Getting Stronger After Cancer

3 min read  |  July 31, 2017  | 

It was just a staircase, but to Patricia Emard, it could have been a mountain.

With the help of the world-class oncologists at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System, she had triumphed over breast cancer, but it had taken all she could give. Two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation had sapped the 63-year-old’s strength.

She took one look at the staircase and chose the elevator instead.

Angelique Muniz, although 32 years younger, was also having a difficult comeback. Following lengthy surgery for oral cancer that involved removal and reconstruction of half of her tongue, she had endured a breathing tube down her throat and a feeding tube in her stomach, skin grafts, radiation treatments, physical therapy, and speech therapy to learn to talk again. Although the one-time boxer had been extremely fit, after her treatments she could barely get out of bed and walk.

Today, Patricia can climb a flight of stairs without breathing hard. Angelique is jumping rope and punching the heavy bag like a pro.

This is all thanks to Sylvester’s U Survive & Thrive, a program that helps cancer survivors regain their strength and get on with their lives.

“In my job, I see patients at their worst and then get to watch them rebuild themselves,” said Stacy Cutrono, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and oncology exercise physiologist at Sylvester, who developed the program in 2013.

“Patricia and Angelique were active before cancer, but they didn’t know how to direct that natural energy after all they had been through. We teach them how to do that, because exercise gives people back a sense of control.”

U Survive & Thrive is offered by Sylvester in partnership with the UHealth Fitness & Wellness Center. The two-month program, which costs $72, includes a personalized assessment and evaluation, 24 supervised exercise sessions, weekly physical activity counseling, and a follow-up fitness assessment and exercise plan. The patient’s oncologist, who must consent to their participation, receives a progress report at the end of the program.

“Patients often come to us because they have heard about the program from other patients,” said Cutrono. “Now we are trying to increase awareness among physicians so we can have more direct referrals. In cancer, there are not a lot of professionals available to help patients get back on their feet after treatment. Our staff is the exception, and they really know how to work with people with medical concerns.”

The proof is in the results.

“Working with the weight machines under supervision really helped,” said Angelique, who chose the current movie character Wonder Woman as her inspiration and wears her costumes as workout clothing.

By the end of the program, I had doubled my strength.


Patricia, meanwhile, wearing a purple workout outfit that matched her eyeglasses, stood with a big grin on her face at the top of a long flight of stairs she had just climbed for the first time at the UHealth Fitness & Wellness Center.

“I looked at those stairs, and I thought, ‘I’ve got this,’” she said. “When I got to the top, I was exuberant — I was so happy!”

And just to prove her point, she walked back down and walked up again.

More information about U Survive & Thrive is available on the Sylvester website. Cutrono can be contacted at [email protected] or 305-243-2974.

Written by a staff writer at UHealth.

Tags: Miller School of Medicine, Stacy Cutrono, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, U Survive & Thrive, UHealth Fitness & Wellness Center, University of Miami

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