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Cancer fitness program helps patients thrive

CARLSBAD — The term “cancer fitness” sounds like an oxymoron. That is, until meeting Susan Webster and Deb Snyder and seeing that you can have cancer and still be fit.
Recently Webster and Snyder founded North County Cancer Fitness, or NCCF, to share their experience and hope with others. Their program is offered at the state-of-the-art Tri-City Wellness Center at 6250 El Camino Real near Palomar Airport.
NCCF offers classes and support in the areas of exercise, nutrition and complimentary health care activities to cancer patients and survivors who are newly diagnosed, in the midst of chemotherapy and radiation, or have completed treatment.
Webster was working on a certificate as an aquatics instructor at the wellness center in January 2009 when she met Snyder who had just completed chemotherapy for Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
“I was bald, wearing a scarf, skinny as a rail and hoping to get stronger,” Snyder remembers. “I looked at Susan and said ‘I want to look like you.’”
Webster explained that she had also been through breast cancer surgery earlier, and that the experience left her exhausted and barely able to walk. 
Inspired by Webster’s story, Snyder reached out and asked if she would train her. Webster accepted the challenge.
“I decided we have to have a program to get help Deb gain weight, get in shape and become stronger,” Webster remembers.
The two became fast friends, meeting for walks and tea. Webster decided to return to school where she first became a certified personal trainer, then a certified cancer exercise trainer.
It was at the end of 2009 that the idea to start a nonprofit was born. Tri-City Wellness Center stepped up and agreed to open up their facility to NCCF participants including the gym, two swimming pools, walk/jog track, yoga,
Pilates reformer and personal training.
Although the cost is $60 a month for a three-month program, scholarships are offered to make the program available to everyone.
“Without the Wellness Center’s generosity, NCCF wouldn’t be in the position it is today to help those who can’t afford this,” Snyder explained. “We don’t turn anyone away. Period.”
The program is also open to caregivers.
Webster says that the idea for a cancer exercise training program arose from a 2006 study of oncology nurses who identified a need for a place for patients to go to get exercise, nutrition and support after finishing cancer treatment.
“We learned a lot about the biology of cancer and side effects of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation,” Webster explained. “Chemo aged my heart by 10 years. I am 50 but my heart is 60.”
Today, Webster’s cancer is in remission. Snyder’s cancer is stable.
“You have no control over genetics or whatever caused your cancer,” Webster explained. “But there is a possibility that you can reduce the recurrence of cancer by 40 percent if you stay active, eat right, keep your weight in range and manage stress.”
A Fitness in Recovery class is offered Tuesday and Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the wellness center. Another class, Fighting Cancer with a Fork, will be offered at 6:30 p.m. April 28 by Erin Skoda, a registered dietician. The event is open to cancer patients, cancer survivors, caregivers and anyone interested in prevention. Cost is free.
Snyder is buoyed by the support NCCF has received from the community including MiraCosta College, which is helping generate volunteers and the office of Congressman Brian Bilbray, who was able to expedite their application for a 501(c)(3).
“One thing Susan and I have found has been the generosity of people,” Snyder said. “If we tell them about our program, it’s usually followed by, ‘How can I help?’”
“When I write thank you notes, I say, ‘Today you changed the life of a woman with breast cancer.’ It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. We change lives here, we do.”
Although the nonprofit was originally created for patients with breast cancer, services have expanded to include all cancers.
NCCF is open seven days a week. For more information or to make a donation, visit or call (760) 683-9105. For information about the Tri-Center Wellness Center visit or call (760) 931-3171.