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August 9 2017

Boot camp, fitness and nutrition help athlete stay strong after cancer treatment

It takes physical and emotional strength to endure a cancer journey, from diagnosis and treatment through rehabilitation. Cancer patients must juggle multiple medical appointments while carrying on with their personal lives and their jobs – all amid the anxiety and stress that comes with cancer.

Within two years’ time, Anne Zellner, 52, of Wauwatosa, moved to Wisconsin, married, changed jobs, and was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.

Her measured approach helped keep her moving forward through a mastectomy, four rounds of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation, breast reconstruction surgery, surgery to remove her ovaries, and cancer rehabilitation.

“I took things one step at a time and just focused on the immediate step,” Zellner said. “The support and encouragement of my husband Scott, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and even strangers, were integral parts of my healing. I am grateful for their thoughtfulness and care.”

She said that her medical team at ProHealth Care – radiation oncologist Bambi Weyers, MD, breast surgeon Kelli Pettit, MD, nurse navigator Michelle Willman, RN, medical oncologist Hamid Saadati, MD, physical therapist Colleen Sonderman, oncology dietitian Alison Tierney, and others – also helped make what could have been a debilitating experience a relatively positive one.

“Everyone looked at me holistically and I felt really cared for,” she said.

Empowered exercise

Zellner’s success with cancer rehabilitation led Sonderman to recommend that she participate in the Beat Cancer Boot Camp at ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center in Pewaukee.

“Boot camp is an empowered exercise and support group where people leave feeling better physically and emotionally,” Sonderman said. “There are many benefits to regular exercise in cancer survival. It decreases stress, anxiety and fatigue, boosts the immune system, and increases strength in the core and extremities.”

Boot camp wasn’t a stretch for Zellner, who is a swimmer, yogi, cyclist and runner in her spare time. She also keeps busy enjoying family life and working as a product management professional.

During cancer treatment, Zellner had been walking every day and had begun jogging. Once she started to attend boot camp, she found her stride. She was back to working on upper body strength with weights and resistance bands, in addition to stretching and cardio work.

Even though her last medical procedure was in the summer of 2016, Zellner has continued to participate in boot camp. She made friends there after her diagnosis and found the group atmosphere motivating.

“Research has shown that if you exercise in a group, you are more likely to follow through and also exercise with more vigor,” Sonderman said. “There is also camaraderie when people have experienced something similar.”

Zellner enjoys socializing with her boot camp friends and attended a boot camp retreat that included caregivers alongside cancer patients and survivors. The weekend retreat featured an uplifting guest speaker, yoga, boating, art therapy and many thought-provoking conversations. She helped plan a celebration of the boot camp’s five-year anniversary and also will help plan the next retreat, which will take place this fall.

Food as medicine

Zellner also has become an advocate of nutrition after dietitian Tierney helped her with her diet during treatment. She also attended ProHealth’s free educational cooking classes about fighting cancer with healthy food choices.

“I view food as medicine now,” she said. “I was careful before, but now I feel that every time I eat I have an opportunity to do something good for my body and immune system.”

Normally a private person, Zellner said she wants to tell people that they can get through cancer and emerge stronger.

“I wouldn’t have been public about something like this before,” she said. “But I let people know that I had cancer because then they might think, ‘She went through it and she’s okay.’ ”

Zellner felt a lump in her breast and immediately scheduled a doctor’s visit. She now urges women to pay attention to changes in their breasts and discuss their concerns or questions with their physicians.

“I encourage my friends to ask their providers about their breast density and their choices for screening methodologies,” she said. “If I can help raise awareness, I can feel that what I've gone through might be avoided by others, and that's a comfort.”

Zellner also shares these tips: “Being physically fit, doing all the walking and exercises, helped me get through it. And whether or not you’ve had a diagnosis, I would encourage everyone to eat as healthy as you can. Our bodies are amazing machines. We have a wonderful ability to fight off cancer and wonderful immune systems.”

ProHealth Care encourages women who are 40 and older to speak to their health care providers about the screenings that are right for them. ProHealth has a team of dedicated professionals available to explain treatment options and provide comprehensive cancer services to patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Visit ProHealthCare.org/Cancer and ProHealthCare.org/BreastImaging to learn more about cancer care and breast health. Visit ProHealthCare.org/ProHealthMinute to view one-minute videos about 3D mammography, breast cancer surgery, cancer nurse navigators, cancer rehabilitation, the importance of nutrition and ProHealth Care’s partnership with UW Health.

Visit ProHealthCare.org/Classes and search for Beat Cancer Boot Camp to find details about the boot camp and register.

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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.