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Alene is an oncology nurse, author of Navigating the C: A Nurse Charts the Course for Cancer Survivorship Care, Blue Bayou Press, 2018. She is a cancer exercise trainer & health coach, and is CEO/Founder of Cancer Harbors®.

Being Fierce Without Fighting

A community, nurse-led group encourages cancer survivors to get more out of life while moving
It’s fall again, and that means the return of the activity group we have here in Fort Collins, Colorado, called FIERCE. It’s a nurse-created, community-based program, and we’re about to start our fourth season of providing a unique forum for cancer survivors to experience the joy of movement and physical activity in a supportive social setting.

FIERCE is an acronym for Functional & Fit, Independent, Energized, Restored, Confident, & Empowered.

While the name might sound a bit like one of those cliché battle cries of cancer-related happenings, it’s not about fighting or battling anything. In fact, resistance is what we are moving away from. The only resistance we have is our own physical body weight.

In FIERCE, participants learn to enjoy different ways to move, without competition or exhaustion. While learning to accept our bodies as they may have been altered by cancer, and enjoy the ability to move while working to get stronger, FIERCE helps to build body confidence, social support, and knowledge. Instead of fighting, we talk about ways to enhance our quality of life and do our absolute best with the resources we have.

Participants can be in active cancer treatment if they have their oncologist’s permission, but most have finished treatment within the past three years. The class consists of almost all women, with a range of cancer histories. Many are breast cancer survivors but some have had other types of cancer.

FIERCE began as an answer to the community’s lack of alternatives to talk support groups. There are plenty of those groups, but some people wanted a way to connect with other cancer survivors while being active.

As one member of the group told me, “I got tired of the “I’m so tired, let’s sit around and talk about how awful we feel”. I wanted to do something, to move, be with other people who understood what I went through but don’t want to dwell on it.”

While talk support groups can be helpful, they can also leave a person stuck, rehashing the same issues, and not making forward progress. There are plenty of cancer survivors who are interested in developing self-care skills and learning ways to improve their quality of life, becoming more active, and focusing on topics other than cancer.

Through the support of a local health club, we secured a yoga studio and we’ve been there since October, 2014. We meet twice a month for 90 minutes, with gentle warmup exercises, learning to do functional activities that require no equipment other than ordinary objects you’d have at home, like chairs, walls, or floors.

After our warmup, which includes overall body conditioning exercises for balance, core strengthening, and the upper body, we go for a walk. We have an indoor track in the winter months, and in the warmer seasons we walk outdoors on a bike path through a nearby park. Members of the class pair off or divide into small groups so no one walks alone. Then we return for a cool down and discussion, and at least once a month we have a guest presenter who is an expert in some form of therapeutic movement or modality.

This gives participants in the class an opportunity to try different types of activity such as Pilates, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga, Feldenkrais®, modalities such as biofeedback, pelvic floor strengthening, massage, Rossiter, guided meditation, and other mind-body techniques for relaxation and healing.

A range of learning opportunities are always being presented, as individuals have their own preferences and needs. FIERCE gives them a chance to learn about options they might never have thought of on their own. It’s a true community effort. All instructors’ time is donated and the program is free for any cancer survivor to participate.

You won’t see pink ribbons or hear battle language like “Rah- Rah Fight- Fight!” in FIERCE. You’ll see a group of people with a common experience of cancer, but a shared interest in reclaiming their health and quality of life, finding support in ways that doesn’t keep them tethered to cancer as an identity, but accepting that doing the best with what you have is a worthy lifelong pursuit.

Life is FIERCE, it requires a fiercely positive attitude to keep moving forward if you want to make the most of it. 

Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
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