Getting fit to fight

Cancer patients, survivors find strength in lifting weights and exercising together

Posted: Friday, November 25, 2005

How many pounds does one have to lift in order to beat cancer? A new group of fitness addicts are hitting the gym to find out.

A weekly class of cancer patients and survivors is shuffled in with the body builders and calorie burners at Fitness Essentials . Many of them are recognizable by the amount of weight stacked on the machines. Like Pat Moore, who may lift 10 pounds here and there.

"It's the best thing in my day," said Moore, who is fighting bladder cancer.

Moore said he hasn't had a gym membership in 15 years, but now, in his pursuit to knock his cancer into remission, "I've become an instant exercise nut," he said.

After being diagnosed and going through treatment, Moore lost 35 pounds and the strength to do something as casual as walking around the block. Needless to say, returning to the gym is not easy.

"You have a certain amount of fear," said Laura Minne, who could barely walk up the stairs to the second-floor gym the first time she came a month ago.

Club owner Debbie Stokes developed the idea after reading about other gyms nationwide providing free memberships for those fighting cancer. Starting a month ago, free classes were offered to cancer patients and survivors.

Personal trainer Michael Bossio sets them loose on a cardiovascular machine of their choice, does group stretching and abdominal strength exercises and adds on some weight lifting to breathe life back into muscles that have withered away.

"They all relate with each other," Bossio said. He's worked with cancer patients individually, but this is the first time he's worked with a whole group.

Minne and the others said it would be more difficult to come by themselves. With a set date every Sunday and partners working together throughout the week, Minne doesn't want to let the others down.

"You have genuine compassion for your partners here," she said.

With several more weeks to go in the program, the patients feel like they've made some progress already.

Richard Hackner, who also has bladder cancer, can now play handball again. Minne can climb the stairs and Donna Anderson, who recently had a hip transplant because of bone cancer, can walk several minutes at a time on the treadmill.

When the club owner told Anderson about the program, Anderson told her, "please, please put me on your list."

Moore considers the exercise "alternative medicine," compared to chemotherapy, radiation and surgery that most undergo. If a patient only takes medicine, Moore said, "I don't think you could get well."

Moore is building up his body strength and size, not for competition, but for an upcoming surgery. The healthier one is going in, the healthier one will be coming out, he rationalizes.

"You have to bring the doctor the best body you can," he said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at

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