Thriving While Surviving!

Exercise and cancer – two words that are not often uttered in the same sentence. But here at Team Survivor Northwest we are living and walking proof that exercise after cancer changes lives.

For the past 21 years, Team Survivor Northwest (TSNW), a Seattle-based non-profit, has provided exercise programs to women of the Puget Sound area who have been diagnosed with cancer. TSNW believes in the power of fitness to improve women’s lives after a cancer diagnosis. Fitness and an active lifestyle not only improve outcomes but empower women survivors to feel better and thrive.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, chances are that exercise is the furthest thing from your mind. You may be fighting fatigue and managing emotional ups and downs. You may be nauseous and fragile. But what if the simple act of moving your body – even gently – could help you feel better? What if taking a gentle walk could boost your spirits and give you a bit more energy. Would you be willing to give it a try?

“When I was undergoing cancer treatment for early stage ovarian cancer, I was scared and fragile,” said Abbe Jacobson, Outreach Manager at Team Survivor Northwest. “Finding the exercise programs at TSNW allowed me to get back into my body and remind myself that there are parts of my body that were strong,” said Jacobson, a 15-year cancer survivor. “Each week TSNW’s classes gave me a safe space to be among other female cancer survivors where I had something to focus on beside my treatment. TSNW gave me the gentle nudge I needed to begin to regain my strength while reminding me that I wasn’t alone.”

TSNW has served thousands of women since its inception in 1996. It was spearheaded by Dr. Julie Gralow, a local oncologist with a passion for women’s health and fitness.

TSNW provides year-round, seasonal and special programs at low or no cost to any woman diagnosed with cancer regardless of where they are in their treatment. Some of the offerings at TSNW include: weekly fitness classes, walking groups, triathlon training, mountain hiking, bicycle riding, dragon boating, snowshoeing and an annual fitness retreat. Offerings range from gentle to intense

“Engaging in regular physical exercise is the single most valuable thing a cancer survivor can do to rebuild both physical and emotional strength,” said Gralow, Director of Breast Oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

It used to be that clinicians and providers advised cancer patients to rest and avoid activity. However, current science shows that guidance is outdated.

“We’re seeing better everyday function and overall higher quality of life for cancer survivors who exercise,” said Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Schmitz helped write the guidelines on exercise for cancer patients for the American College of Sports Medicine.

Research also shows that exercise improves the rates of recurrence. Studies from the National Cancer Institute indicate that physical activity can play a role in preventing recurrence in several specific cancers, including breast cancer, colorectal and prostate cancers.

“A large cohort study found that women who exercised moderately (the equivalent of walking 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace) after a breast cancer diagnosis had approximately 40% to 50% lower risks of breast cancer recurrence, death from breast cancer, and death from any cause compared with more sedentary women,” according to the study published by NCI.

Get your Doctor’s Approval Prior to Exercise

Anyone undergoing cancer treatment should get the approval of their oncologist to start exercising. If you are new to exercise or just getting back to it, go gentle and work your way up to additional time and intensity. Walking is a perfect activity for anyone, regardless of where you are in the treatment process.

Anyone with weakened bones, lymphedema or any other side effects from the treatment process should check in with a doctor or instructor to determine which type of exercise is best and whether there are activities to be avoided.

For many members, TSNW has become more than just an exercise program. The organization has become a family.

“TSNW provides a network of amazing women who have become some of my closest friends.  I firmly believe that exercise is the best thing we can be doing for our health,” said Kim York, TSNW’s Hike Leader and a 17-year cancer survivor. “This is not your typical support group.  The camaraderie is incredible!”

For more information on how to join Team Survivor Northwest, go to our Become a Member page.

For questions contact Abbe Jacobson, Outreach Manager, at outreach@teamsurvivornw.org.

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