North Texas Daily

Daughters of patients create ‘pink palace’ to help others

Daughters of patients create ‘pink palace’ to help others

October 08
01:52 2015

Julian Gill | Denton Record-Chronicle


Last year, when Carissa Latinen-Kniss found out that her mother, Sandra Latinen, was diagnosed with Stage 3.5 breast cancer, she thought to call only one person.

Khristen Pahler, her best friend, had seen the worst of breast cancer when her mother, Sharon Stanley, died from the disease in 2009. In the four years Pahler’s mom was terminal, Latinen-Kniss had been her support system. Now, it was Pahler’s turn to help her friend.

Latinen-Kniss recalls what Pahler said when she called her.

“It wasn’t an, ‘I’m sorry,’” Latinen-Kniss said. “It was like, ‘First, I’m going make you laugh because it’s not the end of the world. And second, your mom is sassy as hell and she’s going to kick cancer’s ass and now we’re going to kick cancer’s ass. And this is what we’re going to do.’”

Both women have become as close as sisters since they started Twisted Bodies Pilates and Yoga in 2008. They refer to their studio on Elm Street as the “pink palace” — most of the interior walls are painted pink. They offer traditional yoga and Pilates sessions but also focus on therapeutic rehabilitation training for women with breast cancer, specifically for those who have undergone a lumpectomy or mastectomy.

Pahler said the death of her mother sparked her devotion to the business, while Latinen-Kniss said her mother’s diagnosis has helped them “supercharge it.”

“After my mom died, I felt like there was a whole part of me that was gone,” Pahler said. “So I was kind of just in survival mode, and I just didn’t have anything because she was my best friend. So opening this place — it was life.”

Pahler and Latinen-Kniss met through their kids. They were frequently called to their children’s preschool when Pahler’s youngest daughter and Latinen-Kniss’ oldest boy would get caught snuggling during naptime.

They eventually got to know each other after scheduling play dates for their kids. Then in 2005, Pahler’s mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, and Latinen-Kniss didn’t see or hear from her friend.

“We weren’t even really that close of friends,” Latinen-Kniss said. “I just kind of pestered her.”

Twisted Bodies co-owner Khristen Pahler demonstrates a hip key hold during her class on Aerial Skills Monday October 5, 2015, in Denton, Tx. Photo by Al Key/DRC

Twisted Bodies co-owner Khristen Pahler demonstrates a hip key hold during her class on Aerial Skills. Photo by Al Key | DRC

When Latinen-Kniss found out about Pahler’s mother, she started asking Pahler if she wanted to join her for Pilates in the park. Although Latinen-Kniss already was a certified Pilates instructor, she trained Pahler for free because she wanted the practice. She also thought Pahler could use a physical release, she said.

But Pahler didn’t take Pilates seriously until her mother’s health declined significantly. Pahler started using therapeutic Pilates techniques, which she found on the Internet, to help her mother regain some of the mobility she lost after a mastectomy in 2000.

In a mastectomy, the entire breast is surgically removed, along with the cancerous part of the breast tissue. In most cases, the tissue removal leaves many patients with decreased mobility in their arms and back.

Pahler had realized there was a problem when her mother couldn’t reach down to pick up her 6-month-old grandchild.

“They basically tore her apart, took everything away, and sent her home with tubes in her,” Pahler said. “They had her come back in two weeks, took the tubes out and said, ‘You’re good to go,’ and that was it. So they took her body parts away from her and said, ‘Carry on with your life.’”

Pahler focused on training her mother and others who did not receive any type of rehabilitative training after surgery. While she was training to become a certified Pilates instructor — a process that sometimes takes up to two years — she spent a weekend in pink ribbon certification training learning how to help women regain their strength.

Latinen-Kniss, who had become very close to Pahler, said it was her lifelong dream to start a Pilates and yoga studio, and Pahler was already diving into the therapeutic side of movement. They said starting a business together was a natural decision.

So in 2008, Pahler and Latinen-Kniss started going to people’s homes and training them. Without a formal studio, they used an old truck to haul their portable reformer — a piece of resistance exercise equipment — a few hair bands, weights and a mat.

Pahler taught one-on-one rehabilitative sessions to clients with breast cancer for free because she said they already had gone through enough emotionally and physically. When Pahler’s mother died in 2009, she said the business became something to live for.

“The first time I trained somebody with the pink ribbon therapeutic training, I would go home and I would cry,” Pahler said. “It was awful because I was watching them go through all that, and my mom was already gone at that point.”

Pahler and Latinen-Kniss opened up their studio at 508 S. Elm St. in 2013 and continued to offer rehabilitative training programs for free. Pahler still teaches one-on-one sessions with her clients who have breast cancer, and tries to get them through a six- to eight-week training program while they undergo chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes, women have to vomit in the middle of a session, Pahler said.

But Pahler is flexible with her time and training techniques. She understands the emotional and physical toll breast cancer takes, and many clients are grateful for that.

Lisa Whipple is a two-time breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed first in 2002 and again in August 2014, just one month after she started classes at Twisted Bodies.

“When I wasn’t at my best, we could modify my range of motion,” Whipple said.

Whipple took a few private lessons with Pahler after her mastectomy, but she gravitated toward the higher-intensity classes because she wanted to be a part of a group. She said the physical therapy aspect is just as important as being a part of a community.

“I think that everybody going through cancer treatment, they have to have something to look forward to,” Whipple said. “You’ve got to be able to look past what’s going on in your life at that moment.”

Right now, a community of breast cancer patients naturally has developed in the studio, but Pahler said her main goal is to offer them more group rehabilitation sessions.

Still, Pahler and Latinen-Kniss’ involvement with breast cancer recovery doesn’t stop at physical therapy. They host two benefit classes a month with all of the proceeds going toward the Susan G. Komen North Texas foundation. And last year, they hosted Pinups With Purpose, an event in which women with breast cancer were photographed with their hair and makeup done in pin-up style. Women without breast cancer donated $150 to participate.

Since Latinen-Kniss’ mother was diagnosed, both women have pushed the donation sessions even harder. Latinen-Kniss said Pahler has been there for her every step of the way, advising her about the ugly side of cancer treatment and taking over her classes when she isn’t available.

Pahler said she still thinks about her own mother, but the studio has given her a sense of purpose.

On Oct. 15, it will have been six years since Pahler’s mother died. She sits cross-legged on the floor of the pink palace, with shades of pink reflected in highlights in her hair, as Latinen-Kniss explains what they would do if either one of them got breast cancer.

“We haven’t had breast cancer, but we’ve been through our share,” Latinen-Kniss said. “We joke now and say that if it does happen, we’ll probably do it together and hold hands while we get our mammograms.”

This article was originally published in the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Featured Image: Twisted Bodies co-owners Khristen Pahler, left, and Carissa Laitinen-Kniss in their Pilates and Yoga studio on South Elm. Al Key | DRC

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