Expert instructors are helping people living with cancer to get on the road to recovery in a programme supported by York Against Cancer. We went along to the gym to find out how it all works

UPBEAT dance music is flooding the studio at Roko in York as a group warms up for their gym session.

Instructor Jason Feavers gets everyone walking around the room before taking them through some exercises to mobilise the joints in readiness for tackling the exercise machines.

The men and women are all ages, shapes and sizes. They could be any group doing their bit to stay fit and active, but they are all living with cancer and attend specialised gym classes to help their recovery.

They are taking advantage of iCANmove, a scheme funded by York Against Cancer and operated by City of York Council and GLL, the company which runs the local authority’s gym services.

Under the programme, people living with and beyond cancer are entitled to five free sessions of exercise to help them return to fitness. After the free sessions they make a voluntary contribution, generally between £3 and £5.

iCANmove takes place at Roko, Clifton Moor, at Energise, Acomb, and in Rowntree Park, where Nordic walking is part of the programme.

Among the Roko group is former swimming teacher Kath Stubbs, 79, who has had a double mastectomy and who was referred to iCANmove by her physiotherapist.

“I’ve always been involved in sport and previously belonged to a gym,” she said. “This is a great programme because it has encouraged me to continue to exercise. Everyone is very friendly and I really enjoy it.”

Alison Cooke has lymphoedema after surgery for breast cancer, and her specialist suggested the programme to get the strength back in her arm.

“I was so weak that I couldn’t lift the slightest weight,” she said. “Now I am moving quite well; it has made a massive difference to me and to my recovery.

“The social side is brilliant. You meet really friendly people who have had similar experiences. We don’t talk about our illness most of the time, we talk about life in general and there are some real characters in the team. We have meals out and coffee after our class.

“Jason gives me suggestions on exercises that target my particular problems – he is very friendly and a really good instructor.

“You don’t feel under pressure to do anything you aren’t comfortable with but there’s plenty of encouragement from the instructors and the group to push yourself and try new things to aid your recovery and improve your all-round health.”

Jason and his fellow instructors Jason Minto and Karen Heldt are qualified to prescribe exercise for people with health conditions such as cancer. “When people first come along, it’s very much about having the confidence from working with someone qualified to help them, but later on it’s very positive for the social side of life and friendships,” he said.

“For me, it’s great to be able to make a difference. Exercise during and after cancer treatment can really help to reduce fatigue and the effects of treatment. Helping people to overcome the barriers to exercise and start to see improvements in confidence as they are able to do more is really rewarding.”

Jane Metcalfe has been treated for ovarian cancer. “When I first came, I could hardly do anything,” she said. “Not now! When people first come, it is really about getting better and helping them to be more active, but as time goes on it becomes a social group.”

Alison Webster, who has been treated for breast cancer, agreed. “It has really helped my recovery,” she said. “The instructors ask questions to tailor the exercise to you. They keep coming around to make sure everyone is all right.”

Michael Miller, who was treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is awaiting treatment for skin cancer, said: "The keep-fit aspect is good and the exercises have helped, but so has being able to talk to people.”

Malcolm Sanderson had vascular lymphoma and has been in remission for three to four years. “The classes are wonderful,” he said. “They have helped a lot. We all take the exercise seriously but it is like a family, we all have a laugh and that helps our morale.”

Student Roseanna Cook, 24, has lymphoedema in her leg after treatment, so many types of exercise are not suitable for her.

She also has anxiety and depression and some of her medication makes it hard to lose weight, so she can feel self-conscious in general exercise settings.

“I couldn’t afford to go to a normal gym so when I got a phone call about this group it was great,” she said. “I enjoy being able to do the exercise and the social side with people going through similar experiences has been good for me.

“To anyone thinking about having a go at this, I would say definitely try it. Because the first five sessions are free, you are not going to lose anything – but try it and you might get something really good from it.”

To find out more about the exercise session, contact York Against Cancer on 01904 764466. Staff will put you in touch with the instructors who can help you to sign up