The boys were a little slower to take to laughter yoga at the second annual Dharma-Rama, a retreat for teenagers living with cancer. At the beginning, the young women seemed more willing to try out yogic breathing combined with unconditional laughter — otherwise known as laughing for no reason.
The young men eventually started cracking up, too, filling the Al Sigl Center cafeteria with happy sounds that were music to the ears of Lauren Spiker.
Spiker founded Melissa's Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping teenagers live with cancer and that hosted Saturday's retreat.
"Our goal is to make their time as they walk this path as meaningful and creative and as fun as possible," said Spiker, whose daughter Melissa died of acute myeloid leukemia when she was 19.
Spiker says that when her daughter was in treatment, she never encountered another teenager who was going through the same ordeal. She believes that teens with cancer can find strength with others who understand what they're going through.
Dharma-Rama attendee Jeremy Cimino, 19, of Gates, agreed. "Things you wouldn't be comfortable telling your best friend, you might be comfortable telling people here," he said.
Laughter yoga, aromatherapy, fitness, writing and drumming activities were on the schedule for the daylong event, which was free for participants and was funded by a grant from NextGen Rochester.
Bethany Marsh, 21, of Nunda, Livingston County, joined the Melissa's Living Legacy Teens Living With Cancer group about five years ago. She said she appreciates activities like Dharma-Rama that help teens with cancer make connections.
"It's a huge bond. It's almost like an underlying spiritual thing. I really don't know what I'd do without them," Marsh said. "You're able to face real issues, but still be kids, too."