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At 35, Robin Hesselink had big plans for her future. She loved to travel, recently received her Master of Business Administration degree and was ready to make her rise up the corporate ladder. But after experiencing a week of strange aches and pains, Hesselink made a trip to the emergency room, where her life as she knew it changed forever.

Scans revealed that she had lesions on her bones and a large mass in her pelvis, which doctors initially thought the primary source was gynecological cancer. After being referred to Moffitt Cancer Center and having more tests done, Hesselink was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer

Robin Hesselink doing yoga

Robin Hesselink doing yoga at Moffitt Cancer Center

“Cancer hadn’t been anywhere close to my radar, and now here it was all over my body,” said Hesselink. “All of the goals and plans I had for my life seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye as the focus became simply surviving.”

For Hesselink, the weeks that followed her diagnosis and treatment were filled with darkness.

“I felt sorry for myself, hopeless, constantly asking why this was happening to me. I thought my life was over, or at least that it would be very soon,” said Hesselink. 

She began to lose her hair and put on weight from the steroids administered with her chemotherapy drugs. Hesselink grew frustrated that the things she once loved doing, such as being active and yoga, she couldn’t do because of the pain. 

Mentioning her struggles to her social worker, Hesselink learned that Moffitt offered private yoga lessons. 

“The first time I met Sharen Lock, Moffitt’s amazing yoga therapist, she began our session by simply asking how I was doing. I completely broke down,” Hesselink said. “I realized how much emotion I had been holding inside, trying to stay strong for everyone around me.”

Hesselink learned how to do form yoga, a practice she once thought was only a physical exercise, from the comfort of a chair. 

Robin Hesselink

“I had always seen yoga as physical exercise, but Sharen showed me the rich spiritual side of the practice,” Hesselink said. “I discovered, with Sharen’s help, that not only could I still do yoga, but that it could dramatically affect my mental and physical well-being.”

Hesselink says the meeting with Sharen set her on a path that would change her life. With the help of yoga, she was starting to feel better and needed to find something productive to do with her time, that’s when she was given the idea to become a yoga instructor. 

“At first, I brushed it off, thinking I could never do it. I’d never taught anything before in my life,” Hesselink said.  

But the idea stuck with her and over the next few months it blossomed, as she began to picture what it would look like to share the gift of yoga with others. To show people that yoga can be accessible and beneficial, no matter the circumstances.

“I completed my 200-hour certification over the summer and showing signs of my previous life as an ambitious overachiever, began my 300-hour studies in September,” said Hesselink 

Hesselink is now teaching yoga online and will start teaching in-person classes in the fall at Zen∙a∙sium Integrative Health & Wellness, owned and operated by Dr. Liem Le, who offers acupuncture at Moffitt.

“I didn’t even dare to dream that I’d still be alive three years after a stage four breast cancer diagnosis, much less thriving and planning for the future with this new sense of purpose as a yoga instructor,” said Hesselink. 

Outside of yoga, Hesselink also utilizes other services offered at Moffitt such as support groups, acupuncture treatments and mindfulness workshops. 

“I would never say that cancer has been a blessing in and of itself, but it’s hard not to be grateful for all of the beautiful things that have happened in my life since my diagnosis,” Hesselink said. “The amazing people that I’ve encountered along the way, who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Hesselink’s advice to other younger women living with breast cancer is, “while your life may look different than you expected, cancer doesn’t define you; and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t still find joy and purpose.”

Robin Hesselink Yoga Instructor