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Celebrating Wellness for Life


 Jane Borg Cook’s vision of the healing power of wellness continues to help lives touched by cancer.

They were high school friends who went on to become leaders in the Cedar Rapids community before being struck down all too soon by cancer. But the belief two women shared in the power of wellness continues to improve the lives of people touched by cancer today.

This year the Jane Borg Cook Cancer Wellness Program at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center celebrates 10 years of helping patients move beyond cancer to embrace wellness for life. The program, most of which is free for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers, has been made possible through the generous support of donors, led by the families of Jane Borg Cook and Karma Smith.

Leaving a Legacy

When Smith lost her battle with colon cancer in 1998, her husband Marty established an endowment through St. Luke’s Foundation in her memory. “Karma was a pioneer,” explains Marty Smith. “She believed mind and body wellness would foster healing. I set up the endowment to help St. Luke’s become more active in that area.”

UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s began offering exercise services to cancer patients with Smith’s support. But the program really took off with the establishment of the Jane Borg Cook Cancer Wellness Program in 2009.

“Marty Smith got the ball rolling with the initial concept,” says Rob Cook. “After my wife, Jane, lost her life to breast cancer, my family and I decided to push it a little further.”

Cook met with representatives from St. Luke’s Foundation and Kimberly Ivester, director of cancer services, to talk about a comprehensive wellness program that would go beyond traditional cancer care to provide exercise, nutritional and psycho-social support for patients and survivors. “Jane was able to live a good life despite her cancer by staying active and integrating wellness into her lifestyle,” recalls Cook. “But insurance won’t cover most of those things. I asked what it would take to make the services free. Then my children and I agreed to make the lead gift of $75,000.”

Longtime St. Luke’s Foundation board member Terri Christoffersen says, “It was wonderful of Jane’s family to do this in her honor, and what a tremendous gift for our community to make these services available at no cost! No matter where you’re receiving cancer treatment, you can come to the Cook Cancer Wellness Center along with a family member or caregiver.”

Beth Beckett, Oncology Dietitian, gives a cooking demonstration.

A Growing Program

Over the years, the program has grown both in size and the services it offers. In 2013, the Cook Cancer Wellness Program moved into the new Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center. Services now include an open gym, group classes like pilates, yoga and tai chi, nutrition help, cooking demonstrations, and integrative therapies from meditation and massage to medical acupuncture.

Cancer exercise specialist Matt Schmitz says the group classes are an especially important component. “They’re more than just exercise. We call them support groups that move. Everyone in the class has either had cancer or is a caregiver. If someone has a question, the other participants will share their experiences and provide reassurance.”

New Additions

What’s more, he says, “We constantly add new programs based on what our patients want.” Recent additions include aromatherapy, creative art classes and Grow Happy horticulture sessions.

Schmitz notes other cancer centers around the country may have some of these components, but few can compete with the scope of the Cook Cancer Wellness Program. “When I tell people at other centers what we have and that our services are free, their jaws drop! And it was all started by philanthropy.”

Exercise Is Cancer Medicine
Matt Schmitz, Cancer Exercise Specialist, works with a patient.

“My sons and I are very proud of what is being done in Karma’s memory,” says Marty Smith. Rob Cook agrees. “It’s surpassed everyone’s expectations and it keeps growing.”

Cook adds, “People are living longer with cancer and this enables them to enjoy a better quality of life. I’m glad we can continue to make it available at no cost. I know it’s what Jane would have wanted.”

Donate Today

Your gift helps insure the Cook Cancer Wellness Program will continue to bring the healing power of wellness to cancer patients and their loved ones. Call (319) 369-7716 today.


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