Crossing the Finish Line

Recent UNC graduate D.J. Macri watches Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute client Karen DeMello during a recent workout.

A year ago, Karen DeMello was too weak from cancer treatments to take part in the Race Against Cancer, the annual 5k run/walk on July 4 to benefit UNC's Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute. This year, she's planning to be among the institute's current and former clients who'll cross the finish line.

And among those waiting to congratulate them will be institute staff members who are part of a team that helps cancer survivors during and after their treatments through prescriptive exercise rehabilitation and nutritional intervention. The institute is currently the only facility of its kind in the United States and is recognized as a forerunner in cancer rehabilitation.

Those waiting for DeMello will include D.J. Macri, the Sport and Exercise Science major and certified cancer exercise specialist who's worked with DeMello since October as part a 400-hour practicum required for a bachelor's degree, which Macri received in May.

DeMello said that working with Macri is like having a personal trainer, but one who's trained for the unique needs of someone recovering from cancer treatments.

"He's incredible," DeMello said of Macri. "He's motivational, he's compassionate, he prods me along, he challenges me. He's helping me get my strength back. He's helping me feel better."

Macri said he gets as much or more from DeMello.

"She doesn't take on the victim role," he said. "She's taught me about not giving up, whether you're dealing with cancer or not, and about believing in yourself, in your own strength."

DeMello added that Macri's help has included nutrition information as she continues to struggle to gain and maintain her weight following colon surgery and chemotherapy. (Editor's note: DeMello said that no tumors were found in a post-chemo CAT scan in March. The longtime Greeley resident and her refusal to consider herself a victim were the subject of a story prior to last year's race. Read that story.)

According to UNC doctoral student Jessica Brown, who serves as the institute's clinical coordinator, strong bonds develop between the institute's clients and getting to know a client as a person also helps in developing and administering their exercise program.

She should know. After completing her 400-hour undergraduate internship, Brown volunteered as an exercise specialist for two-plus years while completing her master's degree. Her responsibilities as clinical coordinator include helping train the student "trainers" and matching them with clients.

"It takes a special kind of person to be a good cancer exercise specialist," Brown said. "The better you know a client and their situation, the better you're able to understand what exercises they'll benefit from, how to motivate them and how to help them feel better,"

DeMello said that just being in the RMCRI facility for an hour three mornings a week has been therapeutic.

"It's such a great environment," she said. "Everyone - the staff, the clients - make it such a positive place to be when you're dealing with a not-so-positive situation."

- UNC News Service

The Race Against Cancer begins at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, July 4.

Staged on the course of the Greeley Stampede Independence Day Parade, the 5K run/walk annually draws over 2,000 runners from across the country, with all proceeds benefiting the RMCRI.

The entry fee before race day is $25 for adults and $15 for those 12 and younger; entering on race day costs $30. Pre-registration is available at or at Bell's Running, 3620 10th St., Greeley, and must be made before July 3.

Come to take part or watch the race and stay to view the parade, which begins at 9 a.m.

Volunteers to help with the race are needed. Volunteers will receive a T-shirt and breakfast before the race. To volunteer, email volunteer coordinator Traci Parry at

The RMCRI, part of the College of Natural and Health Sciences, specializes in clinical services, clinical and basic research and education on cancer treatment-related symptoms, and is committed to improving the quality of life of cancer patients through prescriptive exercise rehabilitation.

For more information about the RMCRI, visit