Although advancements in cancer treatment have saved countless lives, many anticancer drugs can negatively affect a patient's heart. Fortunately, when Gerren was diagnosed with breast cancer, she sought treatment from Aurora Health Care's integrated cardio-oncology team, which monitored her heart health while successfully treating her cancer. While undergoing treatment, Gerren also discovered Team Phoenix, Aurora Research Institute's cancer survivorship program.
Team Phoenix is an innovative 14-week fitness and research program in which a leadership team of multidisciplinary clinicians, triathlon coaches and volunteers encourage and assist cancer survivors to regain endurance, strength, flexibility, and overall health and wellness after cancer treatment by training for a sprint-distance triathlon. As a program of Aurora Research Institute, Team Phoenix also collaborates with higher education institutions on research seeking to better understand the effects of group-led, goal-oriented exercise and psychological well-being after cancer treatment.
Team Phoenix began in 2011 as an innovative cancer program based on the multidisciplinary collaborative efforts of Judy A. Tjoe, MD, breast oncology surgeon, and Leslie J. Waltke, DPT, cancer rehabilitation specialist for Aurora Physical Therapy. The program is currently overseen by Team Phoenix Program Director Ilka Hoffins, medical advisors Dr. Waltke and Michael P. Mullane, MD, medical oncologist and hematologist and director of the Hereditary Cancer Prevention and Management Center in Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center’s Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic, with research coordination from Advocate Aurora Research Institute.
Team Phoenix’s goals are threefold:
The prescribed 14-week professional training plan incorporates strength, swimming, biking and running practice with the goal of completing the sprint-distance triathlon safely and successfully during the last week of the program.
There are two group practices per week as well as daily individualized instructions for training at home. Group practices are led by professional triathlon coaches, who make adaptations as needed to meet the athletes’ varying abilities and medical needs. Medical staff members are on site at every practice to address unique medical concerns and refer to specialists as needed.
Fellow cancer survivors and alumnae of the program enhance participant survivorship by training together and motivating each other to get to the finish line of their first triathlon. As teammates, they support one another as they achieve new and exciting milestones together, redefining themselves from patient to athlete.
Completing a sprint triathlon is a great accomplishment for anyone, but after enduring the medical triathlon of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, this achievement can be life-changing for cancer survivors. Crossing the finish line is empowering beyond words.
Since the program’s inception in 2011:
The Team Phoenix leadership, along with many Aurora medical staff, coaches, alumnae and volunteers, are proud to have helped change the lives of nearly 350 female cancer survivors as they redefine “survivorship.”
Team Phoenix complements Aurora Research Institute’s efforts to better understand how exercise improves survival after cancer. Our researchers collaborate with higher education institutions on the effects of moderate exercise on aerobic capacity, strength and psychological well-being after cancer treatment. With the help of cancer survivors, Aurora is making steady progress in advancing all aspects of cancer care, including diagnosis, treatment and survival.
Read more about Aurora’s breast cancer research program TORQUE, or Translational Oncology Research: Quest for Understanding & Exploration.
Thanks to generous gifts from individual donors, fundraising events, and local and national companies’ financial and in-kind contributions, the program continues to grow and thrive.
Financial gifts pay for professional coaching, equipment and facility rentals, athlete gear, team jerseys and attire, race entrance fees, and financial support for those who would be otherwise unable to participate.
Team Phoenix also relies on the donated time from Aurora doctors, clinicians, nutritionists, nurses and physical therapists. Their care for their patients’ long-term physical, mental and social health carries on long after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation is complete. The collaborative expertise of these volunteers is invaluable and contributes to the uniqueness of this medically overseen training and wellness program.
Alumnae of Team Phoenix give back by volunteering at successive years’ training sessions to inspire and support current athletes and continue to promote health and wellness year round by organizing additional group exercise opportunities. Their insights and personal success stories bring new perspective to redefining cancer “survivorship.”