From Cancer Patient to Personal Trainer

May 24, 2017

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.”