Breast Cancer Fundraising at The Pilates Collective

Most of us know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. When they sit down and tell us the news, it’s hard to know how we can be most supportive. We offer comforting words, home cooked meals, child care, and simply our company, but it rarely feels like enough.

This is exactly how Shannon Briese felt when her sister, Erin, was diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine’s Day 2018. “I automatically felt helpless and out of control,” said Shannon. “I realized how little control I have over my own fate, the fate of the people I love.” She asked herself how she could help, but she wanted to do more than offer to watch Erin’s kids, drive her to and from doctor’s appointments, and cook healthy meals for the family.

Being a spiritual person, Shannon sat down to meditate and asked the universe for guidance: “What can I do to help Erin with her care?” That was when she had her unique idea for breast cancer fundraising that evolved into Malas for Tatas.

The Importance of Self-Care

Shannon has been a massage therapist for an impressive 18 years. She started in the field because she wanted to help people take care of themselves, but she quickly noticed that most people thought of getting a massage (or other wellness treatments) as a luxury rather than as necessary maintenance.

“People don’t make themselves a priority until something has gone wrong,” she said. Shannon tries to educate her clients as to how a self-care routine does not necessarily equate to treating yourself to an extravagant spa day. Maintaining our physical health is a necessity, and we can all find ways to fold it into our lives in a sustainable — and affordable — way.

Shannon’s regular clients understood this: they’d see her to keep their bodies feeling great, for stress-relief, and as injury prevention. For clients who needed more physical support, especially those with chronic back pain, Shannon would refer them to Pilates studios in Denver. After a while, she wanted to fully understand Pilates, so she started taking regular classes. She immediately realized how valuable it was for her own sustainability. Being a massage therapist can be physically draining, and Pilates offered Shannon a way to correct imbalances and ensure she could be effective in her work without sacrificing herself.

Seeing that teaching Pilates would be a wonderful complement to the body work she offered her clients, Shannon underwent her certification and started teaching in 2007. In March of 2018, she started working at The Pilates Collective Denver.

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A Unique Breast Cancer Fundraising Idea

With Shannon’s wealth of expertise in wellness and self-care, she knew how important it was that Erin take excellent care of herself during treatment. However, she acknowledged the unfortunate truth that, “Cancer is expensive.” Self-care practices like acupuncture, lymphatic massage, and Pilates aren’t seen as essential, so they’re rarely covered by insurance. Shannon knew Erin wouldn’t spend money on these things for herself, especially not when she was juggling taking time off work, paying deductibles for treatment, and funding additional childcare.

Erin is also the exact kind of person who would benefit from a little extra self-care. She’s a nurse in the Denver Health Emergency Room, which, as the number one trauma hospital in the metro area, lends itself to a stressful work environment.

Shannon was attending her first mala making class with Sarita, owner of Tibetan Imports, when the idea struck for an unconventional kind of breast cancer fundraising: she’d make malas, sell them, and give her sister the money raised to fund supplemental care that would help calm the side effects of chemo.  

With permission from Erin, Shannon started transforming her breast cancer fundraiser idea into reality in March of 2018 (right around the time she started teaching at The Pilates Collective). She made malas, created an Instagram to use as an advertising platform, and talked to Clara (the owner of The Pilates Collective) about selling the necklaces at the studio. She was immediately met with an outpouring of support throughout her community. After 5 months, Shannon had raised enough money to cover reiki, lymphatic massage, and Pilates for Erin, which greatly aided her during chemotherapy.

Once Erin had benefited from her generous gift of self-care, she felt compelled to pay it forward to another woman in a situation like hers. Shannon similarly felt that the idea was bigger than just the two of them; she confided to her sister that it had the potential to become a full-fledge nonprofit. The two started brainstorming names, and Malas for Tatas was a clear winner the moment Erin suggested it.

The next step was to find a second recipient for donations. They asked around, and a fellow nurse at Denver Health nominated a woman named Jeannine. Like Erin, Jeannine has a taxing job working nights at the Denver Police Department. The mala making continued, and just before Christmas, Shannon and Erin were able to gift Jeannine about $2,000 to fund some seriously deserved self-care practices.

What is a Mala?

Being immersed in the wellness world, Shannon knew that malas were used as an aide for meditation. Rooted in Hindu tradition, each mala traditionally has 108 beads and is used in a similar way as a rosary. The meditator sits down with a prayer, mantra, or affirmation in mind. As they meditate, they repeat this mantra (either out loud or in their head) once for each of the 108 beads on the necklace. Even if the meditator can’t get through all 108 beads without their mind wandering, it’s ok; it’s a practice.

Shannon wants Malas for Tatas to benefit the person who purchases a mala as well as the people receiving donations. By purchasing a mala, one is invited to cultivate a meditation practice, which in turn can contribute to keeping them in good health.

Shannon saw in her first mala-making class how meditative it was to create malas as well. She realized this was a whole other side to the organization. To fulfill the demand for malas, Shannon needed to recruit more hands. She came up with the idea for beading parties during which she invites people to gather and make malas. The attendees have included breast cancer survivors who want to pay it forward, volunteers who want to get creative, or people who are making a mala for a future fundraising event. Shannon and a few volunteers guide people during these gatherings, offering suggestions on patterns and which stones to include in their piece.

She teaches the beading bash attendees about the meaning and power of various stones, how they might connect to certain chakras or energies. She hopes to open their minds to the healing power of meditation, prayer, and positive thinking, giving them the tools to start their own meditation practice as well.

After the brunch, Shannon and a few board members or friends check each mala carefully to ensure knots are tied properly and patterns are correct. They finish the necklaces off with a guru bead and tassel. Each mala made during a beading party is either sold via Instagram or in-person at The Pilates Collective, various boutiques, wellness centers, or trunk shows, and all benefits go towards the nominated recipient.

Malas for Tatas just decided on their third woman to receive donations: Anne, a single mother of twins. Shannon and Erin hope that the treatment funded by Malas for Tatas will give her some much-needed self-care.

Becoming a Nonprofit

In addition to the creation and sale of malas, Shannon hopes Malas for Tatas can grow into a full and supportive community. The group is in the process of building their website, and plan to include a list of providers both the donation recipients and others can turn to for wellness treatments. In addition to massage therapists and Pilates instructors, Shannon hopes the list will include meditation specialists, acupuncturists, lymphatic therapists, nutritionists, supplement experts, and more. She’d love if the practitioners could eventually offer the donation recipient a discount on their services as well.

In the meantime, Shannon is applying for Malas for Tatas to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. This status would allow people to make tax-deductible donations and open many other doors in terms of how the group can create an impact.

If you’re interested in purchasing a mala, visit Malas for Tatas’ Instagram. Shannon posts photos of new malas regularly along with some information about the piece, such as the stones and beads and the name the maker gave the necklace. To purchase, just comment on the photo of the mala you’re interested in. Stay tuned to their Instagram for information on future beading events as well. The next event, which is being held on February 24th, is full, but Shannon posts about upcoming events and how to reserve your spot.

If you’d like to start on your own self-care plan, contact us! Your first private Pilates session is free so you can see if it’s a good fit.  

Here’s to malas, to tatas, and to self-care for all!