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Published on October 06, 2014

Beating cancer inspires Lawrence Parks and Recreation employee to start fitness class

By Giles Bruce, Lawrence Journal World


Photo by Nick Krug

Jo Ellis, a Lawrence Parks and Recreation employee who battled breast cancer two years ago, dances Wednesday during a zumba class at the Community Building in Lawrence.

Kickin' Cancer

A specially designed program of gentle exercise for anyone who has experienced cancer. This class caters to people of all ages and at any stage of treatment or remission, as well as their caregivers and friends. This program will promote a safe return to physical activity and wellness through education, appropriate healthy exercise and emotional support.

The classes meet Tuesdays, either from 10:45-11:45 a.m. at Holcom Recreation Center, 2700 W. 27th St., or 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Indoor Aquatic Center, 4706 Overland Drive. The fall course meets Nov. 4 through Dec. 9 and costs $19. The winter classes meet Jan. 6 through March 3 and cost $34. And the spring course meets March 24 through May 12 and costs $30.

For more information, contact program supervisor Jo Ellis at 785-832-7920 or

After Jo Ellis survived a cancer scare two years ago, she wished she had had more opportunities to be physically active during her treatment. Now she wants to make it easier for other people fighting the disease to exercise.

Ellis, a program supervisor with Lawrence Parks and Recreation, has started a local fitness class specifically designed for those who have had or are battling cancer. The course helps survivors with things like strength, flexibility and posture that can help them during their treatment or recovery.

"It's to get you out there moving again," said Ellis, 43, who lives in Baldwin City with her husband and two teenage daughters. "It's not going to be a hardcore fitness program."

Ellis was surprised to discover she had cancer because she didn't have a family history of the disease and had always taken good care of herself. While she underwent an aggressive treatment plan, she continued to work four days a week and be involved in her kids' extracurricular activities.

"I just kind of focused and said, 'I'm going to get through this,'" she remarked.

She later had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. She has been free of cancer for a year and a half.

The experience made her realize that the Parks and Recreation department didn't have any classes for people going through cancer treatment. So she found a woman who offered training for this type of course. The class is not just to show cancer patients how to exercise properly.

"It's kind of a support group, as well, which I think is very important," Ellis said.

Medical experts say that having a healthy lifestyle can help patients beat cancer.

"It's a great thing for people, as they're going through treatment, to maintain some level of physical activity," said Dr. Luke Huerter, an oncologist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Instructor Susan Pomeroy said she will be in tune with each participant's individual needs.

"A group fitness class is about the group, and if you can't keep up too bad. With this class, while it will be a group of individuals in the same class everybody will be treated a little differently," she said. "I lead lots of different programs for parks and rec, and I think there's a real need for this in the community."

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