• Mary Bange demonstrates an exercise.
    Photo by Karen Davin
  • Mary Bange leads her class in the "inner peace" exercise of pilates.
    Photo by Karen Davin
  • Bange corrects the movements of a class member during warm-up exercises.
    Photo by Karen Davin
  • Bange leads her class in mat exercises designed to strengthen core muscles.
    Photo by Karen Davin
  • Mary Bange

With a Ph.D. in finance and as a professor at Michigan State University, the University of Oregon and the University of South Carolina, Mary Bange had lived a life immersed in academia. After her husband was transferred to Houston five years ago, however, she decided it was time for a career change.

After joining him here, Bange shifted her focus towards her first love — fitness — and began working towards her certification as a personal trainer and pilates instructor.

At the same time, a new movement was gaining speed in the pilates world: The Pink Ribbon Program.

It was created by Doreen Puglisi, a New Jersey pilates instructor and exercise physiologist, who hoped to build a successful rehabilitation program for women who had recently undergone breast cancer surgery by using pilates methods. The program was put to the ultimate test when Puglisi was diagnosed with breast cancer and used the program to aid in her own rehabilitation. Through this, Puglisi was able to tweak the program based on her own experiences to make it more effective.

After losing her mother to a breast cancer, witnessing first-hand her struggles to regain movement, Bange felt a strong personal connection to the program. Like Puglisi, Bange was disheartened by the fact that most women are discharged from hospitals with barely even a mention of physical rehabilitation. With no guidance, they often find themselves in discouraging situations, feeling overwhelmed and losing confidence when attempting to navigate the post-operative exercise world.

Bange began working with individuals after receiving her pilates certification in 2006, but was only recently approached about the possibility of teaching Pink Ribbon methods in a class setting. After a chain of events led her to Memorial Hermann Memorial City's Bobetta Lindig Breast Center during its May opening, Bange reached an agreement with the hospital to offer the six-week class to patients for the first time.

The hospital has provided every necessary material for the program, from exercise mats to the illustrated Pink Ribbon Program manual, so that women may participate free of charge.

Teaching the class is deeply rewarding for Bange. The program is split into four phases of increasing physical difficulty, and when Bange works with individuals, she is able to begin the program at the appropriate phase for their strength. However, in the class setting, all participants must start at phase one. The unlevel playing field may be frustrating for some, but Bange ensures that each participant is given a high level of individual attention. The women are encouraged to adjust the exercises to their own abilities and range of motion.

The once-weekly class begins with simple, standing warmup exercises. The women then move to exercises seated in chairs, focusing on the core muscles of the body. It is clear from early on that some of the five women in the class have significantly more arm and torso movement than others. If you pay enough attention, you can even identify which sides of their bodies have been affected by treatment. Despite their differences, though, there is no competition among the women, as each clearly focuses on her own progress and ability.

Bange plays the role of coach and cheerleader throughout the session, correcting movements when necessary and offering encouragement. At one point, Bange even references the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, to illustrate a point she is trying to make. "Eyes, always eyes," she says, correcting those who accidentally twist their heads to the side when only the eyes should move.

The exercises get increasingly strenuous as the session goes on, and Bange explains to her class how they build on one another. She demonstrates how one exercise, done while standing with the back to a wall, is really just the standing version of an exercise done laying on the mat for extra arm support. While flashes of frustration occasionally come across the women's faces, they seem at ease with the fact that, at this point in time, their bodies can only do so much.

At the end of a calm and quiet 45 minutes, the women scurry on their own way, eager to cook dinner for their families and return to everyday life. The class clearly gives them time, for once, to think only of themselves and their own needs. The camaraderie is evident as participants use each other as a support group. The only thing more daunting than entering the overwhelming world of post-operation exercise is going at it alone.

The physical benefits of the program are its main selling point, but not the only one. The program not only helps women regain muscular strength lost in the weeks following their operation but also provides an emotional boost. Bange believes the program gives women a feeling of control over their bodies and situations, which has been fleeting throughout treatment. The women also gain the confidence to hit the gym and begin normal exercise — something that seemed nearly impossible immediately following surgery.

The program has a wide network of trainers, including several in Houston, but Bange's program is currently believed to be the only organized class in the area. One of her primary goals for the future is to make the program more accessible to breast cancer survivors; she is exploring other partnerships as a means to bring the Pink Ribbon classes to the community.

The patients are not the only ones who benefit from the program. "It's very rewarding to use pilates to help people recover from surgery," Bange said. "I make a difference when I work with them."

The science of surviving: Irene Newsham tackles breast cancer as researcher andpatient

Video Tale

Irene Newsham lives with breast cancer almost daily. And that's not just because she's successfully fought the disease as a patient.

As an assistant professor in the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Irene is working tirelessly alongside the center's director, Dr. Richard Gibbs, and her other colleagues to find more effective treatments and possibly even a cure for this deadly disease.

In the third (and final) video in CultureMap's editorial series highlighting Houston's fight to cure breast cancer, Newsham talks about the science of surviving as a patient and researcher.

This video series was commissioned by the Lester and Sue Smith Foundation on behalf of the Pink Well Challenge.

  • Dr. Jennifer Litton
    Photo by John Everett

When breast cancer & pregnancy collide: New study shows that cancer's childrencan thrive

Giving new life

A cancer diagnosis is confusing and scary under the best circumstances. But when pregnancy enters the mix, everything changes — well, sort of.

According to Dr. Jennifer Litton, associate professor at the Department of Breast Medical Oncology at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, negotiating pregnancy and cancer just wasn't done when she started in the field 20 years ago.

"I was a medical student in my third year in obstetrics and we had to do a project. I was interested in breast cancer, so I asked the medical school director what we do when a pregnant woman gets cancer. And the answer was that we terminated the pregnancy," Litton says. "I came to Houston to M.D. Anderson and studied under Dr. Richard Theriault, who has championed changing that for over 20 years."

According to Litton, as recently as five years ago it was recommended that pregnant women who were diagnosed with breast cancer terminate their pregnancy, but recent research has given women more options to save their life without sacrificing their child.

"Those who are pregnant are often young and because of pregnancy-related changes in breasts they are generally diagnosed later. They also thought the hormones from the pregnancy were feeding cancer and making it worse," Litton says. "But now we have data from M.D. Anderson, from clinical trials, that chemotherapy is safe for them and works just as well if you're pregnant.

"Those who begin treatment in their second or third trimester do as well or better than other patients. They actually do better with the chemo, with less nausea."

Litton presented the first-ever long-ranging study chronicling the health of children born while their mothers received chemotherapy at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago earlier this month.

The study followed 81 children born over a 21-year period and found "no significant trend in increased medical problems" from birth to puberty.

Still, Litton says women are understandably concerned when doctors bring up chemo.

"Imagine all the stuff you're told — not to eat soft cheese, not to eat some different deli meats, all these different things — and now we tell them they're about to get chemo. Imagine getting past that shock." she says.

Litton says that though some chemotherapies are safe, pregnancy does alter the course of treatment.

"We always wait until after the first trimester because the risk of birth defects is very high," she says. "With other cancers like leukemia you have to start immediately because if you wait the woman might not live long enough to give birth. In that situation there's about a 15-20 percent chance of birth defects.

"For breast cancer, you work up to the second trimester and start chemo. For some types of chemotherapies we wait until after delivery, and some other therapies — trastuzumab and lapatinib — have to wait until after delivery."

The biggest factor that inspires Litton is just how quickly her field is changing.

"For breast cancer in general, things are changing rapidly," she says. "The technology we have in identifying individual tumors has changed drastically in the past five years. There's a shift in the old way of thinking — instead of trying chemo and seeing what happens, big cancer centers are focusing on therapies, using biopsies to find molecular weaknesses to treat cancer without only using chemo.

"I'm excited about M.D. Anderson's capability — we have a whole institute of personalized cancer therapies, an umbrella of all of different tumor types and we can take advantage of things certain tumors have in common."

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Giant sea creatures made of recycled beach trash wash onto Galveston Island in must-see new exhibit

inspiring sea change

A giant great white shark, massive bald eagle, oversized octopus, and more enormous sea life are invading Galveston Island — just in time for the holidays.

Washed Ashore, a compelling and traveling art of giant sea animal sculptures made of trash collected from beaches opens in Galveston on Saturday, December 10 across 19 locations.

The clever showcase features more than 20 pieces — most more than six feet tall and as much as 17 feet wide — such as coral reefs, jellyfish, penguins, sunfish, and more.

Sculptures can be found at museums, hotels, parks, attractions, and popular outdoor spaces. Thanks to a partnership between Oregon-based non-profit Washed Ashore and the Galveston Park Board, the exhibit, which is open though March 5, 2023, is free.

This innovative, powerful exhibit to educate the public about the hazards of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and comes at a touchstone environmental moment. Some 35 million metric tons of plastic entered the global aquatic ecosystems in 2020, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s research partners.

Similar Washed Ashore exhibits have been displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens, across the nation. Notably, this Galveston debut marks the first time the exhibit will not be behind a paid gate, per press materials.

“The sculptures are impressive,” Visit Galveston Chief Tourism Officer Michael Woody said. “But they’re even more impressive when you look at them closely. The artists at Washed Ashore placed recognizable objects – like buckets and shovels – at a child’s eye view. This way, hopefully, they will learn to take with them what they bring to the beach.”

For more information on the exhibit, visit the official site.

Photo courtesy of Visit Galveston

Meet Greta the great white shark.

Bad 'a' Hawaiian coffee shop brews up plans for 10 Houston-area locations

curiously strong coffee

A new coffee shop will brings the flavors of Hawaii to the Houston area. Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii has signed a development agreement that will bring as many as 10 locations to West Houston and Galveston in the next five years.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii was founded on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1989 to serve Hawaiian-sourced coffee to locals and tourists. Franchising on the mainland started in 1985, but an acquisition in 2019 paved the way for its current expansion. Currently at about 30 locations nationwide, Bad Ass announced plans to open five locations in Dallas earlier this year.

The cafe serves hot, cold, and frozen coffee drinks as well as tea and smoothes. Food options consist of a tidy menu of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and muffins.

Bad Ass Coffee’s colorful name comes from the donkeys who carried coffee beans along steep mountain passes in Kona, Hawaii. Locals named them the “bad ass ones” for their stubborn but friendly nature, the company states.

Houston franchisees Kyle Price and Heath Rushing bring experience from the health care industry to their new role as entrepreneurs. In a release, they explain that Bad Ass Coffee’s values help fueled their interest in bringing the brand to Houston.

“We love how the brand honors its Hawaiian heritage and creates a culture that differentiates itself by embodying its island roots,” Rushing said. “Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii also isn't just a brand, it's an identity and the vision is to fuel the inner badass in all of us. We hope to unlock inner badasses by fueling customers with energy and kindness every single day.”

Houston Astros' Julia Morales reports on life with the team, work-family balance, her new fashion line, and more


Photo courtesy of Julia Morales

Julia Morales with Alex Bregman at Minute Maid Park.

For serious Houston Astros fans, Julia Morales Clark needs no introduction. As the Astros sideline reporter, her job is to tell the on-and-off-the-field stories and relay the big moments that keep sports fans connected to the team.

Starting in West Palm Beach at Spring Training in February and grinding to the postseason, Morales is a constant fixture next to the Astros dugout. She spends all day, every day during away games traveling with the World Series Champion team, asking the hard questions and enjoying front-row seats to the antics of Alex Bregman, José Altuve, and the rest of the ball club.

This season, Morales reported on the longest game in World Series history and interviewed everyone who had anything to do with the famed no-hitters against the Yankees and Phillies.

She also gave fans a glimpse behind the scenes through Instagram — and became known as the “Queen of Astros TikTok.”

Childhood dreams

Morales grew up outside of Dallas in the small town of Crandall where sports were a constant in her life. With both parents being college athletes, she and her brother were always playing various sports with her dad often as coach, it was what her family did together.

Going into her 11th season with the Houston Astros, Morales is grateful to talk about sports daily and admits she wanted to be a news reporter from a young age. “By the time I was ten, I had already decided it was what I wanted to do. At the time, there were not a lot of females in sports reporting, especially at the national level, so I didn’t know it was a possibility,” she tells CultureMap.

“When I got into college, I started noticing that more women were covering sports, so I decided I wanted to go the sports route instead of the news route.”

Family time

These days Morales spends more time “wheels up” accompanying the Astros on every road game and reporting on 140-150 of the total 162 regular season baseball games. Balancing her career, marriage, and being a mom to 2-year-old Valerie is a constant struggle.

She is buoyed by the offseason when she gets to spend every day with her husband and daughter and bonding over family activities, but admits managing motherhood and the longest season in sports is hard.

“It gets tough with ten-day road trips on the west coast when you are away from the people you love, but I am not alone. Every player has a family, and every coach has a family. We talk about it amongst each other and help each other through it — there is a lot of FaceTime and phone calls. It is part of the job and the sacrifices I have to make, but I also know that she will be proud of me and everything I am doing one day.”

Style and baseball

Although being away from her family is hard, Morales has adapted to life on the road. She has developed a great wardrobe with staples for every climate she visits and says she now owns more Astros orange than ever before. She incorporates her pieces with rented items to keep up with the trends and has a lot of fun with jewelry, naming jewelry juggernaut Kendra Scott as one of her biggest supporters.

Over the past year, Morales has quietly worked on a line of baseball-themed shirts and sweatshirts. She debuted her line right before the Astros clinched the ALCS and has been surprised at the positive reaction to her “Baseball Y’all” brand.

“It did really, really well. It almost overwhelmed me at a point in the season when I was already busy, but it was so worth it. Seeing people wearing my shirts and sweatshirts at the games is amazing. I have so many more ideas and things I want to do — I just need a minute to catch my breath.”

Behind the Scenes

Busy professionals know there are instances when spending more time with work colleagues than family is par for the course, but Morales’ work-family relationships are at a whole other level. Travel plus a three-hour game and a pre and post-game workload – Morales has logged many hours with every Houston Astros team member.

The sideline reporter laughs and says she knows the team exceptionally well, noting that they spend almost too much time together. Working alongside the ball club for over a decade, she has seen most players come and go, except Altuve. She has seen him grow his family with his wife Nina, become a World Series Champion twice, become an MVP, and talked with him on camera through tough losses and intense moments like Hurricane Harvey.

“I wouldn’t call him my best friend or anything, but I have been around him for a decade. It’s almost a cooler relationship than what people would call a friend — it is on its own level, and I am so grateful for those relationships.”

According to Morales, affectionately nicknamed “Mrs. Astros”, the best thing about a baseball season is that no one has any idea what will happen in any given year. This season, in particular, she’s been able to watch the rise of shortstop phenom Jeremy Peña.

“I got to know Jeremy Peña as a rookie ready for his first year in the majors. From having that first interview with him to watching his first home run and then watching him at the end of the season become a World Series MVP and a household name across the country — it has been an incredibly unique experience.”

Diehard Astros fans may know more about their favorite ball team because of the redhead sideline reporter, but now, she's opening the door to let fans get to know her, too. Here are 20 fun facts about Clark.

Go-to outfit: Baseball Y’all cropped hoodie and leggings

Favorite Astros accessory: Golden Thread Star earrings or my World Series Champions Baseball cap.

Favorite ballpark food: Breakfast Burger at PNC Park, Crab Fried in Baltimore and everything at Minute Maid Park

Favorite non-Houston ballpark: T-Mobile Park or Target Field

Type A or B: A

Dream dinner guest (sports related): Earl Campbell

Dream dinner guest (non-sports related): Beyonce

Smartest person in the room or richest person in the room: Smartest person in the room

Drink of choice: Glass of cabernet

Guacamole or queso: Guacamole

TikTok or Instagram: Instagram

Happy Place: Round Top

Top three essential gameday items: Reporters notebook & pen, clear mascara for hair flyaways and a scorebook

Strangest thing about your job: My schedule

Best thing about your job: Storytelling

Cowboy boots or cowboy hat: Boots

Lose sleep or skip a meal: Lose sleep

Show or tell: Tell

Who are you inspired by: My parents

What three traits got you to where you are today: Hard work, my people skills, and my love for sports.