The new Kingsland wellness hub helping women find balance

Battling a life-threatening illness has brought an Auckland woman to an inspiring new venture, discovers Janetta Mackay.

Rebecca Wadey's wellness hub in Kingsland will encourage cancer patients to get together and share experiences. Photo / Babiche Martens.

"There's been some really dark tough times," says Rebecca Wadey, explaining why, over a decade after she was diagnosed with cancer at age 26, she is intent on running classes for women facing the same challenge.

"It's such a lonely disease ... it's quite hard if you're a younger person to find people who are going through the same thing."

For Wadey, now married with two young sons, the journey from despair to a happier, holistic outlook has involved a family lifestyle re-evaluation. It is one she commends to women of all ages.

Yoga, dietary changes and meditation have all played a part in helping her cope.

"I've been so inspired by the people I've met and energy I've generated for myself through yoga, raw food and natural therapies. It's a dream to bring them together and create the kind of place where lives can be turned around," she says.

This week that dream becomes a reality with the opening of The Centre, a wellness hub in Kingsland, located above the original Little Bird Unbakery, whose founder Megan May she has teamed up with. Upstairs is a studio space for yoga classes and rooms for therapists, downstairs the cafe which Wadey says introduces a unique social component to the mix.

She envisages women getting together to chat after an uplifting class or grabbing a healthy food takeaway to prolong the sense of wellbeing from their workout.

Once a week, free classes and a green smoothie will be offered to people undergoing treatment for cancer, split into sessions for over and under 40s. She hopes the environment will encourage them to mix and mingle and share experiences, tapping into other things The Centre has on offer, if they wish, including a nutritionist, an acupuncturist and a massage therapist.

"I'm really trying to take it out of the medical environment, take them away from being about the disease and make it non-medical and make it like a treat."

Another feature of her community programme, for which she is seeking sponsors, will be a weekly subsidised senior citizens' yoga programme.

Sitting in her renovated Pt Chevalier kitchen with views west across the harbour and a section that stretches down towards it, Wadey's own outlook wasn't always so idyllic. Back before she had kale growing like a weed in her vegetable garden and eggs to collect from the ducks and chickens in her backyard, she was grappling with getting her head around a mastectomy and rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.

"I always wished there was some way you could abdicate responsibility for your health to someone else because it's really freaking hard work trying to find all that stuff out. You don't want to research things on the net, cos that's like awful, but just get gentle guidance into ways you can help make things better in your life. Not from a medical 'I'm really sick, how can you treat the disease?' but 'How can you make me feel better and put me in a good head space to move forward?'"

With her younger son starting school soon, Wadey, whose career includes fashion PR and writing, knew she wanted to do something extra that was health-related. "A few people suggested blog things, but I want to effect change and see the results."

Drawing on a few "amazing" experiences at overseas health retreats and the personal connection with Little Bird's May, the idea of The Centre as an accessible, everyday getaway gradually took shape. Several of Auckland's leading yoga instructors are on board, including Karla Brodie, who has experience in hospices.

Wadey hopes busy mothers and overworked corporate types will check it out, saying they too would benefit from taking simple steps to better cope with the stresses of modern-day living. Her "carnivore, 20 cups of coffee a day, up at 1am" husband, film impresario Ant Timpson, is a convert. "It was a real eye-opener to him."

Losing weight, and feeling more energetic yet calmer were benefits of adopting healthier practices. Wadey is a believer in early morning exercise, stretching, breathing and a few moments of meditation, combined with daily juices, saying: "You will feel amazing for the rest of the day and if you do that regularly your skin will be amazing and you won't get as many colds and flus."

In her case, yoga gave her the strength to lift her children, lost during lymph node removal. It also helped her reconcile with a body she felt had betrayed her. "It's given me such a confidence in my body that I didn't think I'd ever have."

Despite now being back to annual mammograms, the psychological scars require regular tending. "With my history of terrible health, I have to look after myself or I go into all kinds of states of internal chaos. Now that I'm a mum, I can't afford to sit round imagining that that cough is lung cancer, or that that sore back is cancer of the spine or anything like that. I've got to be a lot more proactive and on to it these days about keeping that mind thing in check."

Her insight through adversity extends to knowing it isn't easy getting on top of looking after yourself properly. Her advice is to start with baby steps - and good advice. "If I was going to say to myself I'm going to do yoga every day next week then that would freak me out and I would just go and eat McDonald's every night - you know, setting up yourself to fail."

Some weeks she gets to classes three or four times a week; other times it might be "some stretches while I'm watching My Kitchen Rules and folding some washing". Women need to give themselves permission to take time out, she says.

"Even if you're just doing it on a Saturday, and you go and have a fantastic yoga class and sit down and have a drink with the people from the class afterwards. I think that sense of community is happening less and less in the world.

"If you just did that once a week, you'd feel so good you'd want to find ways to incorporate it and make the time."

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