Rebounding from cancer

As cancer and radiation racked her body, LaWanda Fountain stopped laughing. She had breast cancer and little support to guide her through chemotherapy – until she found Healing with Basketball.

After joining the monthly program sponsored by the GW Cancer Institute, Fountain – and about a dozen other women – found the key to moving forward: smiling and laughing.

“It helps to keep us moving, but more importantly it helps to keep us smiling and laughing,” Fountain said.

Fountain decided to join the group after registering for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in D.C. She realized that she needed to take better care of herself in order to participate in the walk.

“Healing with Basketball shows that all of us women who have gone through the same thing – radiation and chemotherapy – can laugh and play and have fun like nothing ever happened,” she said. “You know, it’s called Healing with Basketball and, although the sport helps, we are really healing through each other.”

Once a month, cancer survivors – most of whom have little to no experience in basketball – meet on a Saturday for training sessions at the Mount Vernon gym coached by Andrew Weiss, a certified personal trainer and an athlete himself. Weiss, 24, has taught basketball, soccer and martial arts for over 10 years.

Healing with Basketball was started by Lynn Grodzki in January 2010 after she learned that exercise can cut the rate of breast cancer returning in a survivor by 20 to 50 percent.

Grodzki, who is almost 60-years-old, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.

After getting surgery and being cleared for exercise, Grodzki couldn’t get herself moving until she noticed a basketball court near her home in Silver Spring, Md.

“Basketball really turned my life around,” Grodzki said. “You have breasts removed and chemotherapy performed and you feel weak. But this program shows you that you still have strength left in your body.”

Grodzki was so impressed with the results she decided to start a group in order to help other breast cancer survivors.

For women who are in recovery, Healing with Basketball is an “exercise clinic overlain with psycho-support,” Grodzki said. The women participating in each session, range from cancer veterans to those who were recently diagnosed.

At the start of each training session, the women share goals they hope to achieve in that day’s session, oftentimes concentrating on the goals of strength and courage. Each participant is asked how her teammates can help her achieve this goal, and the women then receive surveys intended to gauge how they feel physically and mentally. Finally, they participate in various drills to help build their strength.

As the drills get harder over time, the strength of relationships between the women grows, Fountain said.

“In January we started off slowly but each class has gotten a little harder than the previous one,” said Fountain. “We have become more comfortable with each other as the months have gone on. In the beginning, we used to talk about having breast cancer often, but now we are more focused on having fun.”

For Penny Callahan, another participant in her second year of recovery, said Healing with Basketball is “empowering.”

“It’s so nice to see that there are other women like me,” she said. “It eases the depression of feeling dumb and stupid.”

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