It’s funny, the idea for this post on exercise presented itself when I was, you guessed it, exercising! I like to watch the news when I am on my treadmill exercising and one morning while doing both, I happened to hear about an amazingly simple concept, specialized exercise classes for women with cancer being offered at the Minneapolis YWCA. I thought, wow, what a great idea!

I, for one, have always preferred to exercise in the privacy of my own home, especially in the winter months when it can be extra hard to get out the door to do anything. For a few years my husband and I did belong to a health club. I’m not a great swimmer, so I generally used a kick board while frantically “doing my laps.” When I used it, I always felt like I was annoying everyone around me as they swam by doing their smoothly perfected breaststrokes. Later on, when we had small children, we joined the YMCA. Membership there worked for a while, but eventually after three kids, school and work schedules, it became too complicated to get there.  

About that time I began walking, rain or shine, with a neighbor friend – at 6 o’clock am no less! We met nearly every morning and walked (and talked) our way around the neighborhood. Neither one of us liked getting up early, but we rarely let each other down by not showing up, a real benefit of the “buddy” system for sure.  Then we both moved so that routine came to an abrupt end.

Next, about ten years ago my husband and I purchased a treadmill and it is still working. We’ve only needed to replace the belt once, (that was an exercise of a different kind, patience!!), so it’s been a great investment and is so convenient to use. I love that. These days the treadmill and walking the dogs comprise my exercise routine.

The surprising thing about this particular feature story was the fact they stated it was a one-of-a-kind program. I found that hard to believe. As someone who has experienced cancer up close I know this concept is a good idea. When you have been diagnosed with cancer and are going through or recovering from treatment, you are self-conscious about your appearance, to put it mildly. Having an exercise class exclusively for others “like you” would be a God-send for women who enjoy (OK, enjoy is a stretch, prefer – that’s better) exercising at a facility in a group setting.

CREW is presently offered at the Minneapolis YWCA in collaboration with Survivor’s Training, an award-winning Minneapolis non-profit founded in 2007 by Wendy Rahn, a breast cancer survivor herself. Wendy is a professor in the Political Science Department at the University of MN and also a wife and mother, so she was and is plenty busy. But like so many others, after her diagnosis and treatment, she wanted to do something positive for others. She wanted to make a difference.

During her recovery, Wendy often felt depressed and discovered the benefit of exercise to be huge.

“The only time I was happy was when I was working out,” Wendy says. (I know, I know, hard for me to relate to that too!)

She even hired a personal trainer and later founded Survivor’s Training to help other women discover similar benefits of exercise following a cancer diagnosis. The mission of Survivor’s Training is:

To raise awareness of the importance of exercise for cancer survivorship and to promote regular physical activity as an essential therapy for those diagnosed with cancer.”

They aim to educate, facilitate and advocate, pretty impressive! You don’t generally hear exercise referred to as an actual therapy.

The CREW classes are specialized classes, open only to women diagnosed with cancer or those going through or recovering from treatment. These women do not have to feel embarrassed or ashamed when they come to class bald, out-of-shape or tired. The classes are taught by specially trained instructors and are tailored to the individual needs of the participants. In addition to the benefit of exercise, the women also form strong bonds with their “classmates” which often carry over outside the “classroom.”

Wendy has not forgotten about those of us like me who prefer to exercise at home. She also has a DVD which features “real women with real cancer.” It’s called “Celebrate Strength.” I even like the title. Wendy’s DVD has been endorsed by leading cancer clinics and oncologists and has been featured in the magazine, Women With Cancer.  Like the CREW classes, it is designed to increase a woman’s stamina, strength and flexibility.

It’s been proven that regular exercise increases a cancer survivor’s odds of living longer. It also may help to prevent recurrence. It’s another weapon in our own personal wars against cancer. And if you haven’t had cancer, it’s another way to perhaps prevent it as well.

We all know exercise is good for us. We all know we need to do it.

Check out a couple other ways to get the job done and if you belong to a health club, you might want to suggest this concept to them as well.

Here are a couple of links to help with that.




Does your city have any specialized exercise program for cancer survivors?

Do you prefer to exercise with a group or by yourself?

Wendy Rahn, founder and president of Survivor's Training


  1. Sounds like a great idea to me! I’m sure there are similar groups around the country and there should and will be more forming. Many people just together and walk or run every morning as you and your friend did, but when you have cancer I’m sure it’s more difficult to find the motivation to get out and walk with someone who is not going through the same thing as you, especially if that person has more energy.

    I don’t know if we have a group like this in Fargo. Maybe we do. No matter what your situation is, though, it’s always easier to exercise if you’re with a group. Anyone who has been involved with team sports or marathon training is very aware of this!

    1. Lindsay, The hardest thing about getting to a group is just that, getting there. Once there, it probably is better. I still prefer the privacy of my own home where I don’t have to worry about proper attire or anything really. You’re lucky exercise is incorporated right into your job!

  2. Thanks, Nancy, for an informative post on this special organization!

    I prefer to exercise alone. I enjoy jogging, swimming, walking, and some light weightlifting. I find that the effects after exercise are really what makes everything worth it.

    Exercise calms me and centers me. It also alleviates depression.

    1. Beth, Thanks for coming by and commenting. I’m envious of swimmers, it’s such a great skill to know and the benefits are so huge. You’re right, I exercise for the benefit I feel when I’m done, otherwise, forget it!

  3. Our local hospital, through its cancer support house, offers its gym for specific classes only for cancer patients. Also, the clinic where I received radiation also offered a special cancer exercise program. I never went to either, but probably should have made the time….

    1. Lisa, Hello and thanks for coming by again and commenting. It’s great your local hospital offers such classes. I think this type thing will become more and more common, especially as the population ages, and unforutnately cancer cases increase right along with that.

  4. Nancy, thanks for this post. The cancer center at my hopsital offers pilates and yoga for women with cancer. It’s great, it’s available to women both in treatment and after. And your right, it’s nice to be among women in the same situation, but your post has me thinking of the gym I attend near my home. They don’t have any programs like this, but they should. I bet attendance would be pretty good (sadly). Great post.

    1. Stacey, I have to believe this type of class would be pretty popular (unfortunately) at any kind of gym. I think it will be a whole “new” need they might want to think about meeting. Thanks again for taking time to comment.

  5. I’m always impressed when these kinds of programs are launched and yet I never, ever go. I run and walk with my dog who is my ideal exercise companion – she needs the walks as much as I do and she’ll go at my pace where I want to go (usually). On the other hand, she doesn’t get me to push myself any harder…these classes sound great for someone who wants to start exercising or shake things up!

    1. Laurie, Thanks for returning and leaving me some feedback. I’m with you, walking the dogs is an ideal choice. My husband and I try to get out with our two dogs as often as we can (although I must admit it is harder in the winter) and you’re right, it’s as good for them as it is for us. What kind of dog do you have?

  6. Love this post Nancy! I have always been a ‘jock’ but after my initial bc diagnosis I started jogging. I had to stop for a bit when I had my recurrence but I started up again as soon as I could and I ran half-marathon last year! Now I jog 3 days a week with a friend. I can relate to Wendy’s comment that the only time she felt good was when she was working out because some days are like that for me. It is so important for survivors to realize the importance of exercise in their survivor plan and that there are many options out there. This post surely lets people know! Thanks! Debbie

    1. Debbie, I’m happy to see you back! I have always been a bit envious of people like you, “jocks” as you say! Congrats on running the half-marathon last year. I agree with you about the importance of exercise in a survivor’s plan, it becomes more important than ever after a diagnosis.

  7. This is great, Nancy:)

    I am thrilled to see another great program developed for survivors…the good news is that the point about exercise and healthy survivorship is getting out there.

    Before cancer I took different classes, hiked, ran & rollerbladed. Since cancer I took up cycling and joined Livestrong. When I was finishing up treatment it was the only organization with a positive and empowering attitude that encompassed men and women will all kinds of cancer — and I liked that.

    Now in my community alone there’s a special program at the Y that a yoga instructor developed w/a Komen grant; a Pink Pilates organization; and a number of women who have trained as Pink Ribbon Program exercise instructors.

    What a difference:)

    Thanks for the great work,

    1. Jody, Thanks for coming by and taking time to comment. It sounds like you have always led a really active lifestyle. I’ll have to check out that Livestrong site sometime as I’ve heard really good things about it. I hope things are going ok for you and your husband, Jody.

  8. A program like that sounds so great! It would have been nice to have classes like that available to me when I was diagnosed. I would have liked someone to have helped me exercise my arm after my mastectomy…I’m not sure I would have taken advantage of it, though!

    1. Ginny, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, some things have improved with time. These classes really do fill a need. How long did it take for your arm to fully recover?

  9. After surgery, I joined an arthritis water aerobic class, which was just my speed. I loved it and really firmed up my arms. Then the instructor opened her own shop in a neighboring town, too far to go. We got a new instructor and she was critical and abrasive, and got one of our more talkative members banned from the gym! Needless to say her class failed when it lost most of us, including me. Your post was inspiring. Time to find a new class or buy a treadmill. Thanks for reminding me to get serious about exercise again!

    1. Betty, Thanks for your comments. It just goes to show, just like with every class, the quality of the teacher is SO important! Water aerobics would be a really good choice, but I still prefer to stay home.

  10. I’m an ovarian cancer survivor of 4 yrs who also used exercise to improve my cancer recovery during chemo and beyond. I interviewed other active cancer survivors, researched exercise’s impact on cancer patients and wrote Active Against Cancer, a new book. Hope that some of you will truly find it useful and inspiring. Thanks–Nancy Brennan

    1. Nancy, Thank you so much for commenting about the importance of exercise. I’m so glad you have been cancer-free for 4 years. Exercise can be quite empowering during times of stress and cancer most certainly is one of those times! Thanks for sharing about your book. It sounds like a good one.

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