J fitness trainers certified to work with cancer patients

Fitness Director Matt Vamvas shows Beth Mans, who just underwent a double mastectomy, an exercise regimen she can perform while recovering from the surgery. Vamvas, along with Mat Shalenko, are The J’s certified cancer exercise specialists. (Community photo by Lee Chottiner)

Responding to soaring cancer rates in Kentucky, The J is starting a program to help those battling disease develop appropriate exercise regimens.
Fitness Director Matt Vamvas and personal trainer Mat Shalenko have become certified cancer exercise specialists.
“It is inspiring,” Vamvas said of the people he works with. “It makes me feel better for them. I want my clients to be around for as long as they can.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute, Kentucky has the highest cancer rate in the United States. It also has the highest cancer death rate in the country. Breast, prostate, and lung cancer are the three most common types found in our area.
For Vamvas, working with cancer clients is personal business. His grandmother and aunt died from cancer,
“If exercise can help people get through chemo treatments,” he said, “then I am 100 percent behind it.”
In fact, Vamvas used to work for the American Cancer Society, and has been training clients for several years.
He and Shalenko have been taking an online course called CETI, which stands for the Cancer Exercise Training Institute. The webinar teaches the proper way to help cancer patients safely exercise. It stresses that each client is different, based on the type of cancer they have, their health, and their overall background. “It’s not only the type of cancer you are dealing with, but other things, like chemotherapy, which can have side effects that cause nausea or fatigue,” Vamvas said. “So we learn that every cancer patient is to be helped on a case-by-case basis. Each training routine is specific to the individual and their needs. Some people take to exercise better than others.
“Bottom line,” he added, “we will do things safely and smartly.”
Since the CETI webinar is constantly updated with the latest techniques, Vamvas is constantly consulting the patients’ physicians, making sure training programs are proper and safe.
“Our personal training rates will apply,” he said, “but we can work with clients if there are financial concerns. Prospective clients can contact me directly. It is something we want to grow, maybe have group classes, and go from there. So for patients battling cancer, I just want to help make their lives better.”
Though still in its infancy, the program is attracting attention. J Member Services Director Beth Mans, who is battling breast cancer, recently held an impromptu session with Vamvas.
Mans underwent a double mastectomy on August 8, which precludes upper body weight training while her body is healing. To compensate, Vamvas put together a regimen of leg exercises on the machines that don’t require hand-held free weights or squats. Another cancer patient might have completely different therapy needs, depending on the cancer and other factors.
“Each person’s journey is different,” Mans said, “so getting on board with an exercise program from the beginning, so they can be active and know what is safe for them [to do], whether it’s weight training, cardiovascular or yoga, is beneficial.”
That’s why she touts the program.
I think it’s wonderful to know you can keep exercising [while recovering from cancer],” Mans said. “You don’t have to just sit on the couch.”

Contact Matt Vamvas at 502-238-2792 or mvamvas@jewishlouisville.org.

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