The business couple who leads Cancer Wellness for Life has been guiding area cancer patients and survivors in best practices for exercise, wellness and nutrition. Yet for years, they didn’t have a way to track their patients’ and survivors’ progress.
So, Sami and Jerry Mansfield decided to open their own gym in Lenexa.
“Although cancer survivors can go anywhere, we really understand cancer because we work in it day to day,” Sami said. “We’re always up to date on the latest treatments or surgeries or all the different things that are happening, because cancer changes so quickly.
“For somebody that’s working in the gym setting, they’re really not certain how to help someone manage those side effects correctly, but we know because we really understand the medical treatment side and then the transitional side.”
We Build 4 Life, a nonprofit fitness center, opened in early January, after which the Mansfields began leading one-on-one and group classes in nutrition, functional fitness, yoga and weight lifting. The nonprofit center, located at 8022 Reeder St., doubles as the headquarters for Cancer Wellness for Life.
‘We know cancer: the side effects, the limitations’
Cancer Wellness for Life focuses on oncology wellness and nutrition consulting. Staff works with large hospital organizations, cancer survivorship groups, exercise gyms and YMCAs to provide wellness education for cancer patients and survivors.
As part of that role, staff work daily with about 100 patients at six healthcare facilities in the Kansas City metro area each month. They focus on the importance of exercise and nutrition before, during and after cancer treatment. Before they opened We Build 4 Life, Jerry said it had been difficult to track progress or guide patients and survivors through exercise.
“We were having a hard time recommending or sending those patients to someone around exercise and nutrition,” Jerry said. “They can go anywhere, but we know cancer; we know the side effects, we know the limitations, we know what certain things they can and can’t do.
“We understand what they’ve been through, and we know how to work them up to doing exercise that can stimulate the growth of muscle in a different way.”
The Mansfields are both certified personal trainers and CrossFit level one trainers, and Sami is also a cancer exercise specialist. They are also raising a golden-doodle puppy, Ruth Doodle Ginsburg (named for Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a cancer survivor) and training her to be a therapy dog for their cancer patients.
The Mansfields also teach other exercise trainers on best practices for coaching cancer patients and survivors who may be dealing with muscle loss, fatigue and other treatment side effects.
Cancer patients and survivors are often treated as fragile, Sami said, adding that she and Jerry know how to push the athletes in the right ways to spur muscle growth and encourage them in their training. We Build 4 Life also functions as a gathering space to build community for cancer survivors.
Natasja Mallory, an ovarian cancer survivor (two years in remission) and athlete at We Build 4 Life, said Sami’s exercise training helped her restore muscle strength after surgery and chemotherapy. She learned how to recover her core strength and keep her energy levels up.
“I found throughout the chemo, being able to do some exercise really helped lessen that kind of roller coaster effect of those kinds of drugs,” Mallory said, adding that it helped with her appetite as well. “I really feel like what she (Sami) recommended, as far as the resistance work training and strength training was such an important piece.
“I was really able to get back to the land of the living, so to speak.”