When he started college 10 years ago, Matthew Douglass (a 2006 Anderson University graduate) didn't intend to become a cancer exercise specialist, but these days he's sure glad he opened his eyes to the possibilities in the field.
The health and wellness guru now spends his days trying to motivate cancer patients and survivors who inspire him regularly to appreciate all that life has to offer.
Douglass loves to be there for his clients. And he hopes his clients love to learn how to be themselves despite their diagnosis.
"I try to get them to see the value of exercise no matter where they are in the treatment process or how long they may be in remission," Douglass said. "Exercise can do so many things for patients, especially in terms of side effects. It can help you fell better regardless of where you are in terms of health."
[Photo: Matthew Douglass works with an exercising patient at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie. Credit: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press]
His clients, most of whom are breast cancer patients and survivors at the Cancer Center at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, meet with Douglass because they want to feel better. But in truth these patients want more than that.
They want to live for years to come. And Douglass knows his role is about more than creating a fitness plan.
He's not there to tell people what to do or to get in their faces if they don't meet his goals for them.
Douglass is a cancer exercise specialist to show his patients what they might have forgotten during the course of their chemotherapy or radiation treatments, their meetings with oncologists and financial advisors.
He shows them that they're stronger than they realize.
"I'm a pretty personable guy, so when my clients come in I mostly ask them how they're doing, what's going on with them and their families," he said. "I enjoy that about this job. But mostly I love to see the progress each person makes. Even if it's the fact that they can stay on the treadmill two minutes longer. It doesn't matter; it's progress."
The Kirkland, Ind., native's journey to the Cancer Center began when he was at Anderson University and realized he wanted to work in the field of health and wellness.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in exercise science, Douglass moved on to the master's program in exercise science at Ball State University's Human Performance Lab.
While at BSU, he began working with older clients who wanted to improve or to create health and wellness plans to improve their lifestyles. It was then that he came across the cancer survivors who wanted to integrate exercise into their lives.
Not that cancer was new to Douglass. As is the case with many people, he had cancer patients and survivors — including breast cancer survivors — in his own family.
The relatives didn't have to fight their battles alone, and he brings that message to his clients as well: They do not have to go through this alone.
So he sits next to them on the popular NUStep machine that works the lower and upper body at a variety of paces. He walks along with them on the treadmill. Douglass does whatever he asks his clients to do, smiling and encouraging them along the way.
His exercise suggestions include yoga and pilates for stress management and increased flexibility, using hand weights and resistance bands to improve muscle strength, remembering to take deep breaths to bring more oxygen to the cells and enjoying what's going on in front of you.
Oh, and smiling.
Douglass has worked with breast and other cancer patients from ages 25 to 95 and he continues to find the work challenging and enjoyable. vBut from the 20 patients he works with currently, and every breast cancer survivor and fighter he's assisted during the past three years, he's learned the important lesson of never giving up, regardless of what's ahead of you.
"I am very encouraged when I work with my clients," Douglass said. "I've learned a lot from them about life and about how important it is to appreciate life and to live every moment. They encourage me as much as I encourage them. Probably more."
— Ivy Farguheson is a reporter for The Star Press. Story reposted with additions to include Anderson University graduation year.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the eighth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.