Just before her 40th birthday, Yolanda Commack found a lump in her breast. The day of the procedure to have it removed, she was explicitly told not to lift anything. She wasn't fazed. In fact, she went right back to work building trucks at a Ford plant.
When she went in for the results, her doctor asked her whether she wanted the good news or the bad news first. She asked for the good news.
He said, "The good news is, your stitches are ready to come out."
That's how she found out she had breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer, to be specific.
She tried to continue with life as she had lived it, working on trucks, teaching fitness at a community center and taking care of her kids and her mom. But the chemo sapped her energy.
"It drains you," she says. "You want to get up. You want to get out of bed. You don't want to sleep all day, but your body is not working."
One day, her daughter came home from school and had to bang on the door to be let in. When Commack realized she had slept straight through the day, she was embarrassed, and made a commitment, from then on, to get out of bed and do something every day, if only for an hour. That something was her workout.
Four years into being cancer-free, she runs her own fitness studio, where she acts like a drill sergeant, not just for exercise moves, but for all-around healthy habits. She makes home-cooked meals that she sells from the studio to be sure her clients aren't leaving their workouts starving for fast food. If someone stops coming to class for a while, she has no qualms about stopping them in a store to make them do jumping jacks, sprints or squats. She takes her fitness classes grocery shopping and teaches them to read food labels. Cancer patients exercise for free, and they can pick up a donated wig if they need it.
The work she does to support cancer patients is inspired by the stories of women she met while undergoing chemotherapy, some of whom didn't come back for all their treatments because they couldn't afford their co-pays. She also does the work to honor her friend Karen, who exercised with Commack through her own treatments, but didn't survive.
"I noticed her because she was really loud in the chemo room. And normally that was my job."
Through it all, Commack still works at the Ford plant by day, running her studio at night and on weekends.
"I don't need much sleep," she explains with a laugh.
Portrait Sessions are intimate conversations with the compelling personalities who populate our area. Each conversational portrait is paired with a photographic portrait by Paul Andrews.