OCEANSIDE — Five years ago, if you told Peiting Lin she’d now be hitting the gym five days a week, there is no way she would’ve believed you.
“I had a really hectic lifestyle,” Lin said. “I was a workaholic actually.”
But then, the Encinitas resident was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. A close friend in the medical field told her that if she wanted to beat it, she would have to completely change her lifestyle — this included adding a fitness routine, which she had never done before. She began taking classes with North County Cancer Fitness (NCCF) at EOS Fitness in Encinitas, which was right across from her doctor’s office. She quickly fell in love with the workouts and the NCCF community.
“Fighting cancer — it was really stressful,” she said. “I always felt happy after I took a class.”
That happiness is why Lin, who currently has no evidence of an active disease, showed up at the new EOS Fitness center in Oceanside last Thursday. It was the first NCCF class in that location, and Lin, along with nine other students, came to participate in the “grand opening.”
Typically hosted in Encinitas, NCCF has been around in the area since 2010. Back then, founder Deb Snyder, who was undergoing cancer treatment, walked into a gym in search of accommodating workouts. When none were available, she and a friend, Deborah Pomeranz, who was diagnosed with cancer later, started classes on their own as NCCF. By 2016, the founders had both passed away. Carla Going, a survivor of endometrial cancer and NCCF participant since 2015, then stepped in as president and executive director.
“We wanted to keep it going,” she said. “It’s just rewarding to have a service out there that does so much for people.”
Last week, the nonprofit celebrated five years of its partnership with EOS Fitness in Encinitas. Although it’s been around several years, it operates on a very small budget. EOS Fitness donates the studio space, and the instructors donate their time. The classes are free for cancer survivors, but NCCF does accept donations. In September, it is hosting a fundraiser to help trainers get certified to teach cancer fitness — a certification that costs around $250.
“Some people are in the process of getting it, and some people are new, but eventually the certification will be a requirement,” Going said.
Still, all instructors are thoroughly trained on how to lead these cancer fitness classes. By design, the sessions are meant to be gentle — the Zumba choreography isn’t as quick, the boot camp isn’t as aggressive and all exercises are modifiable. Last Thursday, in an open fitness studio covered with floor-length mirrors, a trainer led the nine participants in an hourlong gentle fitness class, which started with a 30-minute foam rolling session to break up muscle tension, similar to a deep tissue massage.
While foam rolling may not seem like a big workout, this type of gentle fitness is exactly what many cancer patients and survivors need to help rebuild strength and confidence, NCCF Fitness Director Erzsi Myers said.
“Going through treatment can be very stressful, so this is something to look forward to, to get out of bed for — just put on some shoes and walk in and have some fun with other people,” Myers said.
With 215 members, the classes have also had tremendous health benefits to cancer survivors and patients, as evidenced by several studies from around the world. Going said that by exercising regularly — three to four times a week for 30 to 40 minutes is ideal — patients will reduce the risk of recurrence with their cancers, improve blood flow during chemotherapy and feel healthier.
“It also makes you stronger and more flexible, and it makes you not so depressed and anxious about your situation,” Going said.
This research was a huge part of why Lin got involved with NCCF following her diagnosis. Now, she is feeling healthier, and said she has watched her strength gradually increase. The two-and-a-half pound weights she started with have become a breeze, so she said she challenges herself with more.
“From there I went to five pounds to seven-and-a-half pounds to now, when occasionally I can use the bench press and lift 10 pounds,” Lin said. “It’s a gradual thing, and I think I keep improving.”
The community is also a big piece of why the NCCF participants keep coming back. Classes tend to bond the members — one of Lin’s favorite parts of the program.
“It provided me with an outlet where I could go not only exercise but make friends,” Lin said.
It’s not always easy to get in the door, Going said, but the strong community and effective workout make it worth it.
“There are so many times you go in there, and you just feel like you don’t want to do it,” Going said. “Then after you’re done, you just feel so proud of yourself and think, ‘I feel good now. I’m glad I went.’”
Going said in the future she hopes NCCF will expand to reach even more gyms and participants. In the meantime, she said, they are always seeking out volunteers for their events, new trainers, and of course, participants interested in taking classes. Learn more about North County Cancer Fitness services at www.northcountycancerfitness.org.
Photo Caption: Pei Ting Lin, a stage four colon cancer survivor, foam rolls during a class offered by North County Cancer Fitness. Typically hosted at EOS Fitness in Encinitas, this was the first time NCCF held a class at the Oceanside location. Photo by Kelli Kyle