Shooting Hoops for Health

Local breast cancer survivors play basketball in a new program from the GW Cancer Institute.

members of healing basketball stand on Smith Center court in t shirts with breast cancer ribbon
February 09, 2010

In November, LaWanda Fountain, executive coordinator in GW’s Office of the Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs, received some good news. She had completed her breast cancer treatments and was officially in her first year of survivorship. With chemotherapy and radiation behind her, Ms. Fountain wanted to regain the energy and strength she had lost and train for the District Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May. So on Jan. 9, she attended the first session of Healing with Basketball, a GW Cancer Institute (GWCI) program which offers free monthly Saturday afternoon basketball clinics for local recovering breast cancer survivors.

“After the first session I couldn't wait for the second!” says Ms. Fountain.

On Feb. 20, the women were recognized at halftime of GW women’s basketball’s third annual Pink Zone game, which raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

“I felt honored, like I didn't go through what I did for nothing,” says Ms. Fountain. “Having complete strangers clap and cheer for you felt really good. The entire experience has been good for my soul.”

Healing with Basketball, created by psychotherapist and breast cancer survivor Lynn Grodzki, came to GWCI in January as a way for breast cancer survivors to build physical strength following breast cancer treatment and to gain support from a network of other survivors. 

According to Mandi Chapman, director of the GWCI Office of Cancer Survivorship and co-director of GWCI’s Center for the Advancement of Cancer Survivorship, Navigation and Policy, Healing with Basketball helps to empower survivors. “The intent of the program is to provide an opportunity for breast cancer survivors to both socialize with each other and to exercise on monthly basis,” says Ms. Chapman. “Exercise is a critical part of well being, quality of life and can potentially reduce the possibility of cancer recurrence.”

At each session in Lloyd Gym on GW’s Mount Vernon Campus, the women participate in basketball drills run by personal trainer Andrew Weiss to learn basketball moves such as shooting and dribbling to build muscle strength. The women begin and end each session in a circle to share their cancer experience and then discuss their goals for the day. 

“The participants are survivors and are a wealth of information,” says Ms. Fountain. “From the first session, we were able to open up with each other about our feelings and what we hoped Healing with Basketball would do for us. It feels good to be able to ‘shoot hoops’ with someone who can relate and who understands ‘chemo brain’ and radiation burns.”

“We use basketball as a metaphor for teamwork and playfulness, as we improve our upper body strength and learn to play and bond together based on optimal recovery, not illness,” says Ms. Grodzki.

Amina L. Gilyard, GWCI education specialist and program coordinator, participated in the first session and says the program offers a unique experience for the women. “It was really special to get connected with these women, to see them cheer each other on and participate in friendly competition.”

A community leader in cancer research, awareness and resources, GWCI offers myriad cancer-related programs and activities for the community. The Healing with Basketball program will continue to be offered free throughout 2010 to any breast cancer survivor in the D.C. metropolitan area, regardless of their treating institution. The program is supported by the EagleBank Foundation and the GW Women's Athletic Department.

“We are very excited about the program,” says Ms. Chapman. “GWCI is a District leader in building community-based collaborations to improve the lives of cancer patients, and this program is another demonstration of the institute’s commitment to improving and expanding support for cancer survivors citywide.”

“I look forward to each session to catch up with some of the women and to release what stress I have on the basketball,” says Ms. Fountain. “I may go in a little tired, but I leave refreshed and ready to take on whatever is next. I believe Healing with Basketball is something that all cancer institutes should have.”

Student Life, Sports