Cancer survivors enjoy exercise and celebration

Courtesy photos Mary Morgan, Cancer Survivor and Participant, brought her granddaughter Breslin to many of the classes. They are pictured here with Karen Holder and Dr. Penny Cooper. ASU Kinesiology Students.

ALAMOSA — It all started in the spring of 2018. Danielle Smith had an idea for her master’s research project. She was drawing from personal experience when she hypothesized that exercise, and exercising with others, might help improve a person’s outcome in battling cancer. The thesis took on a life of its own when it combined forces with the Adams State University undergraduate Kinesiology practicum class. ASU’s Human Performance & PE Department later benefited from a grant from the Colorado Cancer Coalition and receives supportive ongoing funding from the Larry Holder annual memorial golf tournament fundraiser. 

On May 5 a celebration was held at the Alamosa Family Recreation Center. Tracey Robinson, Ph.D., Adams State University professor, Instructor Ines Curti, ASU graduate student, and her team of kinesiology students, and Peggy Johnson, retired ASU instructor, greeted the participants and celebrated with them in their journeys. 

Karen Holder introduced herself and her son, Jeffery, and his wife, Susan, to the room full of ASU students and teachers, cancer survivors and their families, and SLV Health staff. She said, “My husband Larry would have loved this exercise program. He was socially outgoing and this is exactly what would have kept him on track with healthy activities.” 

As the participants from current and past years filled the room for the celebration, they were greeted with a slide show created by the students. They laughed, reminisced, and greeted each other warmly. Kelly Gurule, Director of the SLV Health Foundation, welcomed everyone and stated, “This is not a graduation, because it is not an ending. This is a celebration and chance to thank everyone for their involvement.” Kelly welcomed comments from the participants after thanking all those who made the program an ongoing success. 

“I started my cancer treatments at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Albuquerque. I was not sure how my care would be here, but I’m telling you, Dr. Cooper and her staff are the best. They are right up there with my former care center. This program has meant a lot to me and my husband who came with me to each exercise class with enthusiasm. It was a huge pick-me-up. I believe our future generation is in good hands after having such positive interactions with these students.” 

“This program did a lot for my wife as she always came home with a great attitude,” commented one of the spouses. 

One survivor emotionally shared her gratitude. “I am so grateful for this program. I took a lot away from each class and it filled my heart. It was a great bonding experience.” 

One former Manassa resident shared, “When I returned (to the Valley) after a 21-year absence, I really didn’t have any friends. Every time I came to this class, I felt like I belonged. I began forming new friendships. There’s no judgment, just acceptance.” 

Rose, a two-time cancer survivor, said, “We had the common bond of cancer. I enjoyed the class so much and plan to keep up with my exercise. I hope none of us ever have to go through cancer again.” 

One of the participants also requires ongoing therapy for a different health condition. He commented, “These classes meant so much to me. The people who have worked with me are so good, I feel so blessed.” 

As more of the participants shared their experiences, the last one summarized the feelings of just about everyone in attendance. “I’ve enjoyed everyone. The ASU trainers were wonderful. Thank you to the Holder family for your support. When I started this program, my sister had just passed away from cancer. I found so much support from everyone. We socialized and had fun as we worked to stay healthy.”  More photos from the celebration may be found on the SLVH.org website. 

Maureen “Penny” Cooper, MD, San Luis Valley Health Cancer Center’s Oncologist, was wearing her sunglasses to protect her eyes from recent cataract surgery. She joked, “We are all rock stars!” She thanked everyone for the ongoing participation and enjoyed joining Karen Holder to give an encouraging certificate of participation to each survivor. An extra special certificate was given to the granddaughter of one of the participants, who enjoyed dancing for much of the class time. The foundation sponsored a luncheon and everyone enjoyed reconnecting with each other. The upcoming Larry Holder Memorial Golf Tournament fundraiser supports this program and will be held on June 25 in Monte Vista. 

Roughly 115 San Luis Valley cancer survivors have been enrolled in this program thus far; 35-40 ASU graduate and undergraduate Kinesiology students have been actively involved with the program since spring, 2018. The next session of the Larry Holder Exercise and Cancer Survivorship program will begin at the end of August 2022. For more information or to receive sign-up information, contact Ines Curti, program coordinator, at [email protected], 859-684-3511; Peggy Johnson at [email protected]; or Tracey Robinson at [email protected].

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