North County Cancer Fitness founders use personal experience to help others people regain their health
By Marlena Medford
Seated at a Del Mar coffee shop, Susan Webster and Deb Snyder banter and share honest, hearty laughs. There exists between them the kind of relaxed closeness you’d expect from lifelong friends — but these women actually just met a little over a year ago during a chance encounter at the Tri-City Wellness Center in Carlsbad.
“I was splashing around in the pool there,” recalled Snyder, who at the time had just completed chemotherapy for Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. “I had a scarf on my head and I was thin as a rail because of the chemotherapy, so it was pretty obvious I was a cancer patient.”
Webster, who was working as a swim instructor that day, took note of Snyder’s weakened condition and said “something just compelled me to go talk to her.” That “something,” she now realizes, was the fact that she saw a reflection of her former herself in Snyder because she too had fought her own battle with breast cancer.
“I told her that I once looked just like her,” Webster recalled. “I told her that even after cancer, I was able to regain my health. And I told her I would help her do the same thing.”
“When she told me that I was just thrilled,” Snyder chimed in. “Here she was, healthy and strong. And here I was, skinny and bald. It gave me hope.”
That moment would prove to forge a deep and profound bond between the women. Webster has also since delivered on the promise made that day, helping Snyder to regain her strength through one-on-one training.
“After she helped me, we both looked at each other and said, ‘We should do this for other people,’” Snyder said. That planted the seed for North County Cancer Fitness (NCCF), a nonprofit the women founded to help people regain their health as they are enduring cancer treatment, or right after treatment.
“The battle is not over after chemotherapy, and I think the majority of patients don’t realize that,” explained Webster, who is a personal trainer and cancer fitness trainer certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. Proper nutrition and exercise help fend off cancer occurrence, she added, but most patients don’t understand that they must exercise differently after they’ve been through chemotherapy or radiation. Those treatments can weaken bones and age the heart, for example, which means that exercise plans must be tailored with that in mind.
“Our goal is to be a guide for people, and to say we’re here for you because we’ve been there,” Webster said.
Therefore, NCCF offers a medley of classes, support, training and resources all aiming to improve the overall quality of life for cancer patients. The program costs $60 a month, although there are scholarships for those who cannot afford it. Participants have access to tailored exercise programs; nutritional classes, such as “Fighting Cancer with a Fork”; are matched with nutritionists, acupuncturists, massage therapists and other health-care providers who offer complementary services to cancer patients; and can attend support groups, like a casual ‘Taco Tuesday’ meet-up.
“Our program is not a fix-all, but there are parts of this program that help everyone, even if that’s just sharing a taco and much-needed laugh during ‘Taco Tuesday,” Snyder said. “Plain and simple, we change lives.”
Both women stressed that NCCF would not be able to change those lives without the stellar support from the Tri-City Wellness Center. That support has also allowed them to expand their mission. Though NCCF began as a means to help women with breast cancer, the mission has now been expanded to include men and is open to patients with all forms of cancer.
The women would like to see more operations like NCCF in the future, but, ultimately, they hope to live in a world where there is a cure for cancer so there would no longer be a need for them. Until that day, the women said they both committed to helping others.
“We do this because we genuinely care about people, and we know what they’re going through,” said Webster, whose cancer is now in remission, although she still keeps the port used during her treatment in a box on her desk so she can be reminded daily of what she’s overcome. “Our goal is to offer hope to people who right now don’t know which way to turn.”
“We share a desire to help people navigate what we’ve been through, but with an easier path,” added Snyder, whose cancer is stable, meaning it’s under control.
To say cancer has impacted her life would be an understatement. She has lost her aunt, both of her parents, and her three siblings to cancer. Her son has also battled cancer. All of that, she said, makes her work with NCCF that much more meaningful.
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve done in my life and I’ve never been so fortified. I get up in the morning and put on my shoes and say ‘OK, this is what I’m working with today’ and I keep going. This is a reason to keep living. We are changing people’s lives, plain and simple. We both get excited and teary-eyed talking about the work we do, but that’s because it’s real.”
For more information about NCCF, including volunteer opportunities, please visit northcountycancerfitness.org or call 760-683-9105.
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