Vail Valley’s cancer center studies life coaches |

Vail Valley’s cancer center studies life coaches

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, Colorado
Kristin AndersonVail Valley: Ovarian cancer survivor Nancy Goetze, left, looks on while exercise physiologist Dustin Buttars helps breast cancer survivor Debbie Sieders strengthen her arms Monday during a Fit For Survival class at the Edwards Pavilion.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Studies have already revealed that diet and exercise can boost a person’s chances of beating cancer.

For instance, breast cancer patients who eat a low-fat diet can reduce the risk of their cancer recurring by up to 42 percent, according to one study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“We already know that exercise and diet can improve cancer survivorship outcomes,” said Melaine Hendershott, a registered dietitian oncology specialist for the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards. “What we are looking at is: How intensive does the program need to be for our participants to maximally reach their goals?”

The Shaw center will be launching a study to explore the role of a “life coach” in helping cancer survivors meet their diet and exercise goals. A life coach checks in with cancer survivors to find out whether they are meeting their goals. The life coach may also talk to the patient about any obstacles they have encountered.

“We’re hypothesizing that those who have a life coach will meet more of their goals than those who do not,” Hendershott said.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

The center is looking for cancer survivors in the community to volunteer for the study. Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer is eligible to participate, regardless of whether he or she has sought treatment at the Shaw center. Those who are already enrolled in the Shaw center’s Fit for Survival program are not eligible.

The Shaw center hopes to recruit at least 40 volunteers, Hendershott said. The center plans to start recruiting as soon as this coming week. Enrollment will continue for two years. Cancer survivors who are interested in participating can call 970-569-7614.

Participants in the study will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. One of those groups will receive phone calls from a life coach two times per month.

“When we collect all the data, we’ll look at: When they had a life coach did they meet their weight loss goals more often?” Hendershott said. “Did it matter for their physical fitness or for eating fruits and vegetables?”

Participants will be working with Hendershott and the Shaw’s exercise physiologist, Dustin Buttars, to set diet and exercise goals.

Researchers will follow each patient for one year. The study will continue for three years, with preliminary data ready within a year and a half.

For Brielle Stockton, getting back in the gym after going through chemo and surgery for her breast cancer was tough.

“It was such a struggle to come in and do a workout,” the 34-year-old Vail resident said.

Through the Shaw center, Stockton has been working with Buttars to build her strength back. She’s also been taking more supplements, like fish oil and vitamin D.

“When you get cancer, it knocks you down and you are eager to get back on track again,” Stockton said.

The new study may help staff at the Shaw center to figure out the best way to motivate those enrolled in its Fit for Survival program. The voluntary program helps patients set and reach diet and exercise goals.

“I think that as a result of this study, we would like to be an example for other cancer centers trying to run these programs,” Hendershott said. “It might mean revamping our own program based on the results of this study.”

Buttars said most people who don’t exercise cite a lack of motivation as the reason. He’s theorizing that the life coach will help cancer survivors meet their exercise goals.

“I’m going to hypothesize that it’s going to help them for sure,” he said. “It’s always hard for people to exercise at home.”

Staff writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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