A cancer diagnosis is difficult news, to say the very least. The struggles for each patient may vary, but are extremely personal and always terrifying to face. Beating cancer is a delicate and challenging journey as well, but for most, it doesn’t end once their treatment is done. Once a cancer patient is told they’ve beaten the disease, there are a lot of questions to face about their health, both physically and mentally. Many have gone through chemotherapy or radiation, in addition to surgeries, and aren’t quite sure where to find the answers. Help is needed to guide them through the next phase of life post-treatment, especially in terms of their health and what the body can now handle.
That is where Aaron Grunke found himself after beating testicular cancer at the age of 23. He faced a grim reality in the beginning stages and for 22 months battled to win his life back. “I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed,” says Grunke. “Fear, anger, disbelief – just to name a few of the emotions I felt.” He made the decision to completely focus on getting well, which included putting college on hold, which is never easy. After an aggressive treatment regimen and three surgeries, Grunke was pronounced cancer free.
While this was no doubt an exciting day, it also brought mixed emotions. “Of course I was happy the cancer was gone, but with the excitement came fear and anxiety,” states Grunke. “For almost two years my whole life revolved around fighting cancer, and I won – but what would my post-cancer reality look like?”
As many other cancer survivors have recalled, one simply doesn’t transition back to life as it was. The loss of self-direction resulting from decreased mental and physical stamina can heighten negative emotions and an ever-increasing sense of vulnerability. Grunke knew that he had to break through the cycle.
He is now the founder of Survivor Fitness Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit located in Nashville that has partnered with a number of gyms in the area to help cancer survivors successfully navigate a healthy lifestyle after treatment ends. Personally, he turned to the gym for an outlet, but he quickly realized he wasn’t capable of the same exercises he used to easily handle. It wasn’t until working with a personal trainer that his strength and energy began to rebuild, and his anxiety was slowly put at ease.
“I thought I knew how to work out,” Grunke recalls, “but my body had been through so much change that what worked for me before treatment wasn’t working after.”
Grunke says he was fortunate enough to find a trainer who took interest in his story. His trainer found ways to individualize a program that fit his needs and could have him build successful progression at his own pace. Grunke says, “My trainer understood the challenges and began showing me steps to rebuild my body and my health.”
Through this experience, Grunke conceptualized the idea of Survivor Fitness Foundation, a twelve-week program that helps cancer survivors regain their health and wellness through one-on-one personal training and nutritional support. Their mission is to empower cancer survivors to take back their lives with a supportive community and healthy lifestyle choices.
With this goal in mind, survivors meet a trainer twice a week, while working out independently once each week. In addition, the nutritional component allows them to focus on the right foods to fuel their body and address any issues they have post-treatment. To date, Survivor Fitness Foundation has helped more than 50 survivors in the Nashville area. Because the program focuses on the individual variances, they have been able to work with all types of cancer survivors, of all age ranges and all levels of fitness.
As a 501(c)3, Survivor Fitness Foundation is also making the training and nutrition programs more accessible financially. Considering the financial strains are costly with medical bills and often a lapse in employment, the non-profit charity aims to be affordable if not able to provide scholarship options.
After beating lymphoma, Patrick McNulty found Survivor Fitness Foundation through a friend who previously participated in the program. McNulty accounts, “I ran a half marathon. Now I continue to lift or run six days a week. I think I’m in the best shape of my life and I probably wouldn’t have even tried if not for Survivor Fitness.”
Grunke calls the participants the true heroes and says, “They are the ones who show up each week and work to defeat cancer, again and again. Seeing their transformation is both humbling and gratifying.”
Leighann McCoy, a colon cancer survivor, credits Survivor Fitness Foundation with giving her life back. “After cancer, I was eager to feel like myself again. Because of the opportunity to work with a trainer, I was able to take back what three years of cancer had taken away from me.”
The program has proved results from weight loss, increased muscle mass, and reduced fatigue, to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, and anxiety. Participants have shown improved emotional state and gained a community of support. Programs can be found partnered with gyms like Chadwick’s Fitness in Cools Springs, Results Music Row and Vanderbilt’s Dayani Center. For more information about Survivor Fitness Foundation, to fill out an application for scholarship, or to become a participant, visit their website at www.survivorfitness.org.