Surviving cancer, they’re now finding strength through exercise


DIANA KUTAS, 60, walked briskly on a sidewalk near Swedish Medical Center in Issaquah during the warm-up for a Team Survivor Northwest fitness class and talked about her fitness accomplishments. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. Since then, she’s finished triathlons and completed a roughly 160-mile bike ride.
She’s probably fitter now than she was before her diagnosis, she said, noting, “You find out you can really push yourself.”
Nonprofit Team Survivor Northwest offers free fitness classes to all female cancer survivors with the aim of supporting their emotional and physical well-being. Classes take place around the Pacific Northwest and range from walks to dragon boating. Students include survivors and women still in treatment.
Sometimes the women talk about their experiences, regulars said, but mostly they are there to get fit.
I joined a few regulars for the weekly Active Women/Healthy Women class, which focuses on strength training. Teacher David Jones brought stretchy bands for the resistance work.
We started off stepping into the bands and shuffling sideways to work our adductors and our glutes, which was challenging. After thoroughly working our outer legs, we moved into squats and lunges. Jones talked us through modifications the women needed, including keeping the lunge higher or using the wall for support for a squat.
Jones then took us through core work, including crunches and some boat-style balancing with swivels from side to side. He emphasized form as we moved into planks on our knees and a couple rounds of push-ups.
For additional resistance, we partnered up with the stretchy bands. One partner served as the anchor while the other grabbed handles to work shoulders, biceps, triceps and upper and lower back. We also did some balancing work, standing on one foot while doing our reps.
Using stretchy bands was effective, and we worked hard. The resistance bands are great to modify down by having your partner walk in closer or taking the resistance up by stretching the band out. The hourlong class flew by.
Throughout the class, the women stayed focused and listened to Jones’ instructions. They occasionally chatted with each other, or talked about how they were going to feel the effects of the class for the next couple of days.
Cathy McNair, who has been teaching Active Women/Healthy Women 10 years for Team Survivor, said one of the biggest initial benefits for women in the class is regaining a sense of control over their bodies — a sense that cancer often robs them of. Many keep coming because they feel stronger. The women also get their energy up and make friends, which is key.
Staying healthy is important, too, McNair said. For some types of cancer, recurrences can be higher with people who are obese.
“Everybody has a little different story of why they come and what they get out of it,” she said
Kutas said that post-treatment, her energy was low and she was unsure about what she could physically do. Through Team Survivor classes, she has taken on a new attitude about her own fitness.
“If I can survive cancer,” she said, “I can probably do anything.”