“Sometimes you survive it, and sometimes you don’t. I’ve survived it twice,” says June Kahn of her battles with cancer. The choreographer of Curves Dance and Tone class* isn’t claiming superhero status, just stating a fact. And it is with humility that Kahn credits her doctors, the love and support of friends and family, and ongoing physical activity—walking, hiking, and teaching fitness classes—for helping her win those battles.
The year was 1998. Kahn was visiting a dear friend who had undergone chemo treatments for lymphoma. One day the friend spotted an odd-looking mole on Kahn’s back and told her about it. Kahn consulted with a dermatologist who thought it might be nothing more than an infected mole. He removed it and sent it for testing. “Ten days later, the results came back positive. On a scale of 1 to 5, I was a 4.5,” recalls Kahn. “I almost passed out on the examination table.”
The cancer had gone deep, and surgery was required to remove all of the lymph nodes on Kahn’s left side from her arm to her hip. Fortunately the nodes tested clean, and no radiation or chemo was needed. Kahn’s been free of melanoma ever since.
The Next Opponent
To endure cancer once in a lifetime is more than enough for anyone to have to bear, but for Kahn there would be more. At a routine gynecologist exam in the fall of 2010, Kahn’s doctor discovered a tumor the size of a grape in her groin area. The diagnosis came back follicular lymphoma, unrelated to the melanoma. This was a new cancer, and treatment meant 18 months of chemotherapy.
Self-employed as a Pilates trainer and fitness educator and instructor in Boulder, Colorado, Kahn lost her health coverage when her insurance company claimed the cancer was pre-existing, so Kahn took a full-time job with a gym, working 50 to 60 hours a week while getting chemo.
And so began the second fight for her life.
“There’s no getting around it—cancer treatment sucks,” says Kahn. “You’re hooked up to an IV that pumps toxins into your body. It’s horrible. But I never stopped teaching--ever. Sometimes I’d be so sick from the treatment, I would just lie on the floor, but when I was in front of a class, I felt like a million bucks. Teaching forced me to be in the present. I couldn’t think about my cancer.”
Even when she wasn’t teaching, Kahn was moving—walking, dancing, hiking. “I climbed a fourteener [14,000-foot mountain] when I was going through chemo,” Kahn confesses. “Movement put me in the moment. I had to think about the right now, and that totally saved me.” With lots of regular activity; the love of family, friends, and students; and a positive outlook and approach, Kahn beat the lymphoma. Today she is two years cancer free and feels grateful for her struggle.
“When you’re done with chemo and you’ve beaten the cancer, your body goes through a whole resurgence. And so does your approach to life. Something very beautiful happens,” says Kahn. “I feel very lucky. What I’ve gone through has made me stronger and taught me to slow down, be in the present, and enjoy life.”
Kahn’s experience with cancer ignited a desire to help others, and now, in addition to guiding Curves members through the Dance and Tone class,* she is a certified cancer exercise specialist.
Having battled two cancers, does she worry that a third is in her future? “I live as healthy a lifestyle as I can, but there is always a risk,” she says. “Do I worry about it? No, I try to be in the moment, living life to its fullest.” And if someday, she were faced with another cancer diagnosis? “I would be lying if I said I’d be surprised, but I’d also be a bit taken back in that moment; however, I’m confident my response would be, ‘Well, here we go again--the fight begins now.’
“I won’t succumb to negativity,” says Kahn. “I am a fighter, and cancer is not the death sentence that it used to be. With all of the research, new treatments, my excellent oncologist, and the love of family and friends, I would fight it again and not let it take me down.”
And that’s something beautiful.
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