Fitness program aims to help cancer patients

A few years ago, Candace Davis was depressed, and she didn’t exercise or eat well.

What finally got the 69-year-old Oceanside woman out of that mental state was a shocker: breast cancer. The diagnosis, about a year-and-a-half ago, prompted her to change her lifestyle.

She began working out in fitness classes tailored for cancer patients.

Susan Webster, the medical integration program manager, has led such classes for years but recently moved them to the Tri-City Wellness Center in Carlsbad.

The classes, open to both men and women of all ages, include proven exercise methods for those going through cancer.

“We want people to start really low with no weights or light weights,” said Webster, a certified cancer exercise trainer. “It’s really hard because people might not want to do that. They might want to still be at where they were before they got cancer.”

Since starting the program, Webster has helped nearly 1,600 people in rented areas around North San Diego County. In January, she moved her program to the wellness center.

Webster, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, said her experience led her to knowing what exercises were appropriate for patients.

Each patient has a tailored routine that they follow, she said. Patients also work with a registered nutritionist at the wellness center.

“With anything, you have to have reputable information,” Webster said. “People Google cancer and it’s horrifying when images come up. Everything that we do at the Wellness Center is peer-reviewed and reputable. I want people to be advocates for themselves and learn how to find reputable information.”

Shelby Williams, 72, of Vista, said Webster’s classes helped her get back on track with exercising after a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010 and an accident in which she broke her ankle in 2012.

During treatment, Williams, who previously had an active life, said she did not exercise much because she thought treatment meant she had to rest.

“Things were a little delayed, and I was exhausted,” she said. “I wanted to get my stamina back. This program has just been a blessing to me. ... Now that I’m in the program, I realized I should have done more.”

Davis, who has lost 30 pounds since joining the program, said it has helped her gain positivity back into her life.

“Susan is just beyond amazing,” she said. “She’s supportive, inspiring and is really smart. The program is great because all the women here have been very uplifting. I know it’s the exercise that’s made the difference.”

Working out also kept her from the fatigue associated with radiation, Davis said, adding that she now has more energy than she did nearly two decades ago.

Webster said patients like Davis are her favorite because she likes motivating people. She also said exercise is, in fact, crucial for people to avoid the tiredness that can be a result of treatment. Her classes are meant to make patients feel better and be more energetic.

Before and after each class, she assesses the patients’ fatigue levels.

“Sometimes when they come in, they’re at a zero and don’t want to be here,” said Webster, a former scientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. “By the time, they leave, they’re at a 10, have energy and want to go clean the house. It’s just like night and day.”

For more information, visit www.tricitywellness.com/medical/cancer-fitness/

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