Breast Beaters – an innovative idea that became a reality

by Jeannie Marsh

My friend Bev McAlister was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. She got through her surgery and radiotherapy, frequently making the long trip from her home in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne to a hospital in the city for treatment. Of course this was an exhausting and challenging time. When Bev was told after her treatment that she should now do daily exercises for lymphoedema, she simply could not get motivated.  So she came up with an idea to help women get motivated to add this important activity to their lives: Breast Beaters.

Bev’s vision was this: set the exercises to lively music; add some singing and light-hearted activities; make a DVD so people could do it at home (alone, or with family and friends); run regular group sessions at local community venues, where women could meet others who had been through breast cancer, do the exercises together, have a laugh, have a chat, have a sing, have some fun.

As a singer and community arts worker, I thought this was a great idea. So, through Dandenong Ranges Music Council we applied for funding, were successful, and before I knew it I was Musician in Residence for Breast Beaters! Twelve months later, the vision has become a reality – the DVD was launched at a lively event in Lilydale on 26th of June 2015; the first Group Session has been run in Yarra Glen, and the DVDs are being distributed to health professionals and women living with breast cancer.

Gorilla graphicDuring the research and development phase of Breast Beaters, I worked with lymphoedema therapist Maria Stirling (Health Consultant on the project), and consulted with other health professionals working in the field. Guitarist Ken Murray and I worked together to create a 15-minute Medley of 9 songs (ranging in style from bossa nova to waltz, twist, and Celtic), each song matched to the timing and needs of the exercises. In the Medley we included deep-breathing exercises (used by both lymphoedema therapists and singing teachers) and “singalong” sections for easy singing. This material was trialled for six weeks by a small group of women living with breast cancer in the Yarra Ranges region, and responses were encouraging.

In addition to the Medley, the DVD includes teaching material, voice-over and subtitle features to help people learn the Medley, and delightful animations (including a dancing gorilla) to give people a laugh. We also trialled Group Sessions, and learnt that these will be an extremely important part of the program. Group Sessions will occur at least once a month, in a range of community venues, and will be informal, fun, and accessible. Sessions will last 90 minutes, and will be suitable for women new to the program, and those familiar with the program. They will be led by community choir leaders (or others with similar skills) who have received training about lymphoedema and Breast Beaters. Sessions will include learning and participating in the Medley, simple group singing activities, cup of tea and chat, and information about relevant events or resources.

Further funding was recently awarded by Yarra Ranges Council to run a series of 8 group sessions and these will run from October to December, in community venues across the region. Free copies of the DVD will be distributed at these sessions. The schedule (and other resources) can be found on the Dandenong Ranges Music Council website www.drmc.org.au  Please contact me for all enquiries, and to obtain a free copy of the DVD.

We are proud and excited to have created a new resource for women living with breast cancer, and for their health professionals, families and friends.  May the joyful breast beating and singing begin!

Adapted from an article for newsletter of the Lymphoedema Association of Victoria, August 2015

By Jeannie Marsh 

DRMC Musician in Residence, Breast Beaters  health and music program jeannie.marsh1@gmail.com   0432 088 284

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