It can be difficult for breast cancer patients to return to a regular exercise program after cancer treatment, as recommended by the American Cancer Society. While training for an Ironman, Dr. Judy Tjoe noted many analogies between the triathlon events and breast cancer treatment. Thus, inspired by her patients’ frequently expressed desire to regain fitness after surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she created the Team Phoenix program.
Breast cancer survivors of all stages, ages, and fitness levels train for a sprint distance triathlon as the impetus to regain an active lifestyle to achieve lifelong health and fitness. Treatment side effects are taken into consideration, including scarring and fibrosis caused by surgery and radiation, deconditioning due to chemotherapy, and altered metabolism caused by early menopause.
Team Phoenix members train with other patients to complete an all-women sprint distance triathlon, composed of a half-mile open water swim, 12-mile bike and 3.1 mile run. Team Phoenix members work with professional coaches and medical volunteers during a 14-week program that physically and mentally prepares them to finish the triathlon. Nutrition and core strength training are emphasized. The program is tailored to a patient’s individual abilities and can be modified for patients experiencing cancer treatment side effects. To date, every woman who completed the training program also completed the triathlon.
Fellow breast cancer survivors enhance their survivorship through prescribed workouts, training together and motivating each other to get to the finish line. As teammates, they support one another as they achieve new and exciting milestones together, transforming themselves and their body from patient to athlete.
Since its successful inception in 2011, Team Phoenix is now linked with research to better understand mechanisms of how exercise improves survival after breast cancer. In 2012, Team Phoenix athletes participated in collaborative research with Marquette University’s Department of Exercise Science studying the effects of moderate exercise on aerobic capacity, strength and psychological well-being after breast cancer treatment. In 2013, the effect of exercise on estrogen levels and inflammatory cytokines, thought to affect cancer recurrence, will also be studied.
Thanks to generous gifts from individual donors, Aurora Health Care’s Pink Possible activities, Team Phoenix fundraising events, and local and national sponsors from the triathlon community, the program is looking forward to a third successful year. To learn more about Team Phoenix and research involving the effect of exercise on breast cancer survival, contact us.