Colorado Cancer Coalition gets behind ASU cancer survivor research

Members of the team include, left to right, seated, Peggy Johnson, ASU instructor of kinesiology; Oncologist Dr. M. Penny Cooper; Ronda Benavidas, SLV Health research coordinator; standing, Windy Clement, SLV Health nurse navigator; Danielle Smith, ASU grad student and Financial Aid Student Loan Counselor; Tracey Robinson, Ph.D., ASU professor of kinesiology; Becky Daniels, SLV Health Cancer Center Manager, and Alexis Colwell, ASU grad student.

The Colorado Cancer Coalition has awarded Adams State University a two-year grant to continue the important research being conducted by ASU and SLV Health on the effects of exercise on the physical, mental, and social health of cancer survivors.

Adams State graduate student Danielle P. Smith launched the research in spring 2018 as part of her master’s thesis that looked at how exercise can be beneficial for cancer survivors. Smith was motivated to study exercise among cancer survivors after her sister died of cancer, and Smith committed herself to improving the quality of life for those facing the challenge of a cancer diagnosis.

“It was a really big undertaking for a master’s thesis,” said Tracey Robinson, Ph.D., professor in the Kinesiology Department (formerly Human Performance and Physical Education) at Adams State. “But it was her passion, and it’s very pertinent because exercise has been shown to be very beneficial for cancer survivors.”

With Smith graduating in May, the research will go on through graduate student Alexis Colwell, who will continue to work with Dr. M. Penny Cooper at the SLV Health Oncology Clinic. Dr. Cooper has been instrumental throughout the research project in identifying patients to participate in the exercise science research.

Dr. Cooper believes the most important aspect of the study is the increased quality of life for cancer survivors. Exercise will help patients live longer and do better, and it can improve survival rates. “When I attend meetings, I mention our study and nobody else is doing anything quite like this in the country,” Dr. Cooper said. This type of study and support, she added, could ripple across the nation and assist not only those surviving cancer but also diabetic and pulmonary patients.

The fact the research is being done in the isolated south-central region of the San Luis Valley and by a small regional university, Adams State, makes the study even more significant. The Colorado Cancer Coalition will provide $19,976 to support the work.

“We have quite a large cancer survivor population in the Valley, and it’s actually made it so people don’t have to go to Pueblo or Denver for the programs that we’re offering,” said Robinson. “For the community it’s huge because cancer isn’t going away, unfortunately.”

The initial research studied 27 volunteer participants who went through an 8-week physical activity intervention that measured changes in their aerobic capacity, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility and body composition, among other things. The participants ranged in age between 41 and 85 years, and the exercise group showed a significant increase in aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance after the 8-week intervention. They also saw decreased fatigue and a better quality of life.

Beginning in July, Adams State and SLV Health will seek 30 cancer survivors to participate in the research through the Colorado Cancer Coalition grant. Once the 30 cancer survivors are selected, they will be pre-tested and then randomly assigned to an exercise group or control group. The control and exercise groups will both have pre- and post-testing. The exercise group also will participate in supervised activities, including one day of cardio, one day of light circuit training, and one day of group activity that includes games or a sport. The control group will not be included in any exercise intervention but will carry on with their usual lifestyle and activities.

For more information, including how to participate in the study, please contact Tracey Robinson at