It is no longer a secret that nutrition and fitness improve the quality of life of a survivor during and after cancer treatment and reduce the incidence of occurrence. The impact of Above and Beyond Cancer’s Total Training program, a small-group personal training class for survivors, should no longer be kept secret.

The results of our Total Training program, which started nine months ago, is off the charts. We have trained more than forty survivors between the ages of 17 and 72, representing more than ten different kinds of cancers, with 40 percent of participating survivors starting class while simultaneously receiving treatment.

As a Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, I am witnessing that chemotherapy, radiation, medication and surgery are adversities, but survivors can still progress in body, mind and spirit. Cancer becomes their catalyst to redefining themselves in physical, mental, and spiritual health. Above and Beyond Cancer’s Total Training Class proves to be a key support system in their quest for optimal health.

When I first bumped into Kara at the downtown Wellmark YMCA, during Above and Beyond Cancer’s Meditation Class, I noticed a fun-loving and energetic 33 year old, who describes herself as “kicking cancer’s ass.” Kara, with her shaven head and sea blue eyes, juggles chemotherapy treatments, teaching part time, and mothering a two year old son.

Kara candidly shares the sucky parts of cancer, robbing her of what she calls “the b’s” — babies and breasts. We share some tears and laugher, and I am inspired by her new life mantra:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Amid her chemotherapy treatment, Kara sets goals to improve nutrition, return to running and begin a consistent yoga practice. Smack in the middle of cancer treatment, she attends the Total Training Class for survivors. Her recent assessment with me, three months after starting with Above and Beyond Cancer, showed an increase in muscle, and functional strength, as well as improved recovery heart rate. Kara improved in every category possible, despite surgery, radiation, meds and chemo.

Kara says, “the survivorship program through ABC was the encouragement I needed to make intentional and strategic steps in my journey towards living a healthier lifestyle.” She casts her next goals on a half marathon, and climbing a mountain.

Our Total Training program offers a unique approach to survivorship. The free (thanks to our generous sponsors) one- hour session includes many aspects of fitness: cardio, weight resistance, flexibility and balance training. Because tumors can decrease with exercise, and quality of life improves in relationship to healthy body weight and muscle strength, the program offers tailored exercises to challenge each survivor, with attention to any contraindications.

We provide a special focus on mental and spiritual health. Each Total Training Class concludes with practicing meditation, as studies report meditation and mindfulness may reduce stress, anxiety and pain. In addition, each survivor receives a handmade Nepalese paper journal, and weekly emails encourage reflection and gratitude journaling.

Our holistic approach is improving lives, and the program results are proof.

Survivors’ Post assessment Total Training Class results


(as measured with pre and post assessments)

100% improved functional strength

95% improved balance

90% improved recovery heart rate

90% increased walking gait

75% increased muscle mass

65% reduced body fat percentage

60% improved range of motion

55% improved resting heart rate


100% improved their overall physical health

100% supported goals to consistently train or gained confidence to train independently

90% supported them in making and achieving goals

90% boosted self confidence

90% improved their Range of Motion

90% increased their health and fitness knowledge

80% improved their weight resistance training skills

80% improved their connection with others

80% increased their level of hope

80% improved their overall mental health

70 % increased Energy Level

70% improved their overall spiritual health

70% improved ability to Meditate

60% helped them manage stress

30% reduced their pain

In addition to Kara, others like Anne and Chris share remarkable benefits from the Total Training Program.

Anne is a 59 year old mom and journalist who was recently re-diagnosed. Her treatment included installing two titanium rods in her back. Anne says,I love my TT class and the holistic approach to gaining strength. I have improved in every measurement since starting.”

Chris is a father of three and a 52 year old non-Hodgkins survivor, since his stem cell transplant in 2010. He is losing body fat, gaining muscle and training to bike in next year’s Above + Beyond Cancer Race Across America (RAAM) cycling team.

Don’t wait another day to discover your optimal health. Let’s spread the secret. Let’s learn to dance in the rain, together.

-Mary Van Heukelom is the Fitness Director for Above and Beyond Cancer, and lead Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer for the Total Training Class. Eager to get involved? Contact Mary at or call 515–669–9879

Mary Van Heukelom
Program Director

Mary Van Heukelom is a Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer who trains, educates and coaches cancer survivors to reduce the chance of relapse, through holistic personal wellness programs addressing all aspects of healthy living.

2 Responses to “A Secret About Cancer Everyone Should Hear”

  1. John griffith

    I would like to hear more about your program


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