Breast cancer survivors gather at La Jolla spa’s closing salute to them

By Ashley Mackin

The SK Sanctuary in Bird Rock held its final spa night for breast cancer survivors on March 26, just days before the spa closed its doors for good on March 30. The monthly spa nights have been a tradition since April 2001, when plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Krant began offering free spa treatments to the patients for whom he performed breast reconstruction surgery.

The facility is closing after a collective decision to sell the building and consolidate the SK Institute.

Under the umbrella of the nonprofit SK Institute, which also oversees Krant’s nearby clinic, the spa was designed to offer a whole-body care experience. “It’s about nurturing the soul and wellness of the patients, not just treating the body,” he said. The gatherings also offered a chance for patients and survivors to come together, share stories and have a sense of community.

For their final celebration, they did just that. Several speakers in the breast cancer community thanked Dr. Krant and his wife, Lynn, including a longtime survivor, a representative from a breast cancer awareness organization, a male survivor, a patient just completing treatment and others.

As SK Institute board member Dani Grady walked up to speak, she pulled ribbons and decorations out of her bra — which she apparently uses instead of pockets — joking that when you’ve had a mastectomy, always wear an animal print bra.

“We know what it’s like to have a really bad day, we know what it’s like to breathe hard and not know what the next thing we’re going to do is. We also know what it’s like to wonder who cares,” she said. “The gift Lynn and Dr. Krant (gave) us was to know that people really care.” Grady then wrapped the long pink ribbon from her bra around Lynn Krant and red heart decorations around Dr. Krant.

Despite Kleenex being passed around, several people made the crowd laugh, as if they were all in on one big inside joke. For example, Channel 10 anchor Bill Griffith, representing the male survivor population, explained what happened when someone asked to see a photo of his mastectomy.

“I said, it kind of looks like this,” squeezing one eye shut in a tight wink. “After a double mastectomy, it looks like this,” he said, squeezing both eyes tight (Dr. Krant sometimes refers to a mastectomy scar as the wink).

Returning to seriousness, Griffith said, “My definition of love is doing something for somebody with no expectation of getting anything back. These folks have no expectation of getting anything in return.”

In addition to sharing stories, the spa nights also provided education about resources and services. On this night, Laura Knoll, founder of the Helen Knoll Foundation, shared memories of her late mother, for whom the foundation is named, and explained what it does.

After her mother was diagnosed at age 35, Knoll said her mother was offered a free massage through her insurance company. “I just remember how special an experience it was for her ... for this 30 minutes, she felt beautiful and felt like people cared about her and that she was important and that she mattered and people were willing to give their time and practice to her. I can’t image how much it has meant to the 4,000 people you’ve helped here,” she said.

After fighting cancer for 10 years, Helen Knoll died in 2006. In lieu of flowers, the family requested monetary donations go toward a cause that may have helped her or other younger women with early detection screenings. Finding none, they decided to start their own.

Knoll cited the statistic that every 30 minutes a woman under the age of 40 is diagnosed with breast cancer. So the Helen Knoll Foundation shows women ages 18-40 the different screenings available and risk factors. Information about the foundation can be found at

Other statistics show that one in eight women over age 70 will be diagnosed with breast cancer. One of those women was Sherry Frantz, whose comments closed the event, She was diagnosed at age 70 in August 2012.

After detailing how she found out she had breast cancer and the weeks of tests and appointments that followed, she focused her speech on how she heals.

“We all have to take something out of each day to enjoy ... no matter what is going on,” Frantz said. As to how she does that, she used the quote Rose Kennedy gave after a reporter asked her how she coped following the assassinations of her two sons (former president John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy): “Birds sing after a storm, don’t they?”

Following the speeches, patients were treated to manicures, pedicures, haircuts, makeup lessons, massages and facials.