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Sylvester’s ‘Believe In You’ Training Program Readies Survivors for 2023’s DCC XIII

Cancer survivors who participated in Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s inaugural “Believe in You – You Are Living Proof” training program will be among the hundreds of survivors taking part in this year’s Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC) XIII, Saturday, February 25.

Headshot of Dr. Crane
Tracy Crane, Ph.D.

“We created the Believe in You training program as part of Sylvester’s Cancer Survivorship program to help cancer survivors prepare to participate in the DCC and live a healthier lifestyle,” said Tracy E. Crane, Ph.D., RDN, director of Lifestyle Medicine and Digital Health for Cancer Survivorship at Sylvester, a part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System.

Today there is strong evidence in published studies by Sylvester researchers and others that meeting recommendations on nutrition and physical activity can reduce risk of cancer recurrence and mortality and improve survivors’ quality of life.

“The challenge for many cancer patients is they don’t know where and how to safely start a lifestyle program, and, perhaps because of that, many survivors do not meet recommendations for physical activity and nutrition,” Dr. Crane said. “The DCC provided the perfect opportunity to launch this 18-week training program, which offers structured, individualized training sessions designed to safely increase survivors’ aerobic capacity and improve their overall diet. Believe in You program participants received complimentary training specifically to prepare for walking or running five miles or riding 15 miles at the DCC.”

Five women outdoors, dressed in athletic clothing
Believe in You team members (from left): Melissa Lopez-Pentecost, Ph.D., RDN; Madalyn Wheeler; Tracy E. Crane, Ph.D., RDN; Paola Rossi, M.D.; and LaShae Rolle, M.P.H., CPH

Increasing Survivors’ DCC Participation

The DCC XIII, which also includes 35-mile, 55-mile, and 100-mile bike rides, is a signature fundraising event to support innovative cancer research at Sylvester, the only nationally ranked National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in South Florida. Last year’s DCC XII had a record-breaking 4,484 participants, raising more than $8.4 million, with 100% of participant-raised funds donated to Sylvester to directly impact the South Florida community.

Headshot of Dr. Rossi
Paola Rossi, M.D, M.S.

The Believe in You program included survivors who had committed to doing the DCC, as well as those who had not yet signed up because they didn’t think they could do the walk, run, or bike, said Paola Rossi, M.D, M.S., the manager of clinical operations for lifestyle medicine in cancer survivorship at Sylvester. Dr. Rossi co-designed the Believe in You training program, along with members of the CRANELab research team, and coached participants through it.

“Many of the people in the program had already signed up for the DCC but felt they could use the training to feel more confident. One said that he usually walks the DCC but this year he wants to run it,” Dr. Rossi said. “We also reached out to survivors who hadn’t yet signed up for the DCC and reassured them that we would train with them and monitor their progress so they could do the 5K walk/run or 15-mile bike ride, which encouraged several more to join the program.

Iliana Suarez and husband on football field in stadium
Survivor Iliana Suarez and her husband are program participants training for the DCC. This photo was captured at the Dolphins’ Crucial Catch game, where they participated in the halftime show.

“One of our survivors said he has attended DCC to support one of our exercise physiologists in the past, but that even walking from the finish line to the car was too much for him. Now he’s training for the 5K,” she said.

Exercise, Healthy Diet ‘Crucial’ to Good Cancer Outcomes

Sylvester faculty and staff conduct baseline physical activity and nutritional assessments on each of the program’s participants, to tailor the program to them and their goals. The group meets twice weekly, including an in-person meeting every Saturday for a group exercise and nutrition class. And each participant completes a follow-up assessment the week before the DCC to monitor their health and potential progress, according to Dr. Rossi.

Group of five people posing near exercise equipment
(From left) Dr. Paola Rossi; Grey Freylersythe, research manager; Dr. Tracy Crane; Atif Bhatti, research assistant; and Dr. Melissa Lopez-Pentecost

“Through this program, we’ve generated an amazing bond with our survivors and their caregivers,” Dr. Rossi said. “And we’ll do it again next year. We started out with a limited group but want to expand that considerably in 2024.”

Cancer care has become more than treating the disease itself, according to Matthew Schlumbrecht, M.D., M.P.H., FACOG , medical co-director of survivorship clinical research programs at Sylvester.

“Exercise and a healthy diet are crucial to optimizing cancer outcomes. The Believe in You training program is just another way that Sylvester experts are comprehensively caring for our patients, all while raising money to augment the research and clinical services which make Sylvester stand out nationally,” Dr. Schlumbrecht said.

Headshot of DCC Director Javier Sanchez
Dolphins Challenge Cancer Executive Director Javier Sanchez

“The DCC is proud to support the Believe in You training program in its shared commitment to advance cancer treatment options and promote benefits to the well-being of the South Florida community,” said Dolphins Challenge Cancer Executive Director Javier Sanchez.

“More than 300 cancer survivors will take part in this year’s DCC XIII, with more than 100 of them being first-time participants. Through this partnership, we align in our mission to help cancer survivors live as healthy a life as possible,” Sanchez said.

Tags: cancer survivorship, Cancer Survivorship Program, DCC XIII, Dolphins Challenge Cancer, Dr. Matthew P. Schlumbrecht, Dr. Paola Rossi, Dr. Tracy Crane, Javier Sanchez