredith Mendelson. Comander now sits on the board of directors at the Ellie Fund and said she ran the Boston Marathon in October 2021 and April to help raise money for the organization.
“This will be my ninth year running the Boston Marathon to support different charities,” she said before April 18 event. “So, when I was thinking about which organization I want to run for this year and just seeing the immense benefits this organization has provided to so many of my own patients, it was really a no-brainer.”
The Ellie Fund’s mission is to reduce the emotional and financial stress for men and women who have been affected by breast cancer, according to its website, www.elliefund.org. For Massachusetts residents or those who are receiving treatment in the state, according to the organization’s website, the Ellie Fund has spent the last 25 years providing integrative and individualistic therapy services. Some of these services include grocery pickup, light housekeeping, and therapy outside of regular medical treatment for symptom management.
Mendelson said patients and their families are the organization’s main priority.
“Typically with our women, we know that they can’t truly focus on their own health until they make sure their chicks are all taken care of, and that’s just the way women are wired as caregivers,” Mendelson said in an interview. “So, imagine being sick and having to prepare a meal or going out to grocery shop.”
Mendelson said she thinks the Ellie Fund has helped ease the “nightmare” and the financial toxicity for patients who have had to undergo treatment during a pandemic.
“Breast cancer is like the second highest form of bankruptcy of all cancers,” Mendelson said. “It’s a very expensive disease to treat, so households fall apart. People choose between feeding their families or medicine.”
Dr. Beverly Moy, clinical director of the Breast Oncology Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, said a lot is asked from patients — whether it be going to appointments or getting scans — which creates a huge burden.
“If you are at all in a vulnerable group, such as patients who are in poverty or have some social complexities or barriers, it is especially hard for those patients to get treatment,” Moy said in an interview.
She said in situations of life or death, organizations like the Ellie Fund step in to help make patients feel “full again” by providing financial and social assistance to lessen the burden of getting consistent treatment.
“They rely 100 percent on philanthropy,” she said. “Having events like this and raising awareness about their mission is an incredibly important thing.”
Certified Iyengar yoga instructor Susan Mulski, who previously helped Comander hold a similar event last year, taught the class outside the shopping center at Chestnut Hill on April 24.
“I think also what’s wonderful about surrounding yourself with people with this positive energy, like Amy and these other organizers, is that it really does pick you up and empower you,” Mulski said in an interview. “So since then, I’ve learned about the Ellie Fund, and it really has touched everyone in some way.”
Comander said yoga was a perfect way to promote physical activity and cater to the needs of her patients.
“There’s good evidence that regular physical activity lowers the risk of breast cancer,” she said. “So for me, promoting physical activity, supporting breast cancer, supporting my patients — it all kind of ties together.”
A group of approximately 25 people participated in the hour-and-a-half event, as people walking by asked about the Ellie Fund and even joined in to participate. Nearby stores such as the clothing store J McLaughlin donated merchandise to be raffled off, she said, and Down Under Yoga donated a one-month membership as a prize for attendees.
Mendelson said the community aspect of the event is what really mattered at the end of the day.
“I think it’s about a collective kind of sigh of relief together as a community saying, ‘You know, this is hard. Breast cancer is really hard,’” Mendelson said. “The strength in numbers means that you’re not carrying this burden by yourself.”
If you or a loved one you know is in need of services related to breast cancer support, please contact the Ellie Fund at 781-449-0100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Alanis ‘Laney’ Broussard can be reached at email@example.com.