Jodeen Revere relaxes on Wild Root Cafe’s outside patio in Downtown Boise. It’s one of her favorite haunts, just down the street from Sage Yoga and Wellness, one of the Boise studios where she teaches vinyasa and other yoga styles.
“I love this place,” she says. “The food is awesome, and so healthy, and my daughter (Lily Yasuda) works here, which is a plus.”
The mind-body practice is at the core of Revere’s life. She embraced its power to change her perceptions of and her interactions with the world more than 20 years ago, but she never knew it would become the root of her survival during her most trying crisis — her battle against breast cancer.
Her elegantly angular features expand and soften into a serene smile. This will turn out to be one of the last warm days of September, an unspoken fact that Revere appears to absorb in her every molecule, drinking her tea and savoring the feel of the sun moment to moment. Now, the post-cancer Revere doesn’t take anything for granted.
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“There is a poignant sharpness to how beautiful my life is that brings me to tears every day,” she says. “As horrible as it was, I would not have skipped that experience for anything in the world. Not for anything. What I learned about myself — the reserves I had to pull up — brought me to a place where I’m stronger, healthier, sexier than I’ve ever been in my life. At 54 years of age, I’m grounded in a way I’ve never felt before.”
The daughter of 1960s rocker and longtime musical showman Paul Revere, Jodeen Revere grew up in Idaho. She studied acting and dance, taught some dance and aerobics, and worked a variety of jobs, but she didn’t find her calling until she took her first yoga class.
She was 32 and living in Los Angeles with her then-husband David Yasuda. She worked a “grunt of a grunt horrible job” at Paramount Studios, where a small gym on the lot offered yoga classes. She dropped in one day.
“At the end of class, I was laying in (the corps pose) in a pool of tears,” Revere remembers. “I got up and walked outside, and it was like I was on hallucinogenics. I was like, ‘How did I miss this?’”
It changed everything.
“I have many friends through yoga and our tagline is, ‘Yoga will mess you up.’ If you really start doing yoga, you will get divorced, end your relationships, quit your job, move and completely and utterly explode your life because you become different at your core. And that’s exactly what happened.”
The pre-yoga Revere was like a character from “Seinfeld,” she says, endlessly cynical, bitter and ironic, endlessly complaining, “always, always, always complaining.”
Her yoga practice eventually transformed that into “breath.”
“Yoga makes you get inside your body,” Revere says. “You connect with your breath and start to get comfortable in your skin. It lowers your blood pressure and gives you a different lens to see the world through. In a way, it makes everything real and allows you to deal with things that are hard — like having cancer.”
The first lump
It was tiny. Less than pea-size. But it was real, too real, especially when she found out it was malignant.
“It’s so weird. It was not there, and then it was — in a matter of a day,” she says.
After the shock, she propelled herself into action, reading what she could, meditating and thinking about what she wanted for her body, mind and spirit. And being an unconventional woman, she first decided on an unconventional approach.
“Hearing those words, ‘You have breast cancer’ is the scariest thing in the world,” she says. “Everything you read tells you something different. ‘It’s always like this. Or no, it’s never like that.’ If you choose to not do it (chemo), you’re essentially committing suicide. But the thought of doing that stuff scared me worse than having cancer.”
Revere took inspiration from Kris Carr and her “Crazy Sexy Cancer” book and documentary that chronicled Carr’s radical approach to her own stage IV cancer diagnosis. Carr embraced a holistic approach to healing.
That’s what Revere wanted. She decided to forgo chemotherapy in favor of making a dramatic change in her diet and lifestyle.
“I felt that if I get myself super healthy, and we take the lump out, that it would be OK,” Revere says. “And if it’s not OK, then we’ll make another decision.”
The first hurdle was to get her doctor on board, but she discovered that to be more difficult than she anticipated when she didn’t get the answer she expected from her doctor.
“It’s not like I walked in there and said, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’ she says. “I explained what I was thinking and feeling — but he literally eye-rolled and sneered at me and started using the word death. I was so mad when I left his office, I couldn’t see straight.”
She eventually found a doctor who would more fully listen to her concerns in Dan Zuckerman, an oncologist and the medical director at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute.
“He is the sweetest, most knowledgeable and respectful man,” Revere says. “He heard everything I said. He said, ‘Yes, everything you’re doing is fantastic. My job is to tell you the other options, but I totally respect your decision.’ ”
Zuckerman put her on an estrogen blocker and supported her choice to radically change her lifestyle.
“I was pretty radical, in a way I don’t operate anymore,” she says.
She cut out dairy, processed foods and sugar. She focused on grass-fed and organic meats, lots of filtered water, and she “upped the veggies to a gigantic degree,” she says. She bought a juicer and drank two green juices and a protein smoothie daily.
“I did flax seeds, chia seeds, cod liver oil, millions of vitamins and supplements and lost 15 pounds in five weeks while I ate like a horse,” she says. “I was super healthy, and then six months later I found another lump in the same breast. It was just the same. It was not there, and then it was. That was two weeks after my 50th birthday.”
It’s rare that a patient comes along and declines the standard therapies, but doctors are seeing more patients who also want to employ alternative methods in their treatment, Zuckerman says.
And medical treatments have changed with the times to incorporate some ancient traditions such as acupuncture, massage and herbs.
“When I was in medical school 20 years ago, we called it alternative medicine, then it evolved into complementary medicine, now we call it integrated medicine,” Zuckerman says. “You can hear in the terms how it has come to reflect the attitudes of most practicing conventional doctors today. These are therapies that complement the standard practices of surgery, chemo and radiation.”
And with the new lump, Revere’s attitude had to shift.
“I was like, ‘OK, let’s bring out the big guns now,’ ” Revere says. “‘I can do this.’ I took a breath and went back in and, yes, it was cancerous, and we (had) to do a mastectomy. ‘I can do this.’”
She had a mastectomy to remove her right breast in August 2012.
“I was healthier than I’ve been in my entire life,” Revere says. “I took a month off (of teaching) ... that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I remember weeping when I did my first downward dog,” she says about returning to her class.
In October, she started chemotherapy drugs to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body.
For Revere, the chemo took three days before it hit. “Then I felt absolutely horrible,” she says. “It’s like you’re dying. You’re really sick — or I was — for two days. But I never got sick to my stomach. I felt sick in my bones. It felt like they were being broken with a sledge hammer. I had never felt such physical pain. And then three days later, I was teaching a yoga class and felt fine.”
The physical trauma was coupled with a level of emotional pain she didn’t expect.
“I could feel all the effects of that stuff as it moved through my body,” Revere says. “I’ve talked with other people for whom this was not an issue. I felt like I was having an emotional nervous breakdown. I was absolutely crushed.”
That lasted a year, she says. Three years later and in remission, she finally feels that the residual effects of the treatment are starting to wane. And through it all, yoga has helped her cope and continues to help her thrive.
She still eats healthfully, though not as extreme as she once did. She teaches seven yoga classes each week and practices and teaches Thai-style massage. She’s also writing a blog, “That’s Me in the Corner: Musings on this Life From a Giant-hearted, Cancer Surviving Yogini,” about her experience and finding ways to help others facing cancer through her practice.
“I can’t imagine going through this without yoga,” she says. “When you’re able to sit in those moments (and) you feel like you’re going to die ... I know it’s going to change. That grip is going to loosen, and I’m going to step back into my life.”
In some ways her experience with cancer seems far away, but it’s also as close as her next breath, she says.
“You think you can live your life, like, ‘Oh, yeah, someday I’ll do that.’ All of a sudden you’ve been pushed to the front of the line, and you can’t think that way anymore. I have no concept of if I’m going to be alive in 10 years, or five years. I don’t know if I’m going to be around in a year. Before cancer that never would have crossed my mind. It’s not a worried obsessive thing, but it sits right there,” she says touching her shoulder. “When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thing I think: ‘Oh, yeah, OK. Thank you.’ And when I go to bed, I say thank you for another day.”
Jodeen Revere’s advice for dealing with a cancer diagnosis
▪ Do your own research and get opinions from other doctors and specialists. The information around cancer is changing constantly. Everyone’s cancer experience is unique to them, as is their response to treatment. There is no template for how it works or what the outcome will be. It is yours alone, so you have to find what feels right for you.
▪ I strongly suggest you find a bridge between traditional medicine and alternative treatments. It is not an either or, but a combination of the two. The added treatments that I sought out were regular acupuncture, massage and colon cleanse.
▪ Do everything you can to support your immune system health. Eat organic, clean food as much as possible. Drink lots of pure filtered water. Avoid processed foods, dairy and sugar.
▪ Exercise. One of the most important things you can do is move. Walk, do yoga, dance, run, cycle. You don’t need to run a marathon, but move every day — except when you are in the stretch of time after chemo or radiation when you are blasted. Rest for a few days and then gradually incorporate movement back into your routine.
▪ Surround yourself with people who love you and then be willing to receive what they have to offer. Be honest about how you are feeling, and give yourself permission to step away from relationships and situations that suck your energy and time, or anything that feels depleting. Just say “no.” Life is too damn short.
Jodeen Revere’s tips for navigating chemo
▪ It generally takes three days after chemo for it to knock you out, so plan to take days four and five off. You will probably be feeling functional again by day six.
▪ Allow yourself to be still and quiet when you feel awful. Don’t try to power through it. Chemo blasts your body; it needs to be able to recover and you must assist the process.
▪ Sleep, be quiet, but don’t try to distract yourself from how you are feeling. Soak it up. It is a fascinating — and hard and not fun — process, but it’s important to experience what your body is going through.
▪ Feed yourself well. Your appetite and taste buds may be way off, so food can taste awful. Don’t cave into junk food. It is important to consume a larger amount of protein to help the body to recover.
▪ Take time to meditate, or do breath work or gentle Yin yoga or tai chi. Focus on movement that demands you be present in the moment and that quiets the mind.
We’ve gone pink — and more
You might remember that for several years each October, we printed an entire day’s Idaho Statesman on pink paper in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and included stories in that day’s edition about breast cancer and Idahoans fighting the disease.
Over the years, many of you wrote in asking us to focus on other types of cancers, too, and to highlight more Treasure Valley residents who have faced the personal struggles that the disease — in all of its forms — brings.
So we are doing something different this year. Each Sunday in October, we’ll feature personal stories and more about screenings and treatment in the Explore section — covering several types of cancer. We also will have stories about some of the Treasure Valley groups that are working to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients.
Our aim with these stories is to raise community awareness. The Idaho Statesman also will continue to support our community by donating at least $10,000 to local charities and research.
And we are sticking with the pink paper on some of the pages in this section. We hope it reminds you to get your screenings and to focus on your health — all year long.
▪ On page 14D: Learn about the Boise State chapter of Love Your Melon. Nationally, this organization blends business and compassion. For every hat you buy, a child with cancer also gets a hat and more.
▪ On page 15D: About 120 of Marcia Panattoni’s family members and friends gathered for a Celebration of Life in September. It was a chance to say goodbye to Marcia before she passed.
Dr. Dan Zuckerman’s advice for coping with cancer
▪ Bring a friend of family member when you talk with your doctor. It’s helpful to have another set of ears.
▪ Slow down and take your time. It’s rare that cancer is an emergency. Most of the time you have time to think about the options, get a second opinion and really think through what you want to do. Most of the regrets I hear are when people make decisions too fast. Don’t be ruled by panic.
▪ Be organized. Do yourself and your doctor a favor, and write out your questions and concerns. Start a file where you can keep all your notes and thoughts. Bring a recorder to your consultations, so you can go back and listen to it when you’re less stressed. Please ask permission of your doctor (before recording).
▪ Ask about clinical trials. Most cancer centers will offer trials for many cancers. Sometimes standard of care is the best option, but sometimes cutting-edge therapies for difficult-to-treat cancers are only available through clinical trials. For example, at MSTI we have a trial called NCI-MATCH, the largest trial in the country, in which patients’ tumors are biopsied, then genomically-sequenced and then paired to targeted drug therapy against the specific mutations.
▪ Live your life. Become educated about your cancer and active in your care, but don’t let cancer dominate your whole life, as scary as it may be. Enjoy your family and friends and try to keep a sense of normalcy going. It will help you cope both physically and emotionally.
Dr. Dan Zuckerman is an oncologist and the medical director at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute. Learn more about St. Luke’s MSTI at stlukesonline.org and search for MSTI.