Cancer Fit Helps Heal Body and Mind

Thursday, Oct 16, 2014

Doylestown Hospital and Cornerstone Fitness have collaborated to create the Cancer Fit program, and it's making a big difference in the lives of cancer survivors.

Patrice R. said she was "ecstatic" when Rachel Saks, MSS, LSW, OSW-C, Doylestown Hospital oncology social worker, called to tell her about the Cancer Fit program. "This program gave me hope and a positive outlook – I needed that," says Patrice, 57.

"I'm starting to feel so much better and I have more energy."

The six weeks of radiation therapy for breast cancer Patrice had completed in August left her lethargic with no motivation.

More Than Just a Workout

Sabrina Willard, Cornerstone Fitness certified personal trainer, worked with The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital to develop the 12-week program for cancer survivors. Research has shown that regular exercise may reduce the risk of recurrence in breast cancer. Exercise (both aerobic and weight bearing) has been shown to improve fatigue, reduce stress and impact long-term overall health.

"Your quality of life improves, hands down," says Sabrina. "Exercise is important to improve overall function in daily life."

Donna Angotti, MD, medical director of The Breast Center of Doylestown Hospital, points to findings from a large, long-term study called the National Nurses Health Study. "The study demonstrated that women who developed breast cancer and then adopted an exercise program, had a significantly decreased risk of breast cancer recurrence and a higher survival rate. All that was required was walking at an average pace for 3-4 hours per week."

"Other studies are showing that a BMI (body mass index) under 25 reduces cancer recurrence, but the focus should be balanced between good food choices and increased physical activity," adds Angotti.

Expert and Caring Guidance

Sabrina earned the CET (Cancer Exercise Trainer) certification from the American College of Sports Medicine, which developed the CET with the American Cancer Society. "I wanted to achieve this level of expertise to better serve my clients," says Sabrina.

Participants meet twice a week at Cornerstone's Warrington facility, where they do more than work out under Sabrina's careful guidance. She also brings in speakers like Audrey Fleck, Doylestown Hospital nutritionist, to discuss post-treatment nutrition. Others talk about therapeutic massage specific to mastectomy and breast surgery, acupuncture for pain relief, and the stress reduction and healing benefits of yoga. The program caters to a variety of individuals.

"Some people have never exercised, some were very active. But with cancer treatment, they all have been unable to be active," says Sabrina.

Melodye D. was a runner who was very active before her cancer diagnosis. The 48-year-old had a double mastectomy in the spring, right around the time her husband passed away. She hadn't worked out in almost a year when she started Cancer Fit. "I look forward to coming in," says Melodye. "I come here and focus on my health and having fun. I'm learning so much. I feel really good."

A Range of Benefits for Body and Soul

The benefits of Cancer Fit are more than physical, as the women get to know each other and share their experiences. "There is camaraderie and the women develop relationships. They get a sense that they're ok. It gives them a piece of normalcy so they can move on to the next step," says Sabrina.

"Cancer takes everything out of you – physically, mentally and emotionally," says Mary G., 59, who participated in the first session of Cancer Fit that concluded in June. "The exercise is something you have control over. It helps you get emotionally better. When you're more in shape, you are stronger to fight the next step."

Participants in the first Cancer Fit group met for six weeks, but longed for more. The current session is 12 weeks, which gives the women more time to gradually increase the intensity of the exercise and to bond with one another.

"It has been really helpful to be together. We all gelled right away," says Patrice. "I think it's an absolutely great thing."

Doylestown Hospital uses funds donated to The Cancer Institute to subsidize the program for the participants so they can participate no matter what their financial circumstances.

Both current and past participants agree the program has changed their lives.

"I felt like myself again after the class," said Julie H., 56, who completed the program in June. "I felt happy. I'm doing pretty much everything I used to do."

About Doylestown Health's Breast Center

Doylestown Health's Breast Center offers comprehensive breast cancer and well-breast care, close to home. From early detection through advanced screening options like 3D mammography, to complex surgical treatments including nipple-sparing mastectomy, the experts at Doylestown Health are your resource for total breast health.

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