Empowered Resilience, with Kara Tatelbaum

| Episode 32

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with colon cancer, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with a variety of thoughts and emotions. What we’ve learned from the guests on our podcast is that this stress can have significant effects on the body if not managed properly. How can you manage to stay resilient on what is often a long and daunting journey?

Today we’re speaking with Kara Tatelbaum. She’s a dancer, choreographer, pilates instructor, wellness and resilience coach, and an author. She’s sharing how her husband’s cancer diagnosis reinforced the importance of resilience and sparked her desire to share this with others.

Click the play button above to listen to our conversation with Kara Tatelbaum.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

  • Kara’s experience navigating her husband’s cancer diagnosis and how it led to her becoming a wellness and resilience coach. 
  • The background of  pilates and how it can be accessible to everyone.
  • What it means to be resilient and how experience as a dancer influences Kara’s work as a wellness and resilience coach

Industry Spotlight: Kara Tatelbaum Putting My Heels Down

Kara Tatelbaum moved to help others after overcoming her own disappointments, especially after knowing about her husband’s abrupt Stage IV colon cancer diagnosis. She’s strongly devoted in helping people find their way, maintain a great quality of life during an uncertain period, and uncover their strength, based on her own personal experience.

Colon Health Podcast with Dr. Dac and Ariel Bridges

About the Colon Health Podcast

Co-hosted by Dr. Dac Teoli and Ariel Bridges, the Colon Health Podcast features guest interviews with expert physicians, leading researchers, nutritional scientists, integrative health specialists, and other foremost experts in colon health.

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Episode Transcript

Ariel: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the “Colon Health Podcast.” I’m your host, Ariel Bridges and today we have the lovely Kara Tatelbaum with us. Hi, Kara. How’s it going?

Kara: Hi, Ariel. How are you? I’m good.

Ariel: I’m well, and thank you so much. So, can we just start off with you introducing yourself and sharing exactly what it is that you do with our audience today?

Kara: My name is Kara Tatelbaum and I am a dancer and choreographer. I’m also a certified Pilates instructor, and a certified wellness and resilience coach. I am the creator of “Lazy Girl Pilates” and author of the forthcoming memoir, “Putting My Heels Down,” which releases next week, actually, on April 29th.

Ariel: Oh my gosh. Congratulations. That’s really exciting, first.

Kara: Thank you. I know. It took me 10 years to get this book published, so I’m very, very excited.

Ariel: Oh my goodness. So yes, that is a huge reason for celebration and I definitely have questions for you about that, that I will get to later on and a woman after my own heart, someone who does many, many different things. I absolutely love it. I’d like to start off though, by chatting about your husband’s cancer diagnosis and how it’s led to you becoming a wellness and resilience coach, and how it’s influenced some of the other things that you were doing. Would you be willing to share that journey with our listeners?

Kara: Yes, of course. So my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer almost exactly three years from today. It was April 2019. My husband had started working out a lot. He was getting back into shape and losing a lot of weight. And we were excited about it like, “This must be really working out well because you are losing a lot of weight.” And then he started to have a lot of bathroom issues. And when he went for his yearly checkup, he told his primary doctor about the weight loss and about the bathroom issues, and the primary doctor was very quick to dismiss those symptoms as being caused by stress.

So a few more months, several months went by, and he finally went and had a colonoscopy and he was also young. So it’s before the recommended age of 45. So he was diagnosed when he was 43. So we had a colonoscopy and it turned out that there was a huge tumor in his colon. And we went to Sloan Kettering, straight from there, to have the tumor removed, and then it turned out that the cancer had spread to his liver. So they were unable to do the surgery then, and then he started his treatment, which was chemotherapy, surgery to take the primary tumor out of the colon and also to remove the tumors in the liver.

And he had the HAI pump, the hepatic artery infusion pump, placed, and that HAI pump is put in to deliver chemo directly to the liver. And it is a very hard thing to find. We were very lucky to be at Sloan Kettering and he was able to have the HAI pump placed. We live in the Bronx, and of course, Sloan Kettering is in Manhattan. People fly from all over the country and from the world, to get that HAI pump. So then after his surgery, he had more chemotherapy in the pump and systemic and February 10th of 2020 was his last chemotherapy treatment and he has been in remission ever since.

Ariel: Oh my goodness. Wow. I just can’t even begin to imagine. Whenever I hear stories about these, and we have a lot of situations like this amongst our listeners and people we chat with from time to time where their concerns were dismissed by a doctor, which can be so frustrating. And in this case too, especially when it leads to such an alarming diagnosis that was missed as a result of this kind of just brushing off of what your husband was experiencing.

Kara: Yes. And with that, I just wanna make very clear for all the listeners that because the age is now 45, thank God, it was 50 before, it should be even younger, young people that are diagnosed with colon cancer, they’re often diagnosed at stage 4 because it’s found so far along already. Whereas if we had colonoscopies younger, these little polyps could be removed before they cause any damage.

Ariel: Yes. Thank you so much for that announcement. We always like to remind people, colon cancer is one of those cancers that is uniquely preventable if you do get that testing. And I agree with you. My grandfather actually passed away from colon cancer at a young age as well, definitely below 50, which, like you just mentioned, was the recommended age at the time.

I try and tell everybody, I’m like, “Just get a colonoscopy.” Even if you are young, it clearly affects people of all ages, all demographics. It’s so important to make sure that you just get tested.

Kara: Yes, absolutely. And I tell my friends that a colonoscopy, you just think of it like a cleanse, and then you get the really good drug that they give you when they do the colonoscopy, you don’t remember anything and it’s over. It’s done. So it doesn’t have to be something so scary.

Ariel: Yes. I love the reinforcement of that message. I didn’t even ask her to do this, all of you listeners. She was forthcoming with this announcement and opinion.

Kara: I had an agenda.

Ariel: Yeah.

Kara: So when Shane was diagnosed, we have a daughter and a son, and our son was three years old when he was diagnosed and our daughter was five. So this threw our whole lives into a complete tizzy, to say the least. And towards the end of Shane’s treatment is when I got interested in becoming a wellness and resilience coach. I know that was your original question. So, coming from that experience of trying to be there for my husband as a caregiver, be there for my two kids, it required a tremendous amount of resilience by the second.

And all I did was study resilience. I read tons of books. I was listening to all different educators and thinkers, and just like, “How do you do this?” And through that work, I realized that I was really wanting to be there for other people trying to find that resilience too. And that, always by helping others, you know, we help ourselves too. By being a coach, I could really hold people’s hands and open up their ideas of what resilience and what their life can and could be.

Ariel: Wow. I really love that and that’s so beautiful. I have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever thought about a resilience coach being something that even existed. I don’t know if many people know about it, but whenever someone is going through a hard time or if I’m going through a hard time, I’m like, “Okay. Yes, I know I need to be resilient and I need to rebound from this.”

But oftentimes, especially when you’re clouded by the events of whatever’s going on, you’re like, “How do I even start? Where do I even begin to do this?” It can be very overwhelming. So I think it’s so helpful to have a coach that is knowledgeable and experienced guide you through some of that fog.

Kara: Yeah. Thank you. And that resilience is more than just that rebound in that moment, right? Like, we need to be resilient all the time, especially with something like colon cancer and cancer in general, you don’t know what’s gonna happen next. I mean, you just don’t know and you have scans and you have setbacks and one moment to the next, it becomes very hard to navigate.

So really working on resilience is, for me as a dancer, you know, it’s like a muscle. Like, it’s the muscle memory of having the resilience, just like the muscle memory of having a plie and a relever and just a ballet technique. It’s really building those muscles and building the technique, so you’re able to ride waves without majorly setting yourself back.

Ariel: I’m a former athlete as well and I love a good sports analogy. So I was even just going to say, “Yes, that’s such a great point.” Like, it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. A separate, but equally relevant sports analogy. But I think that’s something that we’ve all learned, especially going through the pandemic these past few years is, like, this is something, at times, resilience is a long-term thing and I think it’s very important to understand how to have the tools to build that endurance. Everything that you said makes perfect sense to me.

Kara: Resilience also, going back to COVID and a lot of the work that I did, coaching during COVID, is career coaching, which is part of resilience, right? And especially for me, I come from the dance community, so I coached a lot of dancers during COVID when they could not perform and could not support themselves and had to move back to their hometowns. And there’s a resilience in all parts of our lives, on the daily.

Ariel: Yes. So important to have that multifaceted understanding of how you need to be resilient on a regular basis. I would love to, since we’re starting to dip our toes into the athletic dancing world, I wanted to chat about Pilates. So Pilates, I feel like is fairly mainstream at this point, but you coach some different iterations. Can you share more about Poolates and Barrelates and how all of that works? I’m very curious.

Kara: Sure. So I got certified in Pilates in 2000, and it’s important to know that because in 2000 that’s when Pilates lost their trademark. At that point, anyone could teach Pilates. You didn’t have to be certified. And the place that you’re certified from didn’t have to be certified by the Pilates Alliance or whatever was big in that time. So I did get certified as an instructor, but as I was teaching in gym, they were doing all sorts of different versions of Pilates, taught by legitimate, I would use the word Pilates instructors and then people teaching Pilates style classes.

So I got certified because I’ve had two hip surgeries myself and rehabbing one hip, I got into Aqua, all this, like, work in the water and so I got certified in Poolates, which is exactly what it sounds, Pilates in the pool. And then I began a class called Barrelates, and this was in the early 2000s. So it was before, like, the barre class craze and the Barrelates is half standing ballet barre-based exercises. And then the other half is on the mat.

And then I created, about probably 10 years into my Pilates teaching career, “Lazy Girl Pilates,” which is Pilates that you could do anywhere. And that’s really my goal as a Pilates instructor is not just be able to just take a mat class, which of course now, like, taking a Pilates mat class is a luxury that a lot of us don’t have for many reasons. So that Pilates is part of your day. You do Pilates in bed Pilates while you’re drinking coffee, Pilates in the shower, on the toilet even, and how to make Pilates accessible throughout the day.

Ariel: I love that accessibility piece, all of those different types of Pilates that you just shared, there’s literally one for everybody. That’s amazing. I think about, my mom is having some hip issues currently and just regular pool stuff is not as compelling to her, but being able to do Pilates in the pool, I think is something that’s so interesting. And then I think about Barrelates, which just sounds very hard to me because barre already is so hard and Pilates also is hard.

So to have all that isolation, I’m like, “Wow, okay, this is a class for people who are ready to be challenged.” And then “Lazy Girl Pilates” appeals to me, I’m like, “Oh, I can just do something from my bed, after a long day when I just need to get something in.” That accessibility factor is incredible.

Kara: Yeah. This Pilates is for everybody and every body, you know, and it should be able to be done everywhere. And that was actually Joseph Pilates who invented Pilates, that was his goal. He wanted Pilates to be part of daily life. The machines that he made for Pilates were to be at-home furniture, that doubled as exercise machines. And that was kind of the original vision. I don’t know if his vision was doing Pilates on the toilet, but that’s where my choreographic skills really [inaudible 00:12:36]

Ariel: I love that. On the “Colon Health Podcast,” we talk about toilets and bathrooms all the time. But I think there’s a lot of really great aha moments that happen on the toilet. It’s some nice reflective time.

Kara: And maybe we could take a second and I could give a quick toilet exercise for the listeners. If you’re sitting on the toilet…

Ariel: Oh, I’d love that toilet.

Kara: First of all, if you’re sitting on the toilet, there’s an easy…you can see if your mom wants to do this one, Ariel, you can just do an easy hip opener where you’re sitting with one foot flat on the floor and then take the other foot, take the ankle, cross it over the knee and then put your hands, of the same leg, on that knee and just give yourself a little bit of pressure and it’ll do a nice little hip opener while you’re on the toilet.

And of course, I can only say this on a colon podcast, but my husband, since having his tumor removed and being in remission from colon cancer, can spend quite a long time on the toilet now. So this is something that you can do if you have some time. And another thing is just to draw the belly button in while you’re on the toilet and lifting up one foot at a time, little marching movements, and not to be pushing out in your belly, even when you’re pushing out to poop, to keep drawing that belly button in. And that’s important for those of us women too, for diastasis reasons. But those are some bathroom Pilates ideas if the listeners are open to that.

Ariel: I love this so much. I am going to be trying this the next time that I go to the bathroom because your husband’s not alone. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time than we were planning, and it’s nice to have some stretching. And for our women listeners, I love that you threw in that tip to pull in your belly button so we can make sure that we are doing things to help ourselves while we’re going to the bathroom. I think that’s incredibly important.

So I’m curious to know, how has your experience as a dancer influenced your work as a wellness and resilience coach. We’ve already been getting into some of the ways that all of this stuff is interconnected, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Kara: As a dancer, we are incredibly disciplined. We are at the barre every day, doing the same…the barre, B-A-R-R-E, not the B-A-R, but we are constantly doing exercises repetitively and building that discipline, the tenacity, the routine, the commitment, and the constant working on technique, doing it better, trying something different, seeing if that’s better. And the creativity element, of course, the artistic, that all helped me as a coach.

Coaching is all about really asking my clients questions, we’re partners. And I need to think about how I’m gonna ask a question to a client without giving them what my idea might be because my idea for them may not be the right decision for them to make and I don’t impose that on them as a coach. That’s not my job. My job as a coach is to partner. And by asking the right questions, I can then spurn the thought process that will bring my client to an answer or a decision, and that commitment to the client and the commitment to the process, really as a dancer, that’s what I can bring in.

Plus as a dancer, I’m more open because the lifestyle is maybe different from others, so that really helps me be very open to where my client is coming from, what their point of view might be.

Ariel: Something that I talk about a lot on this podcast because I think it’s very important, is meeting people where they’re at and then also making sure people feel empowered in the different areas of their life, whether that’s empowered in the doctor’s office or empowered at home when they’re trying to take control of their health and understand what’s going on with their bodies.

And I love that you mentioned the partnership aspect in your approach to coaching because I feel like a lot of people don’t like being just told what to do, but also it takes away their agency sometimes to be able to figure things out on their own and be able to learn in the way that’s best for them. So that partnership approach is something that I think is unique and that I really appreciate.

Kara: Yeah. And we don’t know where we’re gonna end up, you know. To me, I’m a choreographer, I make dances and I don’t know when I start the dance where it’s going to end up. I could start with one idea, but I end up somewhere completely different. And that happens with clients all of the time. They think that they’re going to wanna get a job that’s completely different than the one that they have now, but at the end of our working together, they actually end up staying in their job and having a whole new outlook on it. And then it’s completely different than what they thought.

So having that openness, that’s exciting as a coach because I don’t know where we’re gonna end up and it’s staying open to the process of where that’s going to lead.

Ariel: I love the creativity aspect. I love creative problem solving and I’m sure as a choreographer like you mentioned, and a dancer, being able to navigate different twists and turns and things as they come up also has to be exciting and fun for you and your clients.

Kara: Oh, it’s great. I mean, when I sit and talk to a client, and most of my work is done on Zoom, I’m sweating with excitement like I would in a rehearsal. I mean it’s so exciting sometimes. I mean, it’s really, it’s awesome. It’s an incredible opportunity for me to be able to work with people and see what we come up with.

Ariel: So along those lines, how can listeners work with you if they’re interested?

Kara: So visit my website and you can reach out to me directly, [email protected] I’m also on social media, Instagram @karatatelbaum, and Facebook also.

Ariel: Excellent. And as always, I will link all of those things in the show notes below, so be sure that you scroll on down and have easy access to just go ahead and click those links to contact Kara. And are there any parting words or thoughts that you’d like to share with our audience before we go?

Kara: I’d like to share with the audience something that I’ve been thinking about constantly and that I talk about in my memoir is that life is about staying grounded and having big dreams and that whatever storm you may be in right now, you’re going to go through that storm and you’re gonna come out of that storm, and you are going to find your footing, and never ever during that time stop dreaming because the possibilities, and the more possibilities that you can dream up for yourself, you will get there.

Ariel: Oh, I feel like you just spoke directly to my heart and I’m sure a lot of our listeners feel that way as well. I wanna make sure they also know, once your memoir is released, where can we find that?

Kara: So my memoir will be released on April 29th, which is “International Dance Day” and it is available wherever books are sold. I am doing a series of signings and events, so if you visit my website or see me on Instagram, you can see where I will be. Maybe I will be near you and you can come and say hi, and I can sign a book for you and meet you in person.

Ariel: That sounds amazing and we all really treasure those sweet, nice in-person moments more than ever these days. So if you happen to be in the area, definitely make sure that you check that out and sign up. Kara, it was so lovely speaking with you. I can’t tell you how excited I am for my next bathroom trip to try out those toilet Pilates. Thank you so, so much for being here today.

Kara: Thank you. I had a blast talking to you. Thank you so much for having me.

Ariel: And as I always finish off saying, we all have colons, so ask your questions, do your research and have a conversation. All right? We’ll see you next time on the “Colon Health Podcast.” Bye.