When the JCC and Norton Cancer Institute created their fitness program for cancer patients, they didn’t expect it to hit so close to home.
Beth Mans, member services director for The J, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June. She has been undergoing treatments ever since.
Despite enduring some of the toughest chemo, a type known as the “Red Devil,” she’s managed to continue coming to work nearly every day, teaching classes and carrying on as usual.
But things are anything but usual.
While Mans attributes her endurance to her fitness, even those who aren’t fit can benefit from exercise during cancer treatment.
When Norton approached The J about creating the fitness program, doctors told Health and Wellness Director Susan Kwasny that people who exercise during treatment tend to weather the treatment better and have better outcomes.
But getting to a gym can seem like climbing a mountain when the effects of chemo kick in.
Enter Fit to Fight, a new program at The J tailored to each individual participant, allowing each to work – and fight – at their own pace.
“I had planned to be part of the team, just in a general sense,” Mans said. “But I think I’ve taken a bigger role. Before it was Matt (Vamvas) and Mat (Shalenko, trainers) and I really wasn’t part of the mix. Then we realized, ‘Here’s Beth who is going through it, who’s living it, breathing it and experiencing it. What better asset to have a better understanding of how these people feel?’”
Mans’ cancer odyssey began with a routine mammogram, like she has every year. This year, though, she got a call back. Her 3D mammogram found the tumor.
She got genetic testing for breast cancer, and while she doesn’t carry the BRCA genes, she does carry the PALB2 gene, which makes the disease likely to recur. As a 50-year-old, she knew that likelihood was high, indeed.
She underwent a double mastectomy, and because doctors found cancer in one of her lymph nodes, they took a few of those, too.
She took four treatments of the Red Devil chemo. Now she’s in a 12-week run of regular chemotherapy. After that, she will begin daily radiation. She doesn’t know how long that will last.
“I will be on hormone therapy for the rest of my life because my tumors are fed by estrogen and progesterone,” Mans said. “I’ve chosen not to do reconstructive surgery be cause I love to exercise and because I want to get back to what I’m able to do a lot sooner.”
Her love of exercise is what led her to The J in the first place, and it’s why she stays. A fitness instructor since 1998, she adopted her career after she started having kids and decided to do some thing different. She got certified
through the Athletics and Fitness Association of American and then the Aquatics Exercise Association.
She started working at the J in 2010, shortly after moving to Louisville, and eventually got promoted to group fitness coordinator, then to her current position.
When Kwasny became health and wellness director and began assembling a team, “she asked me if I perhaps want to come on as a member services director,” Mans said. “I’m in charge of the staff at the desks and the J Play child care while you work out. And then I kind of oversee group exercise and aquatics exercise as well.”
She has been a popular instructor during her time here, particularly in her aqua fitness classes.
Since starting her treatments – and losing her hair – Mans has chosen not to wear a wig. Her new look attracts attention.
“I had a guy just the other day who stopped in and said, ‘Do you have cancer?’” she recalled. “I said, ’Yes,’ and he said, ‘So do I.’ And he’s like, ‘That’s why I’m here.’
“I’ve had numerous men stop me and say, ‘I had prostate cancer 10 years ago. I’m exercising now because I don’t want it to come back.’ And they realized the benefits after what we’ve gone through, and we want people who realize the benefits while they’re in it.”
Though exercise doesn’t necessarily keep cancer from recurring, having a stronger body helps make the treatment easier and more effective.
The Fit to Fight program is free and open to all current or recent cancer patients with a note from their doctors.
Mans said she appreciates the members and staff who have been understanding of her circumstances.
“People here have just been so wonderful, you know, and have just been very supportive.”
Want to join?
For more information on Fit to Fight, contact Susan Kwasny at 502-238-2794.