Empowering Cancer Survivors Through Strength and Resilience

Cancer is a formidable adversary, affecting millions of lives worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the National Institutes of Health projected 1,958,310 new cancer cases and 609,820 cancer-related deaths in 2023. 

For those who have faced the battle against cancer, the journey towards recovery is far from over. This is where Survival2Strength, based in the Twin Cities, steps in—a remarkable non-profit organization dedicated to helping cancer survivors regain their strength and vitality through physical fitness. 

I spoke with Katie Plunkett, a passionate personal trainer and founder of Optimize You Personal Training & Fitness, who donates her time and expertise to this life-changing cause.

The Birth of Survival2Strength

Survival2Strength was founded by Clare Polose, an RN and certified personal trainer committed to supporting cancer survivors. Clare's background in nursing and her experience working with cancer patients inspired her to create a non-profit with a mission to help people who have had cancer become as healthy as possible through strength training and other physical activities. 

Clare recognized that physical activity, including aerobic exercise, mobility, balance training, and strength workouts, offers the same benefits to cancer survivors as to the general population. And Katie was inspired by her mission.

Katie Plunkett: A Personal Trainer with a Heart of Gold

Katie Plunkett, one of the driving forces supporting Survival2Strength, has a personal connection to the cause. She lost her own mother to ovarian cancer, a devastating experience that motivated her to dedicate a portion of her career to helping cancer survivors get back on their feet. 

Katie had a remarkable journey of her own. She is a speech-language pathologist working with children with autism for Minneapolis Public Schools. However, inspired by a personal trainer at a local gym, Katie followed her passion for guiding others in their fitness journey. Shortly after completing the certification process to become a certified personal trainer, Katie found her niche working with adults who may otherwise be intimidated to step foot in a gym. Her step-by-step, individualized approach allows clients to take steps forward at the pace that works for them.

Meeting Survivors Where They Are

When asked about the unique approach to training cancer survivors, Katie emphasized the importance of meeting them where they are on their recovery journey. “Every survivor's situation is different, depending on factors such as the type of cancer they had, the stage of their treatment, and their previous fitness level,” she shared. 

“Many survivors face challenges like neuropathy or lymphedema, which necessitate a tailored approach. Survival2Strength designs customized, step-by-step plans to help survivors improve their health and regain their strength.”

The Impact of Survival2Strength

Survival2Strength's impact is best illustrated through the stories of cancer survivors whose lives have been transformed by the dedication and expertise of the trainers who help them. 

Katie shared how one survivor told her that she was recently able to squat down and pick up a baby — a seemingly simple task but one that was once impossible for her. Another cancer survivor, Marilyn Davern, living with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, shared that she had been struggling with motivation to be active despite being a relatively active person her entire life.

“I learned about Survival2Strength from my husband, who told me Clare had come to speak at one of his Rotary meetings,” Marilyn shared. “I contacted Clare and was introduced to Katie. I signed up for an eight-week program, meeting with Katie twice per week. I loved that Katie takes patients where they are and changes the routine to keep it from getting boring."

“I didn’t realize how much I needed to gain strength and resilience. I feel like now I am living with a healthier mind, body, and soul.” Marilyn continues to work with Katie once weekly and encourages others to seek help. “It can make such a difference for those living with cancer.”


The Healing Power of Exercise

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, exercise is a crucial component of healthy living for cancer survivors. It can reduce anxiety and fatigue, improve self-esteem, enhance heart health, help maintain a healthy weight, boost muscle strength and endurance, and increase positive feelings. 

Survival2Strength is integral in making these benefits accessible to survivors, empowering them to rebuild their lives after cancer treatment.


Katie's Inspiration

Katie shared her deep sense of privilege in working with cancer survivors. She highlighted survivors' immense determination, having journeyed through cancer trials and having emerged stronger. 

Her motivation comes from the inspiring stories of survivors she works with, and she considers it an opportunity to enhance their quality of life. She stated, "I am helping them regain a wholeness they might not have felt since before their diagnosis."


How You Can Support Survival2Strength

Katie and Clare have a simple message for those who wish to help: spread the word. If you are a cancer survivor or know someone who has recently completed their cancer treatment, let them know about Survival2Strength and its mission. Many survivors may not know the support available to help them feel better and regain their strength.

For those who want to offer monetary support to the mission of Survival2Strength, the organization accepts one-time donations or monthly contributions. Every contribution helps extend a helping hand to cancer survivors in their journey toward a healthier, stronger future.

Personalized Training and Wellness Programs for Cancer Survivors

Survival2Strength, under the leadership of Clare Polose and six other ACSM-certified cancer exercise trainers who dedicate their time and knowledge of health and wellness, is profoundly impacting the lives of cancer survivors. 

They are helping survivors rebuild their physical and emotional strength through personalized training programs and a commitment to empowerment. With the community's support, this non-profit's reach can expand, offering hope and healing to even more survivors as they step into a brighter, healthier future.

Eagan City Lifestyle Magazine: Inspiring a Healthier Community

Eagan City Lifestyle Magazine is on a mission to inspire a healthier and happier community. We share stories like Survival2Strength to showcase the positive impact of local initiatives. 

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