Program offers cancer survivors fitness, support


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Eight years ago, a breast cancer diagnosis hit Jenny Moss out of the blue.

It was as if one day everything was fine, and the next day, there was cancer, she said. She was 38 at the time and busy as a full-time teacher.

"After treatment, I wanted to continue my ordinary life," said Moss, who now lives in West Lafayette and attends Purdue University. But the treatment changed her body. "It's different, and you can't go back like it never happened."

To regain her strength, she tried different exercise routines. But some were boring, and others she couldn't do. Fitness instructors had a hard time understanding her limitations. Over the years, Moss tried physical therapy and even a personal trainer with little success.

"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it," she told the Journal & Courier ( ). "Your outside doesn't match your inside. I do what I can, but I feel the pain more."

For cancer survivors like Moss, physical fitness isn't something that's easy to jump into.

Treatments can cause a decrease in strength, range of motion and flexibility, said Tarra Hodge, an assistant clinical professor of health and kinesiology at Purdue.

For a long time, Hodge said, exercise was frowned upon for cancer survivors. But research found there are positive impacts of exercise for cancer survivors, especially in group exercise, said Meghan McDonough, a Purdue associate professor of health and kinesiology.

Local cancer survivors can soon participate in a new exercise program designed just for them. The Cancer Wellness Program is a partnership of the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Purdue and the YWCA Greater Lafayette. Both men and women who had any type of cancer can sign up for the 10-week program, which begins June 3.

"It'll be a hands-on, group based fitness concept," Hodge said.

Participants can increase strength and flexibility, improve posture and learn about weight management, and there is also a social benefit, she said.

Heidi Kauffman, coordinator of the Women's Cancer Program at the YWCA, said the program helps increase quality of life after cancer in a way that's safe and tailored to survivors.

And exercise can have both physical and social benefits, Hodge said.

"It's not only about physical functions, but self-esteem," she said.

After her diagnosis, Moss had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation all in less than a year. She said since she was young, she was able to retain a range of motion that most women with breast cancer don't, so she exceeded doctors' expectations, and they didn't worry about her fitness.

"People are really concerned about saving your life, not your quality of life," she said.

Yet Moss could feel the difference. She wanted to squat so she could be on the same level as the young kids she worked with, but it was too painful to do.

"The wear and tear, I feel it so much more," Moss said.

About a year and a half ago, she had a preventive hysterectomy because her medication increased her chances of uterine cancer. The lack of estrogen has changed the way her body responds, Moss said.

"Prior to cancer treatment, I think I did a bad job listening to my body," she said. "Now if I'm tired, I go to bed."

Moss said she signed up for the Cancer Wellness Program not only to become more physically fit, but to exercise with others who understand what she's been through. She said there is a level of wisdom that cancer survivors have.

"You've changed in ways that makes you different from other people," Moss said.

The Cancer Wellness Program is a pilot program that organizers say they hope can continue and fill a need in the community.

Kauffman said she often hears survivors say, "I don't feel good" or "I don't feel the way I used to."

"We started to think that's the way it is," she said.

But at an April Indiana Cancer Consortium meeting, she learned that wasn't the case.

Dr. Julie Silver, a breast cancer survivor and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, spoke about the Survivorship Training and Rehab, or STAR, program she started. The program helps cancer survivors in the same way rehabilitation helps patients with other diseases.

Kauffman said the YWCA can't provide physical therapy, but it could be the next step Silver talked about: the community program. So while local cancer survivors don't have a therapy program, they can have a community support program that helps improve their quality of life.

McDonough said the group fitness class will also give survivors an opportunity to talk to each other about their journeys. She said many people feel different after cancer.

"Some people feel they rebuild stronger," she said.

About a year ago, Moss transferred to Purdue to pursue her master's degree in education. But one opportunity she hasn't had is to meet other cancer survivors. She said most support groups are for people in treatment or who are coping with serious problems and emotional distress.

Moss has been there. She knows what it's like to hear someone say, "This could kill you."

But now, she's focused on moving forward.

After cancer, she said some people want to run a 5K or do something else physical. For Moss, she's more concerned with being in shape and staying healthy.

She said her family doesn't have a history of cancer, but it does have a history of heart disease that she wants to prevent. And the Cancer Wellness Program can help her do that.

"I just want to live longer," Moss said.


Information from: Journal and Courier,

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