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‘Survivorcise’ energizes cancer survivors

Three weeks into Survivorcise at Southwestern Michigan College, feeling the burn is being replaced by feeling the benefits of twice-a-week workouts. SMC’s fitness center is a participating facility for the free 12-week exercise program for cancer survivors.

“This is all new to me,” said Denise Smith of Hartford, a former SMC admissions employee who retired in June from Van Buren County Intermediate School District after 16 years. “This is very out of my comfort zone.”

“To me, too,” added Carol Hutchings of Dowagiac, grandmother of eight and a 1972 graduate of SMC’s licensed practical nurse (LPN) program. She fought cancer in 1998 and again in 2014.

“It can be depressing,” she said. “The first time I had radiation,” chemotherapy the second.

Going forward, “I’ll probably do a lot of walking. I like to walk,” said Hutchings, concluding 15 minutes on the treadmill. “I’m feeling better and able to do more without being tired.”

Hutchings’ grandson, Jordon, is an SMC criminal justice student accepted for the Michigan State Police Training Academy.

Smith, treated for cancer in 2014, received a letter from the West Michigan Cancer Center.

“I knew I had to do this because I hadn’t been doing anything since retiring,” she said. “Get myself up and moving instead of sitting there getting depressed. I think the group setting helps. I like the instruction. By the time we’re done I’ll be able to do this on my own. The only thing I had done was a year and a half ago I did cardio drumming at the ISD for about nine months.

“Today I feel like I really pushed my muscles,” Smith said.

Survivorcise meets for an hour Monday and Wednesday afternoons in the fitness center of the Charles O. Zollar Building on the Dowagiac campus for the tutelage of trainers Michele Harlow and Joseph Coti, assisted by SMC nursing students checking vital signs and charting progress.

“They give us encouragement,” Smith said.

SMC, West Michigan Cancer Center, Susan G. Komen Michigan, the Y, Borgess, Ascension and Bronson Wellness Center are collaborating on Survivorcise.

Harlow expects to offer the program again next spring.

Being overweight or obese raises risk — especially for breast, uterine, prostate and colorectal cancer.

Most weight loss occurs because of decreased caloric intake, but evidence shows the only way to maintain weight loss is through regular physical activity.

Benefits of physical activity for cancer survivors include a lower risk of cancer returning; better physical fitness — cardiovascular, muscle strength and body composition; and improved quality of life in terms of fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem and happiness.

Physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors include exercising at least 150 minutes per week, with strength training at least twice.

Eligible participants, women or men, must have been treated for cancer in the last five years, not be receiving chemotherapy or radiation and obtain medical clearance.

Participants learn to set machines because they can access the facility outside class times.

“It’s about getting their energy up so they feel better about themselves. I already see a difference,” Harlow said. “They’re almost ready to start adding a second set on a few things. We started by assessing their balance and cardio, which we’ll do again at the end of the program.”

For more information about Survivorcise, contact West Michigan Cancer Center in Kalamazoo at (269) 384-8674 or by e-mail at survivorcise@wmcc.org.