Breast cancer is one of the most widely diagnosed cancers in women in Europe and the United States. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we decided to dive into the archives and bring to light the inspiring story of Eve Gentry – one of Joseph Pilates’ students – as well as how Pilates can help with breast cancer rehabilitation, and what the studies have shown so far.
Who is Eve Gentry?
Eve was actually born Henrietta Greenhood in 1909 in San Bernardino, California. She started dancing at an early age, taking up ballet, folk, ballroom, and modern dance. Before she was even 20 years old, she moved to New York City and began her dance career with the Hanya Holm Company. In 1944, Eve married her childhood sweetheart Bruce Gentry and chose to go by the professional name Eve Gentry from that moment on.
Between the years of 1940 and 1970, Eve and three other teachers founded the Dance Notation Bureau, where Eve served as director for the next 20+ years. She was also a faculty member of the High School for the Performing Arts and the New York University School of the Arts.
After years spent dancing, Eve began to experience chronic back and knee issues and sought out Joseph Pilates for help. It was after her initial meeting with Joe, that Eve would then become one of Joe’s loyal teachers and associates.
In 1955, Eve underwent a radical mastectomy, which resulted in the removal of most of her pectoralis major (chest muscle). Following the surgery, she was unable to lift her arms, which would have meant an end to her dancing career.
Upon hearing this, Joe was said to have claimed, “Don’t worry. We fix.” With Joe and Clara’s help, Eve was able to regain full range of motion in her arm and upper body within a year. Joe even documented the recovery and rehabilitation process and presented the footage to a local hospital, who accused them of lying. This prompted Joe and Eve to re-film the entire process this time with Eve topless to prove their point that Pilates had positively affected the rehab process.
After her recovery, Eve continued to work with Joe for the next 10 years, before she relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she established her own dance and Pilates studio. She also worked with the Santa Fe opera and choreographed and danced in Stravinsky’s La Rossignol at the age of 63!
Eve died at the age of 84, on June 17, 1994. Throughout her prolific career as a dancer, teacher, coach, and choreographer, Eve remained not only a stalwart of the Pilates method, helping to continue Joe’s legacy, but also an icon for breast cancer survivors.
Pilates and Breast Cancer Rehabilitation
While most breast cancer survivors aren’t classically trained and exceedingly fit dancers, there have been multiple studies that show that physical activity in general, including Pilates, do have amazing benefits for breast cancer rehabilitation.
- Helps develop range of motion, flexibility, and strength in the shoulders, chest, arms, and back
- Increases metabolism and promotes lymphatic, respiratory, and circulatory function
- Improves balance and coordination
- Improves physical condition and movement
- Helps decrease fatigue and eases depression
- Provides a sense of empowerment and helps boost self-confidence
In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released guidelines on the Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer, where they recommend that breast cancer survivors avoid inactivity and return to normal activities after surgery as soon as possible. The guidelines recommended regular physical activity and strength training at least two times a week, with a total of 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Here’s What the Studies Show
One of the first studies ever conducted to show the relation between Pilates and breast cancer, was done in 2008. Participants noted increased flexibility in the affected arm after a 12-week program in which participants exercised three times a week. However, there were only four participants in the study, leading the results and conclusions to be very limited.
Another study was done in 2010. This study examined the effects of Pilates exercises on functional capacity, flexibility, fatigue, depression, and quality of life in female breast cancer patients. Participants underwent an 8-week program, where they exercised at least three times a week. This study was one of the earlier studies that helped demonstrate that Pilates was safe and effective for breast cancer survivors, with results showing improvements in the participants’ levels of fatigue, flexibility, and quality of life.
There was another study conducted in 2012, where 13 participants were part of a 12-week program. The study found that participants had improved shoulder and neck flexibility, and improvements in quality of life, body image, and moods.
The story of Eve Gentry’s rehabilitation is truly an inspiring one. The frequent use of the Method, its principles and its concepts as a means of recovery for breast cancer patients is due, in part, to Eve’s indomitable will to try and do everything she could to continue dancing as well as Joe’s dedication to help his students and clients.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we will be hosting a 15 Day Pilates Challenge! For 15 days, we will have different instructors from all over the world teaching 30 minute classes.
100% of the proceeds from the classes will go to the Lebanese Breasts Cancer Foundation to help raise awareness of breast cancer and help their campaign in early detection and prevention. The challenge begins on October 16. Click here to learn more.
- Core Dynamics Pilates. Historical Perspectives: Eve Gentry. 2021.
- Eyigor S, Karapolat H, Yesil H, Uslu R, Durmaz B. Effects of Pilates exercises on functional capacity, flexibility, fatigue, depression, and quality of life in female breast cancer patients: A randomized controlled study. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 2010;46(4):481-87.
- Keays KS, Harris SR, Lucyshyn JM, MacIntyre DL. Effects of Pilates exercises on shoulder range of motion, pain, mood, and upper-extremity function in women living with breast cancer: A pilot study. Physical Therapy. 2008;88(4):494-510. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20070099.
- Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012;62(1);30–67. doi: 10.3322/caac.20140.
- Stan DL, Rausch SM, Sundt K, et al. Pilates for breast cancer survivors. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2012;16(2):131-41. doi: 10.1188/12. CJON.131-141.