Fundraisers support CSU program for cancer survivors

Two women participants and a graduate student teaching survivors exercises and strengthening methods

The Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University hosts a unique program designed to promote healthy and active lifestyles for cancer survivors. The Fitness Therapy for Cancer Program, or Fit Cancer, supports cancer survivors at any phase in their journey. Research shows that survivors who exercise have more energy, better quality of life, and improved survival rates. Fit Cancer has benefited from events and fundraisers sponsored by the Department of Health and Exercise Science and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Research presenting the FitCancer poster to a judge at the 2020 Research Day
Emma McGinnis presenting the Fit Cancer research poster at the 2020 College of Health and Human Sciences Research Day.

The Fit Cancer program is under the direction of Health and Exercise Science Assistant Professor Heather Leach. The program focuses on improving strength and balance and reducing the fatigue caused by the side effects of cancer treatments. Each class is instructed by a certified exercise physiologist and is adapted to the needs of each individual survivor.

Participants in the program attend group exercise sessions and are given a pedometer, a T-shirt, and a program workbook, which guides group-based physical activity education sessions. Each participant also receives individualized pre- and post- program assessments. Leach serves as the program director and coordinates the program operations along with health and exercise science graduate and undergraduate students, who have the opportunity to gain experience working with cancer survivors.

Success of the program

Graduate student coaching a female participant in exercises
Coach (left) and participant (right) working on strengthening exercises.

As of 2020, the Fit Cancer Program has served 71 cancer survivors with four survivors signed up for the fall cohort. Participants are now able to register and complete the screening process online. The research surrounding the program focuses on program evaluation, and examining improvements in participant’s physical activity levels, quality of life and physical functioning. The team also tracks participant’s physical activity 3-12 months after completing the program.

“The primary goal of this program and my research lab is to determine the best ways to help people become physically active, and to stay active even after an intervention or program ends,” said Leach.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon fundraiser

Last spring, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity hosted fundraising events to benefit Fit Cancer. Carter Beloff, a junior majoring in health and exercise science, serves as the philanthropy chair for the chapter. Beloff’s role involves planning, gathering materials, budgeting, and coordinating the fundraising events. Last year, the chapter hosted a fundraising event called “Grilled Cheese with SAE.” The chapter also hosted an online fundraiser through CSU’s Ramfunder platform which raised $3,250 for the program.

“Fit Cancer is a good option for us because it is on campus and it helps people in our community, which is more incentivizing for people attending our philanthropy to want to give,” said Beloff. “It’s something close to home and allows us to see and be more connected to the impact we have on the program.”

“Through all of this, we hope to include as much of the CSU and Fort Collins community as possible and help spread the word about Fit Cancer,” said Beloff, who says SAE is planning more fundraising activities to benefit the program.

Homecoming 5K Race

Runners at the starting line for the 2019 Homecoming 5K race.
Runners start the 5K run at the 2019 Homecoming race.

The CSU Annual Homecoming 5K Race raises funds for the program as well. The race is organized by the Department of Health and Exercise Science and welcomes students, alumni, families, community members and children to enjoy a day of walking or running. The 2019 Homecoming Race included around 1,000 runners, walkers, and joggers. This event raised about $25,000 from participants and sponsors. Fit Cancer will also be the beneficiary for this fall’s race.

“Fit Cancer program staff were thrilled with the outpouring of support from the 39th annual CSU Homecoming 5K,” said Leach. “These funds will provide program resources that directly benefit current and future Fit Cancer participants, and provide HES undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to work with the program to gain hands-on experience in exercise oncology.”

Helping the program grow

Three women standing at the FitCancer table during the 2019 Homecoming 5k race
The Fit Cancer informational table at the 2019 Homecoming 5K race.

The money raised from the SAE chapter and Homecoming 5K Race goes towards supporting the program staff, providing scholarships for participants to enroll and complete the program, and buying equipment needed for exercise sessions.

“These funds support program staff who are in charge of recruiting participants, pre-and post-program assessments, instructing the exercise class and delivering the physical activity behavior change education sessions, database management, and in general, providing participants with an outstanding program experience,” said Leach.

The Fit Cancer program is in the process of exploring ways to engage current and past participants virtually. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the current exercise classes have been postponed. An alternative plan for participants is being planned by the programs directors.

Classes for the Fit Cancer program are held for eight weeks meeting once a week in CSU’s Moby Complex-C 102. For more information about the Fit Cancer Program and how to sign up for the next cohort, go to the Fit Cancer website.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.