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Buddy Check 10: Survivor Fitness gives strength after cancer treatment

The nonprofit fitness foundation caters exclusively to cancer survivors. One-on-one personal training helps build strength back after treatment.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Survivor Fitness in West Knoxville is helping cancer survivors find their strength. It focuses on training and support after they undergo cancer treatment.

The one-on-one personal training and nutrition information is custom-fit for every participant. Any cancer survivor can participate no matter their skill level, age or diagnosis.

The founder of the nonprofit, Aaron Grunke, is a cancer survivor himself who noticed a gap in support for survivors' health after treatment. That's why he created this service — so survivors can have professional support to lean on.

Every step, exercise and every rep during a Survivor Fitness session is building a lot more than muscle.

Jared Lawrence, the manager of Performance Training Inc. and Survivor Fitness Trainer, sees the impact every day in his gym

"Getting stronger day by day is beneficial to them and their wellbeing," Lawrence said.

The 12-to-14-week personal training program has one-on-one personal training and nutritional support. Participants also receive individual support from a registered dietitian.

"The little bit that we're doing can give back just a little bit of hope to them, to let them know that you're strong enough, you've defeated cancer. Now, let's get you back to a new normal," Lawrence said.

It looks different for everyone, and no two participants are the same.

For Breast cancer survivor Liz Jabson Tree, signing up meant relearning her limits.

"Fitness has always been a very instrumental part of my life, and after I finished with chemo and radiation, I found that I was in a very different physical state than I'd ever been," Jabson Tree said.

She had no family history of breast cancer and was only 34 years old when she was diagnosed. She found the lump herself as she was putting lotion on her body.

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She got a double mastectomy and underwent chemo and radiation.

Credit: Liz Jabson Tree

She found that after she finished treatment, she needed someone to take the reins on her fitness journey and make sure she didn't hurt herself and push herself too hard.

“I have enough knowledge to know how to do the things I want to do physically, but I don't necessarily have enough restraint," Jabson Tree said.

She also works as a nurse in oncology and vows to tell her patients about Survivor Fitness because she has had such positive results.

Karen Easter was diagnosed with triple-positive and triple-negative breast cancer in 2018 after a total knee replacement. The doctors found it during a mammogram, and she prayed for weeks that she would be okay.

"I got to get treatment, and that's the way I look at it," Easter said. "You know, I didn't have to do it. I got to do it, and that's kind of the way I've looked at life ever since then."

Easter got a mastectomy, where doctors removed 39 lymph nodes, 33 of which were cancerous. After going through chemo and radiation, she saw her friend in Breast Connect have a positive experience with Survivor Fitness and wanted to give it a try. 

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“I thought, you know, I want to do that, I want to feel better," Easter said. "I want to exercise I want to get back into a routine, I've been two years kind of inactive. And I just need to get active again.”

It takes a fighter to get through chemo and radiation and it takes strength to live every day after.

Credit: Karen Easter

"Living was my goal surviving was my goal," Easter said. "So I was going to do whatever it took. I was going to do what they told me to do."

The fitness nonprofit knows any movement is crucial for recovery, and the support is a step away.

"Stay strong within yourself and know that it is a battle," Jabson Tree said.

If you are a cancer survivor and interested in participating, or if you know someone who might be interested, go to www.survivorfitness.org.