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Battle Cancer Move Forward: Turning Cancer Survivors into CrossFit Coaches

We're proud to be teaming up with Move Forward to deliver a program for local gyms that delivers specially tailored classes for those affected by cancer to facilitate them back into fitness, support their mental health, and ultimately, turns them into CrossFit coaches! So far, the program has had enormous success in improving the fitness, quality of life and fatigue among teenage and young adult cancer survivors. Athletes show gains in physical measures including cardiovascular health, lung function, strength, balance, flexibility, stamina, endurance, and speed, as well as improvements in mental health, positive outlook and quality of life. Read on to discover how the program has helped three cancer survivors find strength.



John Sloan, 30, Lymphoma Survivor and Move Forward Coach


"I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma when I was 24. I had completed Belfast marathon 6 weeks prior to my diagnosis and was fit and healthy and as far as I knew. This, as you can imagine, was a massive shock to me. The only reason I had visited a doctor at the time was because of growing lymph nodes in my neck which had caused some concern. Six months of chemotherapy followed which was incredibly taxing on my physical and mental health but ultimately successful, and within 8 months I had been given the all-clear.

Fast forward a few years and I had been struggling for a long time with mental health issues of anxiety, panic attacks and lack of self-confidence. I had questioned why someone so fit could get sick – isn’t being fit meant to protect you? I was approached to take part in Move Forward – a fitness programme based on CrossFit. I said no initially but second time around agreed. I have no words to describe how thankful I am that I said yes.

The Battle Cancer Move Forward programme helps young cancer survivors get moving again, to improve physical and mental health through functional exercise. This programme saved me and changed my life. I had lost all confidence to exercise and was sporadic since diagnosis with no consistency – I was afraid of it. Now, it forms the basis of my day, I have got my passion back. I believe so much that exercise is vital in rehabilitation from illness, so much so I came on board as a coach in 2019 to help as many young people as possible have access to the opportunity I did, and experience the benefits of exercise for themselves. Aine, 18, Lymphoma Survivor

On the 29th December 2017, at the age of 16, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. From January to July 2018, I received 6 rounds of OEPA and COPDAC chemotherapy in the Mandeville Unit in Craigavon Area Hospital. I’ve always been into fitness; I played Camogie for my club, my school and my county as well as a small bit of football. Upon diagnosis, I was adamant that I’d still play Camogie for my club that year but one warm-up drill later I realised that I’d be relegated to the stands. I found it hard to get back into sport post-treatment. You’d hear people talking about players that went abroad for a year who were ‘just not the same’ and I had it in my head that I’d never be half the player I was. I reached out to Simon Darby from CLIC Sargent (who’d already helped me a lot throughout my journey as my social worker) in November 2019 and he suggested that I join the Move Forward program. For me, Move Forward is a group of people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, backgrounds, motivations, stories, etc, bonding over overcoming physical and mental issues. It’s like unfortunate health history or not, you’re going to push yourself past those pain barriers now, the whirling thoughts that you’d in your head all day go quiet when you are in the middle of the workout, you’re totally focused on this exercise and there are five people behind you encouraging you to dig deep and push on. I joined in December and it has been phenomenal. I’m more comfortable playing camogie because I’m building strength, I have a positive outlet for negative emotions, and I have a group of great friends that remind me that there’s no such thing as ‘can’t’. There is something special about Move Forward.

Caoimhe, 22, Leukaemia Survivor I received a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when I was 12 and then relapsed when I was 18 which meant I then had to have a bone marrow transplant. When I was 12 the advice at the time was to rest up, that combined with steroids meant I got very unfit and put on a lot of weight which lasted right up until my relapse. In the space of 5 years, the advice had changed to focus on exercise and keeping healthy. I didn’t know how to do any of this or have the right tools and then I found out about Move Forward.

I heard about MOVE Forward from Simon one of the social workers who thought I would be a good fit for the programme (also because I bugged him to be a part of as many things as possible after my diagnosis). Through Move Forward I have not only found strength in a physical sense but also in a mental and spiritual sense. It is more than a fitness programme or a workout twice a week, it’s a community. It’s a place where you can go and sweat it out and not worry if you look weird or feel weak because everybody there has been in the exact same position as you.

Before Move Forward I could barely lift 5kg and couldn’t run the length of myself now I can deadlift nearly 100kg, squat 80kg and run…slightly further than the length of myself (we can’t all be good at everything). Fitness and physical activity used to intimidate me and I hated the thought of it, now it energises me and I look forward to the next class.

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© Battle Cancer 2020