2008 Changemaker: Wendy Rahn

Survivors’ Studio for women’s health

Wendy Rahn. Photo by Lori Hamilton.

Wendy Rahn. Photo by Lori Hamilton.

When Wendy Rahn got cancer, she went to the library.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2005 that regular exercise can significantly increase the likelihood of survival after a breast cancer diagnosis. But when Rahn, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, was diagnosed in 2006, her doctors didn’t tell her that. “When a professor doesn’t know something, they go to the library,” Rahn said. Her treatment included a bilateral mastectomy and hormone therapy, which left her struggling with a mood disorder. Always interested in fitness, Rahn took the research to heart and got busy exercising. Her outlook was good, but she made a discouraging discovery about the cancer community.

“I had been to a number of support groups and nobody really seemed to know about this research,” she said. Studies have been continually pointing to the benefits of exercise for cancer patients, but because the research is relatively new it hasn’t made its way into the clinical world. A friend advised Rahn that it takes seven years for that to happen. “We don’t have seven years!” was her response.

So in just months she founded Survivors’ Training, a nonprofit that connects women survivors and spreads the news about exercise therapy. Survivors’ Studio, a place where women find community and healing, is an extension of that mission and is the signature program of Survivors’ Training. The gym has yoga, Pilates and strength classes and holds seminars too. It is one of the first-ever gyms solely for women cancer survivors in the U.S.-and possibly the world.

This is a place for women who want to be healthy and active in receiving the latest information on cancer research. And it provides an environment that other gyms may not be able to. The teachers at Survivors’ Studio have all had special training in working with cancer patients, and all of the other participants have a real understanding of the emotional struggles and physical side effects from treatment.

“I think some women, not all women, are uncomfortable with hair loss and I think that’s a big deterrent from going to a mainstream gym,” Rahn said. There may be programming for men someday, but Rahn believes a single-sex setting is extremely helpful in promoting the comfort of her clients.

It also doesn’t hurt that Rahn has lined up an impressive advisory council. Professionals in the fields of health, physical therapy and fitness consult in the creation of all classes and programs, and Rahn makes sure everything is backed by medical research.

Her passion for providing information and services to as many people as possible also led to the creation of a DVD featuring exercise routines done by Survivors’ Studio members. This is an excellent tool especially for those who live in rural areas where there aren’t necessarily gyms or other support organizations close by. The DVD is now available for order on the studio website, and another video is in the works.

“It’s just been great. There’s a core group that are really attached to the studio-and it’s not just the studio, it’s the community,” Rahn said. Some women have moved on from the studio “and that’s a sign of success for me, when women leave.”

The studio, currently in White Bear Lake, will be moving next year. Rahn plans to close for a few months to fundraise and build the program before moving to a more central Twin Cities location.

Get Involved
For further information and updates on the Survivors’ Studio call 651-748-4760 or go online to http://studio.survivorstraining.org.