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Three time cancer survivor, Sue Clark-Pitrolo, is using exercise to support others through their cancer journey.

The founder of a unique purpose-built exercise oncology centre in the Hunter has been awarded the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation’s Chairman’s Medal 2021.

Sue Clark-Pitrolo was inspired to start the Kaden Centre after surviving three separate bouts of cancer herself, and realising how important exercise and movement was to her recovery.

“Whether you’re in cancer treatment or in survivorship, going from being active to not at all can lead to massive muscle atrophy – for me, it got to the point where I couldn’t stand up from a chair,” Sue remembers.

“If you don’t use it you’ll lose it – that saying is really true when it comes to cancer. But with exercise oncology, allied health professionals design individualised exercise sessions around your cancer, to help you stay in the best physical condition you can, rather than going down into the depths of disability.”

The idea for the Kaden Centre came to Sue on a cruise, when her sister suggested that if she couldn’t find the type of place that helped cancer patients exercise, that she should build it herself.

“I went back to my room on the ship and wrote down so many things in that little cruise notebook.” “That was in February 2017 and we opened in early 2018.” Sue said.

In the beginning, Sue realised the Kaden Centre had to be a charity so everyone who needed to could afford to come.

Myself and my son-in-law Luke run the Centre and we had to do a lot of research into exercise oncology, plus training and fund-raising, which wasn’t easy. My background was environmental science, so it has been a learning curve, Sue said.

In recognition of her selfless dedication to improving the lives of others, Sue was awarded this year’s Chairman’s Medal.

The Chairman’s Medal was established by the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation in 2017 to honour the late Michael Slater and acknowledge the contribution of an outstanding individual volunteer.

“I’m on a bit of a high, it’s a huge honour to receive the Chairman’s Medal,” Sue said.

“When they rang to tell me, I started to cry. We were only seeing 30 people a week when we started and that jumped to 370. Since opening, we’ve delivered exercise oncology to over 800 people.”

Funding provided by the Charitable Foundation has also helped the Centre grow and adapt to meet the emerging needs of clients.

“The first grant in 2019 enabled us to extend the studio area, put in a new kitchen and purchase more equipment. And in 2020, a grant during Covid helped fund the creation of home-based programs for clients,” Sue said.

Exercise oncology is a specific form of exercise therapy designed around the type of cancer you have, the stage it’s at and the treatment you’re having. When Sue was starting the Centre, she says exercise oncology was still quite an unknown, but the need for this unique form of exercise-therapy has since been recognised by organisations such Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA).

“We now have over 50 specialists referring here – oncologists, surgeons, anaesthetists. We also have over 300 GPs referring to us. This is going from exercise oncology being a complete unknown in 2017, to the Kaden Centre being an integral part of cancer care in Newcastle and The Hunter in 2021. So I’m pretty proud of that,” Sue said.

She’s also happy that the Centre is its own community of sorts, enabling clients to have a laugh, have a cry, compare their scars and voice their fears if they need to, as well.

“You can literally walk in the door and take your wig off – many do! It’s a safe, happy space. It’s not a hospital. We don’t call you a ‘patient’.And talking to other people with cancer means you don’t have to protect anyone – like you might with family,” Sue said.

Sue’s hope is that every cancer patient in Australia will be given access to exercise oncology in the future.

“Your mental health improves instantly. It’s one of the first things we see. I also know that exercise oncology empowers people in their own wellness journey, it gives you something to do. And it really can make a difference,” Sue said.

Sue Clark-Pitrolo
2021 Chairman’s Medal recipient, Sue Clark-Pitrolo

About Kaden Centre

Kaden Centre is a purpose-built facility designed to deliver custom, targeted exercise programs to people experiencing all stages of cancer and chronic conditions. Programs are safely prescribed and guided by allied health professionals.

The programs are grounded in medical research, which consistently shows the increase in survival rates of cancer patients with regular, targeted exercise. The Kaden Centre pride themselves on being Exercise Oncology Specialists.

They are passionate about enabling patients of chronic disease and their carers to continue moving throughout diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.