Prostate cancer survivors find fellowship, customized wellness in Strength Camp

November 06, 2023
two prostate cancer survivors punch boxing speed bags in a gym
Stephen Slan, foreground, and David Dumas work the speed bags in the boxing gym at the MUSC Wellness Center as part of a wellness program designed for prostate cancer survivors. Photos by Clif Rhodes

There’s no shortage of gyms or fitness studios in the Charleston area. Boxing, barre, yoga, weightlifting, cardio, Zumba, 24-hours, with childcare, with pools, with group classes, with personal trainers, even Jazzercise – anyone interested in fitness has options.

But the MUSC Wellness Center and MUSC Hollings Cancer Center wanted to fill a very specific need – a need that perhaps even the intended participants didn’t know they had.

That’s why, in September, the Wellness Center launched Strength Camp, a 10-week program of exercise, nutrition education and behavioral health intervention for prostate cancer survivors. It’s modeled on the successful Survivors’ Fit Club program geared toward breast cancer survivors.

Participants in the inaugural class said they’re getting a lot out of the program.

“I’ve been looking for something to interact with other prostate cancer survivors,” said Chris Kinch.

“It’s endless, what we’re getting out of it. I saw it in one of the announcements for the Wellness Center,” said David Dumas. “I'm a member, and I thought, ‘That sounds great. That's right up my line.’ So – I signed up right then and there.”

group photo of prostate cancer survivors, instructor and intern at the MUSC Wellness Center 
Back row: Strength Camp participants Chris Kinch, Lee Moultrie, David Dumas and Stephen Slan with Wellness Center intern Anderson Alvarado. Front row: Stength Camp leader Cindi Day.

Stephen Slan, on the other hand, wasn’t especially looking for something, though he’s glad he signed up.

“Dr. (David) Marshall suggested it, and my wife kept pushing it, so I signed up,” Slan said. “It’s been really good. And it's good to get away because usually I would just be at the house all day, in the yard, and I'd be all by myself.”

Slan said that he dropped weight during treatment, but the activities are helping him to control his weight.

“I started my treatment at 251 pounds. I've been able for the last three months to keep right at 240 pounds – and I had been trying to lose weight since I stopped working,” he said. “I want to drop another 10 or 12 – get back to my fighting weight.”

Cindi Day, who runs the program, said she’s delighted with how it’s going so far.

“I think it’s going great,” Day said. “They’re meeting up; they’re doing things outside of class, and they’re really opening up and sharing, which I was slightly nervous about – whether the men would open up like the women do.”

Day has worked at the Wellness Center for seven years in programs geared toward specialized patient populations. She’s worked with people with Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis as well as having provided pre- and postnatal classes. A few years ago, she began helping with the Survivors’ Fit Club program before launching this fall’s pilot Strength Camp.

an MUSC Wellness Center instructor shows how to throw a punch 
Cindi Day demonstrates proper form during a boxing workout. Other activities in the program include yoga, pickleball and a water workout.

The camp meets twice per week for 90 minutes. Each session starts with an informal educational component, in which the men might meet with a registered dietician, a physical therapist with a specialization in the pelvic floor or a yogic breathing instructor and then moves on to a specific physical activity like boxing, yoga, pickleball or swimming.

Each of the activities is geared toward the specific challenges that are more likely for prostate cancer survivors – the pelvic floor physical therapist, for example, met with the group because treatment for prostate cancer can affect the pelvic floor muscles, leading to stress incontinence.

“The biggest concern they had was their core, so she gave them exercises they could do – Kegels, things like that – that they can do at home. And they were just so engaged, asking so many questions,” Day said.

Day noted that cancer survivors can lose core strength because they’re too fatigued from treatment to exercise.

“If you're not moving around, your core is going to get weak, so we're really just trying to bring back their core strength,” she said.

On a recent Tuesday, registered dietitian Judith Herrin talked with the group about sugar, sugar substitutes and getting through the holidays. She pointed out that whereas people have been conditioned to be careful about how much white sugar they add to drinks, they often don’t have that same caution when using artificial sweeteners or natural sweeteners like agave – and can end up using far more than a serving size.

“These artificial sweeteners are so intensely sweet. When your tastebuds are used to these intensely sweet flavors, especially with your drinks, it causes you to crave more sweetness throughout the day and night. And a lot of dietitians, especially in nursing homes, use artificial sweeteners as appetite stimulants for our patients because we want them to eat more,” Herrin explained.

“I don't know about anybody else in this room, but I don't need anything to help me with my appetite,” she added.

a group of prostate cancer survivors sit around a table in a library and speak with a nutritionist  
Every Strength Camp session starts with an educational component to enable the men to be proactive with their health. 

After the nutrition session, the men headed to the boxing studio with Day, where she ran the participants through cardio and boxing drills. Day and the other trainers in both programs work with the physical limitations that participants may have – for the breast cancer survivors, for example, that could be limited range of motion in the arms and shoulders after surgery. Prostate cancer survivors who are on hormone therapy can have trouble maintaining muscle mass and more easily add fat.

Day is an upbeat, cheerful taskmaster, keeping the men moving from one exercise station to the next until the sweat pours. She corrects form and encourages them to persist, all the while keeping an eye out for anyone who’s reached his limit.

After an hour, the men are beat. But they’re also more than ready to return for their next session.

Day anticipates offering another session of Strength Camp in January.