“Empowerment through fitness and fun,” is what Fran Mason, MD, and the group at Rocky Mountain Team Survivor in Boulder, Colo., strive to provide for the 500 women cancer survivors in their program.
For over a decade, Rocky Mountain Team Survivor, an affiliate of the National Association of Team Survivor, has given these women a sense of control in an otherwise powerless struggle by offering physical fitness programs and activities at any stage of cancer, cancer recovery or survivorship.
“Team Survivor promotes participation in physical fitness and fun activities. Our signature event, and the signature event for many of the Team Survivor groups, is the Danskin Triathlon,” Mason, medical director of the cancer survivorship program at Pinnacle Center, Boulder, and Rocky Mountain Team Survivor Board Member, told HemOnc Today.
Participants are assisted in the training process and during the triathlon; ‘swim angels’ are available in the water to help.
“We have about 175 survivors who all swim, bike, run and cross that finish line,” she said. “If you put your foot on the starting line, you’re going to make it to the finish line.”
2007 Rocky Mountain Team Survivor at the Denver Danskin Women’s Triathlon.
Source: Rocky Mountain Team Survivor
Mason, a board certified medical oncologist, began her physical fitness advocacy in Colorado in the 1990s when she realized how beneficial exercise programs were to her patients. While working part-time in a cancer center, Mason spent the rest of her time lecturing to physicians, nurses, physical therapists, patients and advocacy groups about cancer and fitness.
“I began doing some physical fitness for myself, and then I started applying it among my patients by encouraging them to be more active, to gain the benefits of training, to learn to use a heart rate monitor and to monitor their training progress. I became increasingly dedicated to promoting fitness in a hands-on way as a doctor,” she said.
Despite medically practiced beliefs about the detriments of physical fitness on the health of patients diagnosed with or recovering from cancer, Mason continued to work to change that paradigm in the professional arena. Working with a physiologist and a physical therapist, Mason developed and instructed a class at the University of Colorado called The Clinical Exercise where students were taught the therapeutic benefits of fitness in a clinical setting. Using their hands-on knowledge and experience, the group moved to a clinic to help patients recovering from cancer therapy become strong and regain energy.
Mason and her group performed original research and presented two papers at the American College of Sports Medicine, one that confirmed the benefit of resistance training in patients recovering from chemotherapy and a second that reported a suitable exercise program for patients with stage-IV advanced cancers.
At their clinic, Mason and her group work with patients recovering from cancer therapies to design individualized exercise programs to suit their needs, whether that included resistance training, flexibility or balance training.
“I try to do things that are fun for patients and that make them feel better. My clinic is full of laughter. It is not full of tragic stories, but instead full of people really working hard but having a good time,” she said. “There is really good data and evidence that show that for patients recovering from cancer therapy, a supervised exercise program can lead to improved self esteem, which is really important because it is their body that has let them down in the first place.”
Rocky Mountain Team Survivor coincides with the efforts Mason works toward every day in her clinic, but according to her, they go beyond her team’s work.
“Team Survivor is an extension of my work; what I do in my practice is really much more for people acutely going through their treatments or getting better. The Team Survivor group goes beyond that for people who are, essentially, anywhere with their cancer survivorship; they’ve done some incredible things.”
The survivors participate in weekly hikes, snowshoeing outings, yoga classes and weekly gym nights at a local clinic with a volunteer physical therapist. The organization has also teamed up with local survivorship organizations such as Casting for a Cure, a lottery-drawn fly fishing program for women survivors, and the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center, an equestrian program where three-quarters of the volunteers are survivors themselves.
“These are activities that seem to be suitable for almost everyone, and the women in the horse class told me, ‘I’ve gotten more out of working with these other cancer survivors and horseback riding than I could’ve ever gotten out of sitting in a support group,’” Mason said. “So that is the concept behind Team Survivor — to really encourage participation and healing through physical fitness.”
A perfect example of how much survivors can achieve is Rocky Mountain Team Survivor board member, Diane Groff. Groff is a two-time cancer survivor who has competed in every Danskin Triathlon in one season. She will receive the 2007 Inspiration Award at the 34th Annual Sports Women of Colorado award ceremony in March.
“This is statewide recognition for cancer survivorship and how far you can take that,” Mason said. “We’re not Lance Armstrong here, but by golly, we can do things and inspire other women, and men too, to reach the highest heights.” – by Stacey L. Adams
For more information:
- For more information about the Rocky Mountain Team Survivor visit www.rockymtn-teamsurvivor.org. 2007 Rocky Mountain Team Survivor at the Denver Danskin Women’s Triathlon.