WE-Can: A Wellness and Exercise program for people living with cancer

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NNL HealthbeatTHUNDER BAY – HEALTHBEAT – It’s important for all of us to connect our body with our mind. It’s even more important for individuals living with cancer. For 10 consecutive weeks, individuals who are in active treatment for cancer or who have completed treatment within the past five years, can rebuild their confidence, reconnect their mind to their body, and gain a sense of empowerment through the WE-Can program (Wellness & Exercise Program for Individuals with Cancer).

The program, developed for cancer patients who are in the middle of their trying and exhausting journey, is offered in conjunction with Regional Cancer Care and community partners including Lakehead University’s School of Kinesiology.

Initially, the program was made possible through funding from the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport. Additional funding was provided by a Volunteer Association / Health Sciences Foundation Family CARE Grant to purchase heart rate monitors for program participants – an integral aspect of monitoring participant’s health and progress.

Participants meet twice a week at the Canada Games Complex. Each session, participants are given a personalized yet challenging fitness regime. The underlying goal is to improve their overall fitness including strength, endurance, and flexibility. Educational sessions on topics such as home-based exercise, nutrition, and relaxation and meditation are also offered.
“In addition to the two program instructors, our Kinesiology students work one-on-one with participants. This ensures each participant’s individual progress is monitored,” said Tracey Larocque, Adjunct Professor at Lakehead University’s School of Kinesiology and WE-Can Program Supervisor.

“We want our participants to learn that they can exercise and nurture their body throughout their cancer journey. Instilling the confidence that anything is possible is what we try to accomplish,” she said.

One of the program’s keys to success is the group dynamic.

We Can
Cancer patients and survivors like Laura Goodman (middle) reconnect their mind to body through the WE-Can program. With her are Kelly-Jo Gillis (left), WE-Can Program Coordinator & Manager, Preventive Health Service at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Services Centre, and Tracey Larocque, WE-Can Program Supervisor and Adjunct Professor at Lakehead University’s School of Kinesiology.

“There are about seven to ten participants in each 10-week program,” said Laroque. “While participants do work one-on-one with an instructor, it is still a group-based program. Participants share goals and successes, share words of support and confidence, and ultimately share the challenges of the cancer journey. The strength that comes from being together is undeniable.”

Laura Goodman, a recent WE-Can program participant, is proof positive of the program’s success.

“My personal goal was to connect my mind with my body,” explained Goodman.

Goodman had to stop her regular exercise when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Currently she takes Herceptin, a breast cancer therapy that negatively affects heart and muscle health. The WE-Can program was Goodman’s opportunity to reconnect with her body.

“It was so discouraging. Before cancer was a part of my life, I went to the gym regularly,” she said.

Goodman said that some days, she just didn’t want to go. “On those mornings, I would force myself to go and find drive in the deepest part of my mind. The other program participants were my support system while the instructors were my personal cheerleaders,” she said.

Ultimately, WE-Can helped Goodman accomplish her goal.

“I have endurance that I didn’t know still existed in my body. I guess deep in my subconscious I knew I still had it in me, but the program instructors helped make that connect for me. Through their constant words of encouragement, positive attitudes, and confidence they had in me, my mind and body are now connected again – and it feels great,” Goodman said confidently.

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