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Transforming Cancer Rehabilitation:

Nicole Gleason's Journey with BfitBwell

minute read

Written by Wellness Connections on February 23, 2024
What You Need To Know

Nicole Gleason leads the groundbreaking BfitBwell program, offering personalized exercise regimens for cancer patients. Her visionary guidance has transformed BfitBwell into a vital lifeline for cancer survivors in Colorado, enhancing their recovery journey.

In the realm of cancer rehabilitation, the journey from diagnosis to recovery is anything but linear. Often, patients go through a number of struggles, experiencing several unprecedented changes to both their physical and mental health. Playing a pivotal role in reshaping this journey is Nicole Gleason, the Program Manager of BfitBwell, a non-profit 3-month-long personalized exercise program for patients diagnosed with cancer. Starting the program from the ground up, Nicole has led the transformation of BfitBwell from just an idea a decade ago, to now a vital resource for cancer survivors here in Colorado.  

BfitBwell, which is situated inside the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, collaborates with the University of Colorado Cancer Center and the University of Colorado Hospital to deliver evidence-based prescriptive exercise interventions tailored to cancer patients. Participants work one-on-one with a Cancer Exercise Specialist, who walks them through an individualized plan designed to reduce fatigue, increase muscular strength and stamina, and ultimately, improve overall quality of life. Leading the team is Nicole Gleason, who joined the Center in 2012 when it had just first opened. But Gleason didn’t join the Center to be a part of BfitBwell, in fact, the program didn’t even exist yet. Having a degree in Health and Exercise Science, Nicole applied for a Fitness Specialist position in the Center and was hired. As she recalls at the time, she always knew she wanted to work in the field of fitness but discovered her passion for the clinical side when she started working part-time at a local hospital doing cardiac and pulmonary rehab.  

So, how did BfitBwell come to be? As Nicole remembers, “One day, an Oncologist from the CU Cancer Center came over and said he wanted to send his patients here to the Center to exercise as part of their rehab. At this point, I had previously worked in a physical therapy clinic, and I had done cardiac and pulmonary rehab, so this opportunity just felt right… it kind of landed right on my lap.” From there, BfitBwell was conceptualized, but it was up to Nicole to transform it into the cancer exercise program that it is today, having since aided over a thousand cancer patients.  

Nicole with patient-1Unlike many specialties in the cancer treatment field, the concept of prescriptive exercise to help with cancer treatment has been, and still is, fairly new. Having little to almost no precedent to reference, Nicole had to use her previous knowledge from school and work, paired with bits and pieces of information she and her co-worker at the time, Rebecca Stark, learned at the University of Northern Colorado Cancer Rehabilitation Cancer Institute training. After completing the intensive week-long training, they returned to the building blocks to figure out what BfitBwell would look like, and what their overall goal would be. She shares, “We started doing full assessments, collecting medical history, and learning where patients were in their cancer journey. We were looking to figure out a way to put together a specialized exercise program based on where patients are now and how we get them to leave here feeling better.” 

Nicole emphasizes that the start of BfitBwell would have not been possible without the help of Dr. Tom Purcell, their clinical champion at the time. Helping with funding and providing clinical oversight for the program, Nicole states that without him, “We wouldn’t exist right now”.  Having completed training and the support of a clinical champion backing them up, BfitBwell was born and enrolled its first patient in August 2013. From there, the cancer exercise program slowly grew, and Nicole started recruiting interns the following year from local schools that had Health and Exercise programs. Now, a decade later, BfitBwell has proudly helped over 1000 cancer survivors through their cancer journey and brought on over 60 interns to its team. bfitbwell internship

BfitBwell has evolved into a widely respected cancer exercise program, experiencing significant growth over the past decade, and garnering national recognition. Through their collaboration with the CU Cancer Center, their reputation has been further enhanced, being recognized as an NCI-designated Cancer Center, one of 72 in the nation.  Additionally, all staff members within the program hold certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the gold standard in exercise science certifications. Perhaps most impressive is the accessibility of research the program is backed by. Located in the same building as BfitBwell is a research program that collaborates closely with them. There, researchers collect data and integrate it back into BfitBwell’s clinical program, ensuring patients are getting the latest evidence-based exercise program that is tailored specifically to them.

Looking ahead, Nicole remains dedicated to advancing BfitBwell’s mission and extending its reach. With a focus on research-based practices and collaborative partnerships with leading cancer care institutions, she aims to further amplify the program's impact on the lives of cancer survivors. When asked what motivates her to continue leading BfitBwell, Nicole quickly answers, “I have never met a more driven group of people than cancer survivors. That makes my job easy. It is a gift to be a part of their journey. There is no bigger motivation than that.”  

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Nicole Gleason