When I was diagnosed back in 2000, the “cancer support landscape” was very different. There was very little support on the internet, and for a uterine cancer survivor in her mid-thirties, there was virtually nothing. Even the concept of “survivorship” was just being introduced. My husband Paul and I navigated the cancer maze alone. I finally found my own support team through the Livestrong Foundation. I embraced my own survivorship. I became an advocate and fundraiser for the Foundation and for many years, my husband and I participated in their fundraising bike rides in Texas and California.
In October of 2004, I was recognized for my outreach efforts by the Livestrong Foundation, receiving their annual award given to one volunteer. The Foundation presented me with a $5,000 award check. This became the seed money to start the Triumph Fitness program in Sacramento. It was time to fill the gap in the cancer care protocol.
Getting back into exercise was pivotal for me in regaining a sense of control over cancer. I figured it out on my own – by starting a walking and then cycling regimen. But I knew that other survivors who had gone through more intense treatment than me, would need help and guidance to get started in exercise. My goal was to create a small group format work-out for survivors, guided by experts in cancer recovery. With the help of a friend, I was connected to a team at Stanford that gave me tips on formatting a program. The concept was in place. Now I needed to assemble my team.
I approached UC Davis Cancer Center and pitched my idea. They supported my vision, agreeing to sign on to assist with administration and serve as my fiscal sponsor. I was responsible for fundraising and outreach in the community. Next, I secured a fitness facility willing to partner with me. I had a team of fitness instructors certified in cancer-recovery exercise at Stanford. And finally, in October 2005, Triumph Fitness launched. I will never forget the day I met that first class of cancer survivors and shared my cancer story with them and heard theirs. I was nervous and excited at the same time, to see where this journey called Triumph was going to take all of us.
Throughout the years, one of the biggest challenges I have faced is keeping Triumph Fitness funded. As a cancer survivor, I am fully aware of the financial burden of cancer on a family. One of my goals was to provide Triumph Fitness at no cost to the participant. While I have volunteered all my time over the years, and “roped” in the help of many others, the program does require a significant amount of funding to cover instructor and operational costs. After years of asking for individual donations, in 2011 I planned a formal fundraiser – once again, enlisting the help of friends. Our annual Triumph Uncorked event debuted in 2011 and resulted in an outpouring of support for Triumph. The time was right to think about expansion. Our nonprofit, Triumph Cancer Foundation, was formed in the Fall of 2011. Our goal was to raise awareness for the importance of exercise-based recovery programs for cancer survivors and to raise the money required to expand Triumph Fitness.
Triumph has grown from 1 class offered twice a year to 7 classes offered 3 times a year. A sister program has even taken root and flourished in Modesto. I have been able to not only expand Triumph Fitness but develop new program offerings after seeing the life-changing impact of Triumph Fitness. Our program provided a clear path forward out of the cancer fog. But when the 12-week program ended, participants wanted more. They had formed bonds with both their classmates and instructors. They wanted that camaraderie and guidance to continue. So I created new programs and activities to keep our alumni engaged, and more importantly exercising. From walking, to running, and even hiking to mountain summits, we are there helping survivors with their own personal triumphs!
When I was diagnosed, cancer robbed me of the ability to have children. But I decided that rather than be bitter, I would create a different kind of family – Triumph. (Take that, Cancer!) I have now dedicated almost 15 years of my life to making Triumph a part of our community. I could not be more proud. It has been a humbling experience to meet our participants at orientations, hear about their struggles, and 12 weeks later to see the physical and emotional transformation. I am honored that so many people have placed their trust in Triumph – from the survivors who have participated, to the healthcare professionals who have recommended us, to the partners who have supported us. Meeting each participant has truly been a privilege for me. Their stories are the fuel that has kept me going during the long hours of volunteer work that I have dedicated to Triumph.
Today, I continue to thrive as a cancer survivor and advocate. I am grateful to have the steadfast support of my husband Paul Almond and my family, and the guiding hands of many advisors over the years to help me steer the ship. As an architect, I strive to design homes that inspire our clients and are sensitive to the environment. As a cancer survivor, my goal is, and will always be, to inspire other survivors and to make the cancer journey a bit easier through the work of the Triumph Cancer Foundation.
Pam Whitehead, Founder & Cancer Survivor