Even though UNC basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was in great shape in 2013 when she started treatment for acute myeloid leukemia at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the weeks of chemotherapy were brutal. Nevertheless, she forced herself to do something physical almost every day: lifting free weights, using resistance bands from bed or taking the IV pole she’d nicknamed Stanley for a walk around the floor – 17 laps equal a mile.
“When you’re going through those treatments, when you’re in that state, any ounce of feeling better is important,” Sylvia says. “And exercise always, always made me feel better.”
But as Sylvia and Stanley paced laboriously down the halls, she noticed something that bothered her. “The other patients were in bed, the lights were off, the rooms were dark, the curtains were pulled,” Sylvia remembers. “I thought, how are these people going to get well? We have to get them moving!”
The thought of other patients in their beds set the famously fired up coach on a mission. She convinced the cancer center leadership to include two workout rooms in their remodel plans and started raising money to furbish them.
All the money from her blueberry patch in the mountains went to setting up the bright new spaces, which she decorated with motivational quotes and uplifting images of beaches and berries in addition to the donated elliptical machines, free weights and fans.
For Richard Edgar, a patient at the center, the rooms offer a welcome change of pace and even a chance to have a little fun: there’s an air hockey table he and his wife enjoy in addition to the treadmill and bike he’s been using during a two-week treatment. Being able to exercise “is vitally important for your recovery – and your sanity, too,” Richard says. “It enables you to keep your strength up while you’re here rather than just laying down.”
“I’ve heard from them about how much they appreciate those rooms and how important exercise is to their daily recovery,” says Sylvia. “This is a matter of life or death. This is survival.”