BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – A Roswell Park oncologist is studying how exercise and nutrition can both reduce the risk of breast cancer and help keep patients in remission, and two local survivors are living testaments that a healthy lifestyle may work.

“My mom had it. [Then] I had it. Lots of concerns in general about what we know about breast cancer, and I felt like anything I could do to help participate in the research, I’m all for,” Sara Goldhawk said of deciding to join Roswell Park’s clinical studies on nutrition and exercise in breast cancer patients.

Goldhawk knew she wanted to do something to feel good and stay healthy, and the5-year breast cancer survivor was among the first to join Dr. Tracey O’Connor’s clinical trials on how diet and exercise helps breast cancer survivors.

Dr. O’Connor, an associate professor of oncology, is conducting several of these trials, all with slightly different focuses.

“We’re investigating a variety of different strategies to try and help women get moving and stay moving,” Dr. O’Connor said. “One of the clinical trials that we’re running looks at three different interventions.”

One is a high-intensity supervised exercise program while two others look at home-based walking program and a home-based Zumba program.

Goldhawk is keep up what she practiced under Dr. O’Connor’s watch. Her FitBit keeps her accountable. The program led Goldhawk to pay attention to how much she walks and count her steps.

“That was the first thing that I wanted was to get back into exercise because I wanted to feel better, and I knew that the most important way was to do that through exercise,” Goldhawk said.

O’Connor gets the reward of seeing patients into remission and helping those battling the disease throughout their treatment.

“One of the big gifts to me personally is taking women from diagnosis and supporting them all the way through the survivorship phase and beyond,” she said.

Survivor Anne Kist also believes strongly in the benefits of exercise. A former gym teacher, she’s the director of Hope Chest, a wellness program for breast cancer survivors that provides free exercise and nutrition classes year round, and in the summer, they race dragon boats.

Kist, who is a dual survivor of both breast cancer and uterine cancer, says this unique program is empowering.

“This was great to actually go to an exercise program that was specifically for me and my needs, and then actually join the dragon boating and do something physical, but fun,” Kist said.

Hope Chest has been around nearly 20 years. The women must complete 15 exercise classes before they can get in the boats, and then they’re able to travel to race festivals around the country. Hope Chest hosts a race in Western New York every year in June.

“We do invite other breast cancer teams do it,” Kist said. “For fundraising, we have community teams and corporate teams at our festival, and we have some breast cancer teams,” Kist said.

Amazingly, participants range in age from 40 to 85 years of age.

Kist is very interested in Dr. O’Connor’s research, and the Roswell Park doctor happens to have a trial focusing on women 70 years and older because the exercise treatment they need may be different.

“Our baseline organ function can diminish. We may have bones that are less strong than when we were younger. Our metabolisms change, so there are many things about treating women as they age that are very substantially different than treating a younger population,” Dr. O’Connor said.