Women's Health Awareness month takes place in May. We took some time to chat with CEO and Founder, Teresa Lawsky of The Laurus Project which focuses on funding research projects that assist in prevention as well as curing breast cancer. We delved into finding out about a number of projects and goals of this group, looking at the importance of understanding their focus on action as opposed to merely having an awareness of breast cancer, as well as creating a community of Thrivers that continue to share their empowering and uplifting message.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Prior to launching the Laurus Project, tell us about your background.
TERESA LAWSKY: I served as a nurse clinician specializing in breast cancer for about 18 years. I practiced at major institutions in NYC and leading hospitals in Southern California. During that period of time, I really got an up close experience to the human condition that occurs when women and some men are diagnosed with breast cancer.
AM: Due to your experience, what led you to creating the Laurus Project and tell us about what the aims are for the organization.
TL: I was in my office and I said to my assistant, “how many more women have to walk through this door before we do something about it?” Incidents of breast cancer remain high in the US with about 1 in 8 women diagnosed in their lifetime and although we are doing a lot of work as it related to awareness, I really felt that there was a gap as it relates to prevention. So one of the goals that we have at the Laurus Project is to help prevent the onset of disease in women, new diagnosis and then preventing recurrences in women that have had past diagnoses.
So this is a lifelong challenge for women to stay cancer free and that is something that we want to help with.
AM: When did you launch this and what is your role as a CEO and a Founder?
TL: It was founded in 2015 and we launched in 2016. I really am very involved in the strategy and making sure that our programs and grants really fulfill our mission and provide action for those affected by the disease. That’s something that I feel very strongly about. I work very closely with researchers that we support. It’s a day to day thing and I stay very tight and close with it. I have my hand in a lot of what we are doing.
AM: What are some of the human trials and research that you support?
TL: In order to advance cutting edge therapy and new therapy treatment to people who desperately and frankly need it, human trials are necessary for FDA approval. To expedite it from the lab to a human trial and then to a health care setting, this is required. So there are sometimes for various reasons a gap in funding of research in human trials. So that is what we are looking to fill. That’s a way for us to expedite it into the hands of people who need it. That’s part of the reason that we are so involved on that side.
AM: So what research are you working on that you can share with us?
TL: One of the trials that we are participating on for funding that I am really excited about is diet related. It is a fasting mimicking diet based on the research of Dr. Valter Longo. It’s a trial that is looking at reducing or preventing breast cancer in women that are deemed high risk. This is an ongoing clinical trial and we are participating in funding that. I think that in a couple of years, we will even have some data come out of that that should be pretty exciting! That is something that we are working on that we are really excited about.
AM: What is the process for a researcher to present a project to you and how does The Laurus Project go about deciding what is of interest for them to fund?
TL: We really have our finger on the pulse in terms of what is going on in the medical community. We work hand in hand with leading institutions in that space. A lot of it crosses over into longevity as it relates to prevention and some in other areas. Again, we work hand in hand with leading institutions who have researchers that are doing cutting edge work. We identify the gap and make sure it is aligned and we have an amazing medical advisory board and then we make a decision about what we want to fund in order to get it in the hands of women who need it.
AM: One of the things on the website that we were looking at was Integrative Therapy and how does that work in terms of while they are getting their treatment as well as post treatment?
TL: Integrative Therapy is kind of the healing approach that takes into account every aspect of a person’s health. So that is mind, body, emotional and social. All of those things that impact a person and it really pairs with standard of care therapy in order to advance a better solution or state for that person.
So an example would be the use of a mindfulness or meditation as it relates to stress and even possible inflammation. Also the use of acupuncture as it relates to side effects of treatment. Many women who get diagnosed, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress disorder. There are different things that we can utilize in order to support them and help them with those side effects. It’s really taking into account the whole person and raising the standard of care so that we’re looking at all of that. It really impacts a person’s health overall. So even when we look at our mission and our goal in prevention and in risk reduction, prevention of recurrence in survivors. We really want to elevate that standard in our point of view.
AM: Many people wonder why when we talk about Breast Cancer, that we talk about prevention and remission. Why isn’t there a cure for this disease with all of the technology that we have at our disposal?
TL: I think that with the focus on treatment, that that’s something that’s very important and there has been a lot of energy and funding and looking at that. What’s happened is that there has been kind of a gap and that’s why we exist for the recovery period. When you look at a woman that has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has gone through treatment in terms of their experience, often their anxiety level and all of these things that relate to health escalates when treatment ends. So at The Laurus Project, we really understand that healing continues after breast cancer treatment ends. In some cases, women are on maintenance medication that causes other side effects that they really need assistance with, in order to remain on the medication. We want to help increase compliance so that they can reap the benefits of the medications that are available to them.
As a health care professional in the field, I really identify gaps and your question is right on and it’s exactly why we are here. There are Survivorship Programs that exist in larger cancer centers and hospitals – but not all geographic areas have them. Certainly there are a lot of women that feel that returning to the facility where they received treatment – that can trigger a lot of feelings and emotions. We really want to help women move past that into Thrivership and into wellness. Because nothing changes if nothing changes. Our goal is to really help them by supporting programs that are good and offering them solutions. We recently launched a new program at Laurus which will help women in areas where that is not available.
AM: Tell us more about Thrive Tribe which is a part of the The Laurus Project.
TL: The Laurus Project’s Thrive Tribes is really a community of women who come together and it's something that we launched to take care of their help and we are helping them in doing that. These tribes exist in communities and they’re led by either a breast cancer Thriver, health care professional or a high risk woman and they are the connection to their community and women in their community to access our education and programs and resources. So we provide education as it relates to risk reduction that’s evidence based, up to date science, and suggest and activity that women engage with once a month.
As an example if we just go back to mindfulness and meditation, we’ll provide monthly email/digital information related to what science really says about mindfulness and meditation. It focuses on why they may benefit and partner that with a scheduled guided meditation. Women are receiving information and we’re weeding through all the stuff that is out there by providing them with solid evidence based education that is specific to their disease. This is health promoting and then giving them access as a way to take action. They’re coming together as a community and really being in power to take control of their health – rather than getting home and finishing their treatment and getting three recommendations and heading to the internet trying to weed through and see what they can do. We want to help them do that in a safe and inspiring environment.
AM: We know that a number of Breast Cancer organizations use the term awareness and pink for the cause. What was the decision behind using the color orange and the term action?
TL: At Laurus, we’re really about Breast Cancer Action. I think that it’s important for women to know and understand that there are things that women can do to be in control of their health. It’s a matter of driving that message and it’s something that they can engage with. And by the way, there are win wins with that. So sometimes, even the idea of Breast Cancer Awareness makes an individual feel like there is really nothing that they can do. They know the problem is there, that it happened – but what can they do about it and that’s what we’re about. That’s why we work with leading institutions and researchers and why we fund and support programs as well as development programs to help women do that. This way they can live their best life and take that action.
That’s in fact why we are orange and not pink. That really resembles the movement from awareness to action. It’s a very hopeful movement that incorporates wellness and women are very excited about it. I see the reaction that women have when they engage with us. It’s very empowering and it’s really a new hope. One of the women who is leading a tribe in Laguna Beach, she stated crying and said, “this is what I have been looking for.” So I think that we really are filling a gap and that we are filling a need. I’m really excited about it and I’m excited about brands and supporters and people like you that are interested in what we are doing because it’s a healing message that’s hopeful. On that front I will say that I like Breast Cancer Action. Awareness is great, but lets take it to the next level.
AM: We like the use of the word action! A number of organizations have funds that go towards raising money for various treatments and research for Breast Cancer. Do you have and brands or products where a portion of the proceeds go to this cause?
TL: We do partner with brands and have partnered with those that are mission aligned in different ways. We have an exciting event coming up with Alice & Olivia. That is going to be a really fun event and it’s a very empowering brand. We love that side of it as it’s uplifting and fashion forward. We also partner with other wellness brands, families and companies that believe in what we are doing.
AM: How does one go about creating their own Thrive Tribe community?
TL: Thank you for asking that! They can visit our website at The Laurus Project.com, click on Thrive Tribe and take this beautiful empowering pledge and commitment to selfcare. If they don’t see their city or state, they can scroll down to become a leader which we really want to encourage women to do. That is then reviewed and we can launch them in their community. We’re hoping to launch Thrive Tribes in communities all across the US and we’re really excited about it. I think that it puts information directly into their hands and partners it with action. Of course, this is education and we always advise women to take it to their medical team and make sure that it’s right for them. It’s evidence based and taking them to wellness and Thrivership.
AM: We love hearing about this community. With us coming up on the back half of the year, are there goals that the Laurus Project has in terms of a goal perspective? What events or special projects should we keep an eye out for that the Laurus Project has going on?
TL: We have a really fun annual event that is a Dance to Thrive party that is held each year in October. We started it last year in NYC and we held it at 1Oak and had an amazing turnout. It’s an uplifting let go event and a lot of fun. It’s something that you should keep an eye out for. As far as projects that we are working on, there are a number of projects that we are doing in conjunction with other nonprofits in order to advance solutions at a larger scale as it relates to integrative therapy which is also really exciting.