From Cancer Patient to Personal Trainer

In April 2014, John Barrett, a 71-year-old Dana-Farber patient achieved a long-standing goal. He officially became a certified personal trainer. The lifelong exercise enthusiast set out to help cancer patients with their own fitness goals, and after his certification, began an internship with Nancy Campbell, MS, an exercise physiologist in Dana-Farber’s Adult Survivorship Program. He now shadows Campbell on Monday afternoons during patient consultations

John Barrett (right) with Dana-Farber exercise physiologist Nancy Campbell,
John Barrett (right) with Dana-Farber exercise physiologist Nancy Campbell, MS

“It’s really great for patients to hear from John and get his first-hand experience,” she explains. “He helps them stay motivated and consistent.”

Barrett always made exercise a mandatory part of his life. Time for running and strength training was always carved into his schedule. He completed the Boston Marathon four times, and trekked his way up to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Not even a shocking diagnosis of an uncommon form of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 69, was enough to stand in his way.

“My cancer diagnosis pushed me further, and made my motivation stronger,” he says.

Ten months after an operation in December 2012, which took away a third of his pancreas, stomach and gallbladder, a round of chemotherapy, and radiation, Barrett was back at it, biking in Beijing and hiking the Great Wall.

Every patient and diagnosis is different, but Barrett knows that the road to fitness starts with little changes, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car in the back of the parking lot so you have to walk more. “The most important thing is that you get back up, and keep moving forward,” he says.

Barrett has discovered that helping other patients and survivors live a more active and healthy lifestyle helps him as much as them. “I have found that I get more than I give.  I am optimistic about the human spirit and people’s resilience.”

6 thoughts on “From Cancer Patient to Personal Trainer”

  1. I met John when I went in for my consultation with Nancy Campbell. He is an inspiration. He encouraged me to join Nancy’s exercise classes, which have been invaluable in my recovery from breast cancer. The exercise classes then led to my participation in the Healthy Living after Cancer Trial, which has been a life changing experience. I’m losing weight, gaining strength, and making changes that will continue to help me in the future. Thanks to John, Nancy and Jocelyn Kasper!

  2. Met with Nancy and John in May 2014 and it is one of my highlights as a patient at Dana Farber. John is an inspiration to everyone he meets and a wonderful addition to Nancy’s team. Go, John, go!

    Nancy has been, and continues to be, the best asset and advocate for me at Dana. She is THE conduit for diverse information in not only my successful recovery, but has helped my entire family. I can’t imagine what my experience would have been like without her. Thanks, Nancy, you’re the best!!

  3. I went to see Nancy and John back in August of this year after struggling with my fitness routine following treatment for breast cancer. It was absolutely hands down an invaluable consult in helping me come to terms with everything I’ve been through.John is an inspiration and an asset to the Dana Farber community! I finally felt like there was someone to talk to who had been through what I had been through and was telling me, yeah this happened, but you just have to get out and do what you can do anyway! Thank you John!

  4. I have been meaning to comment on this article. I met John through my internship with Nancy Campbell over the summer. He was such an inspiration to me and the other people that sat in on the exercise consultations. Nancy and John’s insight into the power of exercise has inspired me to continue my education in oncology rehabilitation so that people can continue or begin living an active lifestyle before and after treatment. Thank you John for all that you have taught me!

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