By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika Observer
The Health Plus Fitness Center in Auburn hosted the third annual Fit to Fight event on Saturday, May 11, benefitting the Oncology Wellness Program at EAMC. The event included a celebration walk, silent auction, and free services such as skin cancer screenings offered by Dr. John Stewart of Stewart Dermatology.
Several employees, including Rachel Calton, who works as community events coordinator and breast health navigator at EAMC, said that the event had a great turnout in spite of a high chance of rain in the forecast. Fortunately, the weather held out for this year’s the celebration walk. Calton added that for each of the three years the event has been held, Fit to Fight has generated high levels of participation and enthusiasm among residents of East Alabama. Rachel Carswell, who serves as an oncology exercise specialist at Health Plus Fitness Center, said that support for the program is crucial as it grows to serve more patients. “As the EAMC Cancer Center grows, we are able to help more patients that have undergone such complicated and difficult treatments,” Carswell said.
When asked who made this event possible, Carswell said that multiple local organizations to the event, including their platinum donor, East Alabama Dental Group, as well as Sunshine Floors and the Orthopedic Clinic. The Orthopedic Clinic in particular partners with the Cancer Center of EAMC because cancer patients often require rehabilitation services. Also, many people who donated items for the silent auction are members of Health Plus who have seen firsthand the difference that the Oncology Wellness Program has made in people’s lives.
Many individuals who work at EAMC and other Lee County residents participated in Saturday’s event and enjoyed the festivities. Wendy Thomas, who works with the city of Auburn, said that she found the Fit to Fight event to be a great way to spend a Saturday morning, including the silent auction and chair massages. Susan Johnston, the Vice President of Human Resources at EAMC, said, “We’re happy to see so many people from the community at the event and also, and it’s great to have a community fitness center so engaged in oncology care.”
In addition to promoting physical health, the program also provides mental health support, which is crucial because of the physical and psychological stress that can accompany a cancer diagnosis, according to Chelsea Kroll, who serves the Cancer Center of EAMC in the role of oncology social worker. “Myself, and psychologist, Dr. Peggy Howland, conduct a weekly support group to cancer survivors (regardless of where treatment was received or where the person is in the treatment process),” Kroll said. “We explore multiple topics to include mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, communication, fear of recurrence, and provide therapeutic interventions to help reduce the stressors faced while undergoing treatment and in Life after treatment.”
Lynn Dickens, a former Oncology Wellness Program member, said that the program made a huge difference in her recovery. Like anyone facing a serious illness, Dickens was overwhelmed by the diagnosis and the treatments that she would soon face. However, joining the oncology support group that is part of the wellness program provided an atmosphere of caring and healing. “The group is full of caring people where it is safe to share your feelings and fears,” Dickens said. “I have formed lasting friendships that are still supportive as I am in remission but still attending six years later!”
As of the end of the event on May 11, Carswell said that they are still accepting donations, selling T-Shirts, and would likely extend bids for some of the auction items into the week following the event.
The Pervasiveness of Cancer
With the lifetime risk of developing cancer in one’s lifetime at about 40 percent according to American Cancer Society, cancer touches most people’s lives at some point, either from contracting cancer oneself or caring for a loved one who has cancer (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/questions-people-ask-about-cancer.html).
While acknowledging the importance of healthy lifestyle choices such as a nutritious diet, exercise, and avoiding carcinogens to decreasing the risk of cancer, the American Cancer Society and Mayo Clinic explain that cancer can happen to anyone, even if a person does everything right in terms of diet, fitness, and other lifestyle factors. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20370588).