Cancer survivors are no stranger to the many walks and races out there that honor their fight, heighten awareness and raise money to find a cure. But for many, the path to participating in these kinds of activities isn’t a straight one. Beating cancer is a fierce battle, but life after cancer brings its own challenges.
While OhioHealth offers many programs to help cancer patients navigate the world of treatment and beyond, a new one took shape in the spring of 2018 that takes the traditional support group outside of a classroom and onto the pavement.
What began as a group of survivors training remotely through online support and guidance for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure has evolved into the OhioHealth Cancer Walk/Run Club, a multiweek in-person training program that gives cancer patients and survivors the physical and emotional support they need to take their first steps forward, with the goal of completing a local 5K together.
Laura Clevenger, a survivor of metastatic paraganglioma, participtes in the program. She shared her experience with us. We were so inspired that we wanted you to hear it in her own words.
The OhioHealth Cancer Walk/Run Club exceeded my expectations. I say this while sheepishly admitting I never managed to print or follow the weekly schedule. Seeing the schedule overwhelmed me, despite having successfully followed a comparable training program years earlier. Intellectually, I knew the exercises were manageable, but emotionally, I wasn’t ready to take on more when going to work and keeping groceries in the house felt like grueling hill training in July.
My goals were to develop new exercise routines, increase my stamina and socialize with those who understood what I had been through, without any explanations. But I experienced so much more!
Cancer treatment was my sole focus for a year, and its abrupt end (“come back in six months”) felt as if a car stopped so suddenly that I went flying into space and never landed. It was as if I lived through the intensity of attending a university, just to get booted out without a diploma or some sort of closure other than the tuition bill.
Strangely, it was easier to feel alive when I was told that I was dying. I had plenty of time for reflection and meditation because I was unable to take care of regular responsibilities. Acceptance of my illness was empowering and, paradoxically, allowed me to experience spiritual vitality, while physically withering away and sometimes writhing in pain.
After treatment ended, I was challenged by how to accept feeling ill as a survivor. I was chronically exhausted and felt incapable of managing life. I bristled and held my tongue with each well-meaning person who advised me to find my “new normal.” The consistency of that message informed my intellect that I needed to accept this message, but my everyday experience only reinforced my resistance. While grateful to be alive, I was not ready to embrace the normal I was living. Surviving without thriving is hard on the spirit.
The Saturday morning workouts gave me the opportunity to socialize, while tending to my physical needs. The team helped me move forward.
As I walked through the pink balloon arches for survivors at the end of the Race for the Cure, emotions that cancer had left buried under rubble surfaced with a flood of tears. I realized I had found healing and reconnected with who I am. The pomp and circumstance of that day was the affirmation and acknowledgement I needed, and receiving that flower and medal felt like I had finally reached graduation.
The emotional release at the finish line of that 5K allowed for the transformation and shift in perspective I craved. My new normal began to feel not only manageable, but natural. Graduation meant I wasn’t supposed to be like I was before. A new normal is merely a new chapter.
Having graduated, I am finally ready for whatever this year’s new normal is – Bring. It. On! And, I’m looking forward to the next nine-week training session – I’ll even print the schedule this time!
The OhioHealth Cancer Walk/Run club is open to cancer patients who are going through or have completed treatment, and are cleared by their physician to participate. The group meets at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center once a week for nine weeks leading up to a local 5K race, and no prior experience is required. The sessions are led by OhioHealth staff who understand the side effects of cancer treatment and how to appropriately modify exercise.
“We help you be active and improve fitness with peace of mind,” says Emily Finn, PT, DPT, one of the program’s founders and lead instructors. “But at the end of the day, it’s not about the race. It’s about people coming together who have a similar experience to you, and on some level, truly get what you have been through.”