Breast cancer survivor Courtney Kapp translates personal passions into advocacy.
By Diana Price
The personal pursuits that led breast cancer survivor Courtney Kapp through treatment—yoga and hiking—continue to inspire her as she brings her passions to other survivors and raises funds for breast cancer research in the process.
“Yoga and hiking both work for me personally, so sort of selfishly I worked within that infrastructure,” is the way Courtney describes her desire to work her love for yoga and hiking into advocacy for breast cancer. But selfish is hardly the word for a woman who is clearly dedicated to and obviously passionate about raising money and awareness for breast cancer research.
Forty years old when she was diagnosed with infiltrating lobular carcinoma after discovering a lump in her right breast during a self exam, Courtney’s youngest child, Peter was only 18 months old (her elder son Harrison was three, and daughter Natalie was five) when she was delivered the news.
Her diagnosis was followed by a needle aspiration, lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy and finally by a bilateral mastectomy. She underwent four rounds of AC chemotherapy, four rounds of Taxol (all 21 days apart), five years of tamoxifen and Lupron ovarian ablation. Now, four years out from treatment, Courtney’s focus on cancer has switched from treatment to treating the issue of funding and awareness of the disease.
When she was able to put her energy toward advocacy work, Courtney’s decision to prioritize her personal passions and her family continued to inspire her as they had throughout her treatment. It is these passions that she follows today as an advocate.
Her first step into advocacy came through the personal benefit—both physical and mental—that she found through her own yoga practice during and directly after treatment. A powerful source of healing during her own recovery, Courtney was inspired to bring yoga to other survivors. She joined forces with her yoga instructor, Jennifer Schelter, and approached Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), a Philadelphia-based breast cancer advocacy organization, and together they created “Yoga Unites for Living Beyond Breast Cancer” a now annual community-wide yoga event that raises awareness and funds for breast cancer.
In 2003, in its first year, nearly 500 men, women and children came together on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to participate in a 90-minute yoga class. Since its founding the event has raised $40,000 for Living Beyond Breast Cancer programs, with attendance growing every year. Courtney says of the event, “the photo (opposite page) tells all. The event creates an opportunity for empowerment through the spirit of so many like-minded individuals. “LBBC is an amazing and unique organization in the area of providing information and support for women with breast cancer and focusing on ‘quality of life’ of the survivor.”
And the same energy that Courtney channeled into yoga, she also delivered into her passion for hiking, which led her to The Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research (see story pages 80-83). She helped develop the “Five Peaks in Five Years” initiative for that organization and has climbed three of Idaho’s highest peaks herself as part of the team (Mt. Borah in 2003, Thompson Peak in the summer of 2004 and Hyndman Peak in 2005) and will climb Ryan Peak this summer. The summit of Thompson Peak was reached in a blinding snowstorm and 40mph winds—totally freak weather for Idaho’s generally mild summer season—but the experience did nothing to slow Courtney down.
Ultimately, the trail that has led Courtney to her current position as an advocate has at times been as steep and as unforgiving as the rocky faces of the Idaho peaks she loves so much. And while she protests that her story is “nothing special,” her efforts—combined with the dedication of the organizations she has chosen to embrace—are an inspiring example of how a patient can become a powerful advocate. There is no question that her efforts have resulted in substantial funds directed toward cancer research and incalculable benefits for the survivors and their loved ones who have gained inspiration from the events she has spearheaded. After all, who better to carry the torch—or the yoga mat or hiking staff, for that matter—for the women who are to come after?