Strong Medicine

Mary Greeley program helps cancer patients rebuild their endurance – and their confidence – one rep at a time.


Certainly no one ever accused Jennifer Anderson of not being active. The Nevada woman works fulltime for ISU’s Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development office when she isn’t shepherding 4-year-old Oliver and twins Maxwell and Amelia, almost 2. But it took a breast cancer diagnosis in December to catapult Anderson into a more rigorous fitness regime.

After discovering a breast lump, Anderson learned she was suffering from high grade stage 1 breast cancer. A double mastectomy followed in January, and in short order, Anderson found herself working out thanks to a Mary Greeley program that has recently been reorganized to encourage more patients to participate.

“Dr. [Larry] Otteman told me about all the programs available through the hospital’s Cancer Resource Center, and one of them was an exercise class at Mary Greeley on Tuesday afternoons,” Anderson recalls. “At first, all I could do was stretch and try to get back some range of motion.” Alongside other cancer patients, Anderson engaged in yoga, minor weightlifting and work on stability balls in the hospital’s Courage in Motion program. 

And, in spite of intensive chemo-therapy treatments, she got revved up.

So revved up, in fact, she took advantage of the Cancer Resource Center’s partnership with Ames Racquet and Fitness Center and took out a 3-month free ARFC member-ship. Better yet, the club also provided the same membership to Anderson’s support person, her husband Chad. Together, the Andersons attend fitness classes, walk and run on the treadmill, swim in the club’s pool and lift weights.

 “If I feel like I’m dragging after chemo, I start moving and I feel better,” Anderson says. “I look forward to that time at the gym—I know I’ll be active and will get back some of that energy. And I can still take the yoga class at  the hospital.”


The Courage in Motion exercise classes were inspired by a former cancer patient who incorporated myriad fitness activities into her recovery, says Mary Ellen Carano, RN, OCN, Cancer Resource Center coordinator. Staff members then pursued research that affirmed how exercise can improve the effects of cancer treatments and enhance patients’ quality of life.

Courage in Motion has recently gone through changes to make it easier for people to ease into a fitness regime. 

Offerings at Mary Greeley Medical Center now include two weekly exercise programs – one “on land” fitness class on Tuesday afternoons and a second conducted in the hospital’s pool on Friday afternoons. Most cancer patients are encouraged to attend these classes for six weeks.

“We’ve found these programs are a great way to get patients used to the idea of exercising,” Carano explains. “Many of them may feel intimidated if they start out at a full-blown fitness facility. They are still dealing with the process of treatments or survivorship, and they need to acquire confidence and skills before transitioning to a full-time gym.”


Once Mary Greeley cancer patients feel more assured, they can request
(with doctors’ permissions) that free 3-month membership to work out at the city’s ARFC facilities.

“Ames Racquet and Fitness Center is a big proponent of donating this opportunity to our patients, and are very committed to working with us,” Carano continues. In fact, the ARFC North facility offers a special class each Thursday afternoon for Courage in Motion participants and provides an exercise specialist to work with individual patients there. 

Regina Whitehead started her ARFC membership in January after surgery to remove her cancerous left breast, followed by months of chemo-therapy. The Nevada woman’s first foray into the gym involved an aqua fitness class, which would have made her nervous even before she became a cancer patient.

“I’m really leery about water, and I don’t go into pools very often,” Whitehead recalls. “But the instructor was great – she held onto me if we walked through the pool, and stood by me the rest of the time. She even got me working with the noodles in the pool.”

While that may have caused stress initially, Whitehead was quick to appreciate the benefits of her workout.

“I definitely wasn’t as tired after  I exercised,” she explains. “The water made me relax and helped me sleep better at night.”

The retired mom of three and grandmother of nine currently is un-dergoing radiation therapy and looks forward to continuing her workouts. Likewise, Anderson stays motivated to get healthier and lose weight before her reconstructive surgery.

Carano continues to promote the significance of exercise as her patients tackle their toughest battles.

“Our improved program and the longstanding partnership with Ames Racquet and Fitness Center offers such great motivation for survivorship,” she says. “It’s amazing how workouts make such a difference in how our patients
feel.” 

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