Mother and parent educator and author, Barbara Unell, asked these simple questions after being treated for breast cancer: Now what? Now what do I do to stay as healthy as possible? What should I eat? What exercises should I do? How do I strengthen my immune system? How do I get my mind, body and spirit back in the swing of life?
In 1999, Barbara embarked on the journey to find the answers. What she found was a lot of information regarding treatment, but what she did not find was the personalized medical care and research needed for healthy survival after treatment.
So in 2000, Barbara started Back in the Swing, a local nonprofit organization in Kansas City creating education and events with the mission of raising funds to start and benefit wellness programs, research, and medical services for breast cancer survivors, as well as raise awareness about Survivorship as a critical component of life after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The first Back in the Swing fundraising event was held in 2000 in a large activity room with 500 participants involved in doing Jazzercise routines. Why Jazzercise? Barbara loved answering that question, because in the answer could be found the mission of Back in the Swing: Both promote joyful, healthy and proactive living!
The following year, “A Taste of Yoga” was the second experiential fundraiser help by Back in the Swing that involved over 800 individuals who had fun stretching and bending to the instruction of 8 different yoga instructors, who taught them the healing benefits of movement and relaxation.
With the funds raised from these events, the first breast cancer survivorship programs were launched at a local hospital and social service organization.
After reading the 2002 article, “The News was Bad… I Went to Bendel’s”, in The New York Times, another idea was born. Author Ellen Tien’s article inspired Barbara to have a newer, bigger vision that everyone could identify with, benefit from, and participate in–Retail Therapy!
Tien wrote: “Shopping is a freighted activity-at once a task and hobby, a necessity and a pleasure…In shopping, there is an implicit future: When a sales person assures you that the shearling coat you’re buying will last, it helps you to believe that maybe you will too. More than an agent of acquisition, shopping can be an act of hope…In shopping, as in all else, where there is hope, there’s life.”
So, in 2003, Back in the Swing launched a unique 5-day, experiential and shopping and fundrasing event called “Back in the Swing Retail Therapy.” The event promoted buying a Retail Therapy Shopping Card to experience the joy and benefits of saving money and saving lives.
By 2007, Kansas City became a flagship for the nation in providing breast cancer survivorship medical care, through the establishment of the first comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, personalized Breast Cancer Survivorship Center at KU Cancer Center, and clinics and programs in six other institutions serving the region.
Starting with one shopping center in 2003, today “Back in the Swing Retail Therapy” involves over 42 shopping districts and almost 900 merchants across Kansas City and Chicago. Dozens more shopping centers from all parts of the country are signing up to participate in October 2010.
From these roots in Kansas City, Back in the Swing has grown into the first and only national, grassroots nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to providing awareness, access, and financial support for multidisciplinary, personalized, post-treatment clinical and supportive healthcare, and academic medical research in the field of breast cancer survivorship.
The post-treatment healthcare and research for breast cancer survivors begun in Kansas City during the organization’s first decade is now expanding throughout the USA. National initiatives include:
- COLLABORATIVE BREAST CANCER SURVIVORSHIP RESEARCH conducted in partnership with oncologists and researchers nationwide.
- LOCAL SURVIVORSHIP EDUCATION THROUGH AN ONCOLOGY NURSE TRAINING CURRICULUM empowering the oncology nurses in communities across America to use the most advanced, evidence based tools to help breast cancer survivors access post-treatment care.
- LOCAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNS, TRANSITIONAL MATERIALS, AND EVENTS FOR THE CONSUMER to build awareness and to educate everyone in our community – survivors and those who love them – in this new brand of survivorship healthcare, to fulfill their goals of joyful,healthy living and encourage them to be their own best healthcare advocate every day.