Mother and daughter use yoga to keep mom strong, healthy during cancer treatment

To recognize Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke with Barbara Ackerman, a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute patient, and her daughter, Jessica. Barbara is currently undergoing treatment at Dana-Farber for stage IV lung cancer.

Barbara, can you tell us a bit about how it felt to find out you had lung cancer?

Barbara: My back was very sore, and I thought it was a muscular issue, but after several visits to the chiropractor, the pain was impacting my life. I went to my doctor who treated me for pneumonia, but after no improvement, I was told I needed scans to rule anything else out. Weeks before my husband and I were moving into our home, we received the news. As a non-smoker who exercised regularly and ate healthy, I was shocked. By the time I was diagnosed, my cancer had metastasized and spread to both of my lungs, lymph nodes, bones, and liver.

Jessica, how did it feel when you heard the news?

Jessica: It was surreal initially. At the same time, my reaction was one of strength and solidarity for my mom. The first thing that came to my mind was a quote by Glennon Doyle: “We can do hard things.” It has been one of our mantras through my mom’s diagnosis and treatment.

We understand that you are both very passionate about yoga. Can you talk about the impact it has had on each of you throughout the treatment process?

Jessica: I’ve been practicing yoga for decades and teaching it for years. Yoga has taught me so much about training for the moments when you are ripped from your comfort zone and lose all sense of predictability in life, like with the pandemic or a cancer diagnosis. Despite what we face, we have the power to choose how to live in each moment. I have seen my mom choose lightness in her yoga practice and in the difficult moments of cancer treatment.

Barbara: Before my diagnosis, I worked out at a gym and was in good physical health. I’m so fortunate that Jessica is a yoga instructor because when she visits, we do morning yoga together. When she’s not here, she sets me up with virtual classes and videos for movement and breathing. My mornings with Jessica are my favorite. I have chronic pain from tumors in my back and I find that stretching, posture movements, and breathing has assisted me so much with my pain and mental strength.

What is something you are both looking forward to?

Barbara: I want to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings. I want to continue to enjoy my retirement and life with my husband. I want to continue to host family get-togethers. I want to break 100 in my golf game. I suppose what I could say is: I am looking forward to living. 

Jessica: I am looking forward to my mom beginning a clinical trial that will allow her to continue thriving. I look forward to the little things: drinking wine with my mom, sharing laughs and conversation, time at her home with our family, seeking her advice on things, and writing a book about my amazing, inspiring mom.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone facing a similar circumstance?

Barbara: My wish for someone facing a diagnosis is that they live with gratitude, hope, and joy. I am truly blessed for everything I have, and I am not done yet!

Jessica: Do everything with love. There is no amount of research or meeting with doctors that can soothe the difficulty of a diagnosis. Despite knowing that cancer can strike at any time, the diagnosis of  stage IV lung cancer in a non-smoker truly does blindside a person and a family. We have faced a devastating scenario and have sought the best treatment for my courageous mom, who has so much passion for life. I’ve watched her navigate through treatment options, side effects, pending results, and countless tests with bravery, dignity, and grace. The love for my mom and the inspiration she brings me has brought so much to us through this year. I am inspired by her every day in every way: by her grace, vibrance, humor, selflessness, perspective, and gratitude.              

Support patients like Barbara by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at