Cancer fight inspires founding of Wigwam Fest wellness event


9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 26 and May 3. Day passes are $84 and give access to four one-hour experiences during the day and cover entrance into the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell. For tickets and more information:

On a winter Friday evening three years ago, Jennifer Lingvall and her boyfriend Erik (now husband) were lying in bed watching a movie when she noticed a lump in her left breast. Within days, Lingvall, 31 years old at the time, was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. The tumor was small but the pathology report revealed a rare, aggressive and difficult-to-treat type of cancer.

Lingvall, a firm believer in holistic medicine, decided she needed to “attack the cancer with every weapon I had.”

Joining an approach taken by a growing number of people battling cancer, the Atlanta resident combined traditional and holistic approaches. While enduring eight rounds of chemotherapy, Lingvall discovered several tools and therapies to help cope — everything from acupuncture three times a week to yoga, foot baths and green vegetable juicing.

The experience inspired Lingvall, an event producer, to plan "Wigwam Fest" at Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell. (The remaining dates are April 26 and May 3.) The daylong events mix live music with nine "stages" — all of which are outdoors and designed to uplift, inspire and heal.

The festival is tailored not only for adults facing illness but for anyone interested in learning more about holistic wellness.

The stages include a pavilion, a rooftop deck, a garden, a pond, an outdoor classroom, and a walking path, all of which feature wellness-related activities — everything from salsa and hip-hop dance classes to meditation, stand-up paddle board lessons and juicing. Day passes are $84 and include entrance into the Nature Center.

“I have no family history of breast cancer and never would have expected this to happen to me,” Lingvall said. “Wigwam is about turning a negative into a positive, and presenting resources in a fun and experiential way.”

During chemotherapy, Lingvall turned to sound therapy — custom affirmations, prepared by a clinical hypnotherapist. She would listen to the recordings during the first nine minutes of the chemotherapy sessions, each one lasting eight hours.

“I would pop on my headphones and listen to affirmations. It would instantly put me at ease,” she said.

The recording consisted of encouraging words: You are perfect. You are whole. You are complete. Your body is responding to medication and knows how to heal itself. March forward with your head held up high and smile. You've got a lot of living to do, girl.

About six months after chemotherapy, Lingvall underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She is now in remission.

Lingvall said she hopes to also encourage people facing cancer to take advantage of a growing number of programs and activities available at cancer centers, especially larger ones including Piedmont, Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute and Northside.

Carolyn Helmer, manager of the Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, estimates about 60 percent of people undergoing treatment for cancer at Piedmont enroll in one or more of the activities offered, including cooking classes, art therapy, meditation and African drumming.

“Some people gravitate to what we offer right away, and others are hesitant and unsure,” Helmer said. “Maybe they’ve never done meditation or tai chi before, but what we do is very mainstream. I have worked in the field for 20 years, and 20 years ago, it was all happening in California or Arizona and it is now happening everywhere. The reason is people want to do all they can, not only to get through cancer but also to live well.”

Earlier this month, Piedmont launched a new website ( that offers several free online classes including ones in tai chi, mindfulness as well as healthy cooking demonstrations. (The website as well as the programs at Chapman Family Cancer Wellness are open to all cancer patients and survivors; they're not just limited to Piedmont patients.)

Six months after her final surgery, Lingvall rediscovered her affinity for fitness.

“Stepping back into dance after my recovery was one of the most powerful moments in my healing process,” she said. “The first time I used my body for a dance class after chemotherapy and five surgeries, I felt like a woman again.”