In late 2019, two remarkable women were brought together by a shared experience that could only happen at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health & Wellness Center. Through their participation in the BFitBWell Program for cancer survivors, they found renewed strength and friendship.
Janice Woodward and Caroline Gash not only share their recent experiences with breast cancer treatment but also their experiences as community volunteers, civic leaders and active women. Janice, also an 11-year ovarian cancer survivor, lives in central Denver, is in her 60s, and is an avid exerciser and City Park walker. Caroline, a childhood cancer survivor, lives in south Denver, is 37 years old, and is an investment professional and proud Colorado native. Now, they are both graduates of the BFitBWell Program, by the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
Generally, Janice and Caroline don’t dwell on their journeys with cancer, but both want to raise awareness about this one-of-a-kind fitness program.
“Treatment was pretty hard on me,” says Caroline. “So, I was looking for a way to incorporate fitness and exercise back into my life to regain strength and endurance.”
Being type-A personalities, both women picked up flyers about the program in the patient lounges during their oncology appointments.
The three-month fitness program designed specifically to meet the individual needs of cancer patients includes both pre and post-program assessments, individual and small group instruction in strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and stretching, as well as, a classroom course that provides the information necessary to structure one’s own workouts.
Both women emphasize that the specialized training of the instructors is the primary reason for the success of the program.
“The instructors meet you wherever you are in your fitness journey and help you set and then meet measurable milestones,” states Caroline.
“The quality of the instructors is the defining difference from any other workout program I’ve ever done,” adds Janice.
Once in the program, both women immediately noticed a difference in their physical fitness and began to feel like they were moving forward with their lives.
“When you have cancer, so much of treatment is trying to avoid negative side effects. You spend so much time in avoidance that it was empowering to have the opportunity to move toward something,” says Janice.
Having an exercise partner made the entire experience more impactful and enjoyable. Janice and Caroline talked while they stretched and tried to hold each other accountable for showing up and trying hard, whatever that meant on any given day.
“When the instructors said we would work out in small groups for the camaraderie, I discounted that as I was just there for the physical aspect. But the world works in mysterious ways and once I started talking with Janice, we found all these common experiences we shared,” Caroline says.
The measurable progress was important to both women and through this journey with BFitBWell they gained more than they signed on for.
“So here we are six months after the program and Caroline and I continue to work out together and push each other and learn from each other,” Janice says.
“Not only is my body so much stronger and my exercise knowledge so much better, but I also have a new friend and workout buddy,” says Caroline. During COVID-19 times, both women are faithfully practicing their individual fitness programs at home through the knowledge gained through the BFitBWell program. When asked if they would continue their weekly workouts once the gym re-opens both enthusiastically stated, “yes!”
“Every one of your patients should do this!” tells Janice to her oncologist during follow-up appointments. “I shout it from the rooftops every time I have the opportunity to encourage participation in and support of the program,” says Caroline.
“I’m sitting here beaming as we talk,” Caroline says. “I treasure Janice’s friendship in working out and beyond. The warmth of the instructors and participants in the program and knowing we’re all in this together was a bright spot in an otherwise challenging journey.”
For more information about the BFitBWell program, check out the program website or email AHWC.BfitBwell@ucdenver.edu.