The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association is the fitness industry's only global trade association representing over 10,000 for profit health and fitness facilities and over 600 supplier companies in 75 countries.



From educational tools and events to promotional programs and public policy initiatives, IHRSA brings you success... by association!

Join | Renew
Pledge Your Support


How One Woman’s Battle with Breast Cancer Helped Change the Course of Care

Julie MainThe following post is from Disruptive Women in Health Care blog by guest blogger Helen Durkin, JD. Helen is the Executive Vice President of Public Policy for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)—a not-for-profit trade association representing health and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and suppliers worldwide. She joined IHRSA in 1989 and developed the health club industry’s first government relations and legal service programs. She has served as the association’s director of public policy since 1999. In this leadership capacity, Durkin has succeeded in aligning IHRSA with the national effort to improve America’s health through healthy lifestyle choices and in promoting public policy that recognizes exercise as a key component of preventive health care.

I don’t know a single woman who isn’t terrified by the thought of breast cancer. But I did know a remarkable woman who was able to stare down that fear and turn it into something triumphant.

Shortly after receiving the diagnosis of breast cancer in 1993, Julie Main turned the news about her own health into a spark that motivated her to give strength and support to thousands of other women and their families. It’s a legacy that continues today in the Cancer Well-Fit™ Exercise Program she created in collaboration with the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara (California).

What started 16 years ago as a local pilot program is now an internationally recognized cancer exercise rehabilitation program that bridges the gap between medical and fitness professionals. Julie’s personal commitment to exercise throughout the course of her own treatment, and its effect on her own stamina and resilience, made Julie and her doctors recognize the critical role that exercise can play in cancer treatment and rehabilitation. They realized that if people battling cancer were to be optimally served, medical and fitness professionals needed to forge a working partnership. They needed to share their expertise to maximize patient wellness.

Scores of research studies demonstrate the preventive power of exercise in helping to ward off chronic diseases and some cancers. But an ever-growing body of research also shows that physical exercise has a positive effect on quality-of-life following cancer diagnosis.

Julie and her physicians realized that exercise can help with two of the most common challenges that people undergoing cancer treatment face: fatigue and muscular strength.  But there also are other benefits to exercise. Studies show that functional capacity, body composition, nausea, personality functioning, mood states, and self-esteem are all positively affected by exercise during cancer recovery as well.

In fact, researchers who studied the Well-Fit program specifically found that participants were substantially less tired and less anxious than patients who were sedentary; improved their strength by an average of 43 percent; doubled their aerobic endurance; and boosted their energy levels. Other general studies also have shown that exercise significantly eases anxiety and depression in breast cancer survivors. And the American Cancer Society recognizes that physician-approved exercise during cancer treatment can boost energy levels, relieve stress, decrease anxiety and depression, and increase hunger.

Today, “The Cancer Well-fit Manual” that Julie co-wrote and co-published with her business partner Paula Lilly is used to train health clubs and healthcare operators throughout the world so they too can deliver effective exercise programs for cancer patients. And other cancer recovery fitness programs continue to emerge.

In a 2005 interview with the fitness industry magazine, Club Business International, Julie said, “What we teach, through Cancer Well-Fit, is that exercise can significantly improve cancer patients’ quality of life. It’s about people realizing that they can regain some control of their own bodies…because, when you’re a patient, you have no control.”

This was the second National Breast Cancer Awareness Month that will have passed without Julie’s outspoken activism. Her battle with breast cancer ended on May 4, 2009, after the cancer returned as a spinal tumor and finally metastasized into her lungs.

Beyond her own personal accomplishments and the marathons and triathlons she completed after her first diagnosis, Julie triumphed by dramatically moving the needle on how the medical community serves people undergoing cancer treatment. She helped pioneer a new trend in cancer care that had been long-overdue. By incorporating exercise into the recovery process, those facing cancer are now being empowered to take charge—by being active.

Julie was indeed triumphant in how she addressed her own personal encounter with cancer. And she succeeded in leaving a legacy of strength, hope, and resilience for others.

# # #

Julie Main was the co-owner and president of the West Coast Athletic Clubs in California, founder of the Cancer Well-Fit Program, a former Board Member and past president of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), and an industry speaker. In her honor, IHRSA established the annual Julie Main Woman Leader Scholarship to recognize women who exemplify what Julie stood for—professionalism, excellence, courage, perseverance, and tireless contribution to the industry and community.

Reader Comments (1)

Way to go!
March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJfish

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.