On a rainy Miami afternoon, Stephany Goyla and Carla Walker pull on their workout clothes and prepare to run through a series of bicep curls, burpees, lunges and other exercises. It wouldn’t be that notable, except that they are cancer survivors and they are Zooming in to train virtually from the safety of their own homes with Miami Cancer Institute exercise physiologist James Cleary.
The women are taking part in a special program the Institute offers to a growing population ― cancer survivors. Thanks to earlier detection and new, sophisticated treatments, there are nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today, according to the American Cancer Society. June is National Cancer Survivor Month. And while business is returning to a new normal as the nation continues to grapple with COVID-19, Miami Cancer Institute has turned its programming ―including many services for cancer survivors ― virtual.
The Institute’s Cancer Patient Support Center offers survivors everything from yoga and tai chi to mindfulness workshops and support groups. “We have a full spectrum of comprehensive clinical services for survivors with an emphasis on healing, recovery, wellness and disease prevention,” said M. Beatriz Currier, M.D., director of the program. There are also nutrition and cooking classes, massage therapy and acupuncture, and talks given by physicians and other experts. Many programs are free, others are low cost or reimbursed by insurance.
“Miami Cancer Institute clearly understands the financial stress that patients and survivors go through,” said Ms. Goyla, a cervical cancer survivor. “Outside of the Institute, these programs are very unaffordable, but they make it possible.”
Ms. Goyla was referred by her physician to the 10 week/20 session personalized gym program, which requires an evaluation and pre-approval. Like many of the Institute’s survivor programs, it is designed to transition patients who have completed cancer treatment to an active lifestyle beyond cancer. The course is not covered by insurance and costs $100.
“I’ve never been crazy about fitness, but it’s been great. Not only does James know how to motivate and challenge me, he is also very aware of the problems I have due to my illness,” she said. Ms. Goyla has so embraced exercise that she began an Instagram page to feature her workouts.
Ms. Walker, who underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer, also found the exercise program to be beneficial. “At first I was disappointed when we transitioned from the in-person gym sessions to our homes,” she said. “I didn’t know how well that would work. But James demonstrates every exercise and talks me through my breathing. He has listened to me and made on-the-spot changes for my arthritic knees. It’s been wonderful.”
Mr. Cleary says that clients seem to like the virtual classes, even with minimal equipment on hand. “It has been eye-opening for patients,” he said. “They are able to see that you don’t necessarily need a gym to get a good workout. There are many different variations to exercise using your own body weight and even regular household items.”
In addition to the exercise program, Ms. Goyla has done virtual visits with her physicians. Ms. Walker has also come to the Cancer Patient Support Center at the Institute for acupuncture and massage therapy. And one of the workshops she has found most helpful is SMART (Stress Management and Resilience Training). A Harvard-based curriculum workshop, SMART includes eight sessions that focus on mind-body strategies to help with ongoing life challenges, decrease stress and anxiety, improve sleep and more. The fee is $150 and patients must be pre-screened.
“I have really put the SMART program to work,” said Ms. Walker, who trains 911 dispatchers for a living. Her life was put in a spin again when both of her adult daughters gave her the news that they, too, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “I never imagined, after what I went through, that my daughters would have to go through this, too.”
Today, when her mind races and she feels overwhelmed, she uses her breathing techniques and visualization. “I can actually see my heart rate slow down on my Apple watch.”
Another SMART fan is Sean Schwinghammer, a colon cancer survivor often labeled a Type A personality by others. “That’s just me. I’ve always maximized my day, drained myself on purpose, whether it was through athletics, my work, everything I do,” he said. “This program helped me understand how to release my stress, how to sustain a lower heart rate and slow my breathing.”
Mr. Schwinghammer now meditates daily. Each night, before going to bed, he recalls the reasons he has to be grateful. “It’s surprising how effective it’s been,” he said.
Cancer Patient Support Center
Research shows that exercise, nutrition, and stress reduction and mindfulness programs, help to improve everything from the fog of “chemo brain” to strength and balance and overall quality of life. If you’ve received cancer care at Miami Cancer Institute and would like to know more about the survivorship programs, call the Cancer Patient Support Center at 786-527-8359.