Nikki Hayes, an employee at the University of Vermont, was diagnosed with cancer in April 2011. She finished cancer treatment later that year, but was eager to get back into her former fitness routine. An active runner and marathon team enthusiast, Nikki knew that she needed to get back in the gym – little did she know it would also help with her cancer recovery. Exercise is clinically proven to reduce cancer recurrence rates.

Nikki signed up for the Vermont Cancer Center’s Steps to Wellness Program, a medically-based rehabilitation program that serves the unique needs of cancer survivors. She spoke to us about her experience.

Why did you sign up for Steps to Wellness?

It was advised as part of my cancer treatment. Also, on a personal level, I wanted to get back to my active lifestyle. I love to run and work out with free weights. My family is also very active: all four of my daughters play ice hockey. Getting active again meant getting back to my life and my family after cancer.

How would you describe the Steps to Wellness experience?

It was wonderful – and challenging. My first day, I went through an assessment and evaluation to determine my baseline fitness level. What I discovered was that cancer treatment affects you in ways you don’t realize. For example, the physical assessment brought to light that my balance was affected by treatment. You may feel like you are done with cancer, but your body still needs to work on getting stronger. On the flip side, though I was very sick during chemotherapy, my fitness level remained higher than most patients.

What kinds of exercises did you do?

I was a new experience for the staff at Steps to Wellness: I was a patient who was already really athletic. I didn’t need to learn the basics, but I did need to learn how to work on my weaknesses, like balance. I did stretches, worked on the weight machines, and did free weights. Also, twice per week, I would go to the open gym.

What do you enjoy most about Steps to Wellness?

It’s a great way for cancer patients to learn how to take care of themselves. You’re being proactive — you’re making decisions versus simply being reactive during cancer treatments. You are taking control back. The staff has the knowledge, expertise, and passion to help you make it happen, and help you maintain your level of fitness after the 12 weeks of the program are over.

What were your results at the end of the Steps to Wellness program?

My balance improved, and I got stronger and better. I found that healthy was an attainable goal – and all cancer patients have that to aspire to. Now, I do body pump class and run three miles a few times per week. It was a wonderful place to go. It was the next step in my cancer recovery.

Learn more about Steps to Wellness.

Nikki L. Hayes is an employee in the Technical Services Partnership at the University of Vermont.

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