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Planning a Seminar on Breast Cancer and Exercise

Use this step-by-step planning guide to introduce your new program.

All breast cancer survivors have one thing in common: a desire to regain control over their lives and bodies. Holding a seminar on this topic at your small to medium-sized fitness facility can help breast cancer survivors return to fitness and showcase your facility’s offerings.

By offering this free seminar, you will serve the community at the same time that you attract potential new members. There is no need to create special classes. You’ll be showing women in various stages of recovery how to work within your facility’s existing framework of classes and personal training options.

The following step-by-step guide will provide you with all the tools you need to host a successful event. Bonus: You can use this template and outline to plan future events for other special populations as well.

Step 1: Get Organized

Assemble a small team at least 2 months before the seminar. Include a personal trainer, a fitness instructor and possibly an employee who is a breast cancer survivor. As a manager you can’t do everything yourself, so delegate some of the tasks.

Set a date for the seminar and reserve a room at your facility. Schedule 3 hours for the event, which will include setup time, your oral presentation, a tour, an exercise demonstration and time for questions and answers. Try to choose a date that coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness month, or another event such as your facility’s open house or trial membership week. Arrange for comfortable seating—no sitting on exercise mats on the floor! Provide a healthy snack and beverage.

Start advertising 1 month before. Create a sign and a flier. Obtain permission before hanging or leaving your fliers at targeted offices, shops and public places. Post signs on community bulletin boards as well as at cancer centers, oncologists’ offices and support groups’ meeting places. Advertise on your facility’s website, as well as on breast cancer survivors’ message boards. Send a press release to local newspapers, and call local radio stations. Ask to be interviewed! Have fliers at the front desk for members.

Prepare a packet of take-home materials, such as free booklets on exercise and breast cancer from the American Cancer Society (ACS); a resource page listing books, DVDs, and support group contact information; a progress chart for the exercises you’ll demonstrate; and information about your facility (class schedules, personal training contact info and a list of classes ranked according to intensity or pace). Also include free stuff (like breast cancer pins/pens from the ACS or eBay). Don’t forget to include a free guest pass for another visit to your facility!

Step 2: Prepare the Oral Presentation

This is the cornerstone of your seminar, and it needs to be accurate and to the point. Start by researching breast cancer and exercise on websites like www.acsm.org, www.cancer.org and www.acefitness.org. Also, books such as The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan by Carolyn M. Kaelin, MD, MPH, Francesca Coltrera, Josie Gardiner and Joy Prouty (McGraw-Hill 2007) can be very helpful. Practice your presentation, so you won’t just be reading your notes. If you know your talking points, you will be better able to make eye contact and encourage audience interaction and comments.

Talking Points

1. State the seminar’s objective. For example: “One in eight American women will get breast cancer. The number of diagnoses is higher than ever, but so is survivorship. We are here to help recovering breast cancer survivors get fit and regain control over their bodies. One set of exercises does not fit all, so we will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about your return to fitness here at the ‘XYZ Gym.’”

2. Make introductions and clarify scope of practice. For example: “I am Rhonda Smith, the fitness manager here, and with me are Anne Smithson, our lead personal trainer, and Norma Jones, one of our exercise instructors. We are qualified to offer exercise advice, not medical advice, to help you return to fitness after breast cancer, so make sure you have clearance from your doctor before starting any exercise program.”

3. Describe the initial exercises to be done at home. For example: “Start by taking short walks. Next, try a few simple exercises at home to improve your balance, flexibility and strength. Norma will be demonstrating these exercises in a few minutes, when we go on a little field trip to the exercise studio.”

4. Remind the group that one exercise program does not fit all. For example: “Survivors range from women with no or minimal side effects or physical changes to women whose bodies are drastically changed—sometimes ravaged more from the treatment or reconstruction than the original cancer. You may have only a few stitches, or you may have several major surgeries over a period of years. Your role is to be patient and realistic with the healing process and listen to your body. Start slowly, and as you get stronger, gradually add more training or classes.”

5. Present and describe fitness options. For example:

  • Personal training: “You could work one-on-one with a personal trainer to develop a program that’s just for you. The trainer will chart your progress and teach you correct form to prevent injuries.” Let the trainer on your team elaborate.
  • Group exercise: “You might want to attend one of our many group exercise classes. We offer a wide variety every day, for all ages and fitness levels. It’s easy for the instructor to suggest modifications, so let your instructor know you are new.” At this point, distribute a group fitness schedule to participants. This handout should rank the classes to indicate intensity from lowest to highest. Have the group fitness team member suggest a few specific classes as a starting point.
  • Do-it-yourself: “Another idea is to design your own fitness plan to do at home. This is not for everyone, but if you have the knowledge, equipment and self-discipline, this may be the path for you.”
  • Mix-and-match: “Many people like to do a combination of personal training, group exercise and home exercise.”

6. Offer information about other relevant staff services. Mention any other services that your club offers, such as massage therapist, nutritionist, dietitian and chiropractor.

7. Discuss breast cancer side effects and exercise. According to breast cancer and wellness coach Joanne Smith-Tavener, MEd, the following are the most common side effects and recommendations for coping with them:

  • Fatigue—the #1 complaint of all cancer survivor: “If fatigue or dizziness occurs, pause, stop or sit.”
  • Anxiety/depression: “Exercise releases endorphins. Learn relaxation techniques in yoga.”
  • Acid reflux: “Keep your head above your stomach while exercising.”
  • Skin irritation from radiation: “Avoid chlorine.”
  • Low white blood cell count: “Use a hand sanitizer, pre-wipe the equipment—or skip group exercise if your white blood count is extremely low.”
  • Peripheral neuropathy (chemotherapy-caused numbness in hands or feet): “Use machines rather than free weights.”
  • Lymphedema (arm/hand swelling): “No excessive heat (sauna, hot tub, hot yoga, etc.). Stop or lessen your workload if swelling worsens. Wear your support sleeve.” (A support sleeve is a doctor-prescribed and doctor-fitted elastic lymphedema compression sleeve used to control swelling after lymph node removal.)

8. Offer coping strategies. For example: “Be honest with the instructor or trainer about your health situation. Listen to your body. Self-limit your participation if necessary. Stay home when you have a fever, nausea, dizziness, breathing problems or joint pain or if you feel too unwell to drive. Take your doctor’s advice if you are told to stay away from crowds when your white blood cell count is low.”

Step 3: Be Ready on the Day of the Seminar

  1. Present the entire lecture.
  2. Give a tour of your facility. Conclude the tour in an empty exercise studio where there are mats and 1- to 3-pound weights.
  3. Provide a 15- to 20-minute exercise session. For example: “The exercises we’ll now show you are the ones I mentioned earlier that you might like to try at home. For this demo, you may watch or participate as you choose. At the end of our seminar today, all of you will receive a handout of these exercises to use at home. We’ll start with balance work.”
    • Balance. Lead attendees in a “step-’n’-cross” to right and left sides and in single-leg balances (lift one leg; hold for 60 seconds).
    • Stretches. “Walking fingers”—have attendees walk their fingers up and down a wall, first facing the wall and then sideways. “Corner press”—let attendees take turns standing in a corner with one hand pressed against each wall surface. “Overhead stretch”—direct attendees to lie on their backs, with hands by their sides. Have them slowly raise their arms to the ceiling, then behind their heads until the backs of their hands touch the floor. Direct them to stop if they have tightness due to surgery or scar tissue.
    • Strength. “Bridge”—have the group lie on their backs with their feet on the floor. Then ask them to raise their buttocks and backs off the floor and hold. “Pointer dog”—have attendees kneel down with their hands on the floor. Next have them lift one arm and the opposite leg and hold. “Wall push-ups”—have attendees mimic floor push-ups while standing with both hands on the wall.
    • 1- to 3-Pound Weights. Lead the group through some triceps extensions, biceps curls and standing internal-external shoulder rotations with 1- to 3-pound weights. Conclude the exercise session with this suggestion: “If you can easily do these exercises, you may be ready to come take one of our classes. Remember to check with your doctor first.”

  4. Return to the meeting room. Thank the attendees for coming, and wish them luck on their journey. Give out the take-home packet of materials. Invite attendees to ask questions. Your entire team should stay until the last person leaves, in case attendees are more comfortable asking questions one-on-one.
  5. Follow up with your team to discuss the seminar and plan the next one. Holding a free seminar can help motivate the growing sisterhood of breast cancer survivors. Their various surgeries, treatments and side effects have changed their bodies, as well as their sense of well-being. You are offering a place where their spirits can be lifted as they regain their physical strength and self-confidence. You are doing more than providing strategies to get them into shape; you are representing your facility and staff as an inclusive, caring and compassionate community.

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ACS (American Cancer Society). 2010. Exercises After Breast Surgery. www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/MoreInformation/exercises-after-breast-surgery; retrieved Oct. 4, 2011.
Kaelin, C., et al. 2007. The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Smith-Tavener, J. 2010. AAAI Breast Cancer and Wellness Certification Training. Baltimore.

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