How Group Exercise Can Fight Cancer


In March 2013, IHRSA awarded Radka Dopitova Willson with the “Julie Main Woman Leader Scholarship” for her work to develop the Back To Life program for cancer patients and survivors.

At the award ceremony, Radka had a wonderful message for the fitness community:

I would like to challenge all of you in our health and fitness industry to offer a helping hand to cancer survivors. Tell them that there is life after cancer. Tell them that they’re worth it. Tell them that their scars are just signs of their resilience and strength. And, most importantly, tell them that you will support them to make sure that everything is going to be alright.

From her home base at the World Bank Group in Washington, DC, Radka offers the “Back to Life” class twice each week at no cost to World Bank Group employees.

The six-week “Back to Life” program has three goals:

  1) Assist in creating a personalized fitness program.

  2) Encourage a healthy lifestyle.

  3) Accelerate recovery and return to a productive life.

As a cancer survivor herself, Radka has an intimate understanding of the challenges facing the class participants.

 “I had troubles during transitioning period from a patient to a survivor,” she says. “The period after I was finished with my surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments was very difficult to navigate through as suddenly I was on my own and did not know how to transition into normal life. Very little is currently done to provide post-rehabilitation services addressing the restorative needs of cancer survivors.”

The feedback from participants has been overwhelming.

Every participant – 100% – indicated they would like to take the program again.

“Please keep this program going, we need it! Charge a price if needed,” said one participant. “The camaraderie, support, teamwork, and encouragement of one another are something that cannot be paid in dollars. This was an awesome idea to get us together. It changed my life. Thank you.”

 “Beautiful holistic program,” said another participant. “A must for cancer patients and survivors. Cannot say how much I wish to continue this program. Please arrange for follow up courses for our group!”

The health care system is expanding in many ways: more services, greater access, and evermore treatment options.

And at the frontier of this rapidly expanding system are sophisticated fitness facilities capable of providing disease-specific, exercise-based programming.

I think programs like “Back To Life” will ultimately become part of the core of what we expect from community-minded fitness facilities. What do you think? What are some other examples of disease- or condition-specific programming occurring at fitness facilities?