When Clay Drake was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at 48 years old, he didn’t yet know of the place that would help him physically fight back against this terrible disease.
Clay was first diagnosed with cancer in October 2015. Since that time, he has undergone two stem cell transplants, chemotherapy, radiation, and infusions. In 2017, he started having difficulty moving his left side. It was during this time that a fellow cancer survivor first told Clay about the University of Northern Colorado Cancer Rehabilitation Institute (UNCCRI). It is located on the UNC campus in Greeley and open to any cancer survivor with a referral from their doctor.
The UNCCRI is a 10,000 square foot facility with a mission of improving the quality of life for cancer survivors. Reid Hayward, the UNCCRI’s Director, has a passion for providing cancer survivors the power of hope and control over one aspect of their treatment. Every semester Reid and his two full-time staff train 8-12 interns to work directly with the cancer patients. Most of the interns are UNC undergraduate students in their last semester in the sports exercise and science program.
The interns develop a rehabilitation program for one-on-one therapy sessions three times per week based on each patient’s medical history. Each patient is given an initial baseline assessment to test strength and balance, with follow-up assessments to gauge their progress.
The program starts with rehabilitation while the patient is undergoing chemotherapy/radiation. Patients progress through other phases in the program based on the length of time following their treatment. The last phase can continue for as long as the patient desires. All cancer survivors (those receiving treatment, in remission and cancer-free) are always welcome at the UNCCRI.
The cost for services at UNCCRI is $60 per month, which equates to about $5 per session. While these lower fees keep their services affordable for everyone, they only cover about 25% of their operating costs. They rely on grants to cover the remaining 75%.
The Weld Trust’s mission is to promote excellence in health and education in Weld County. The rehabilitation services provided to cancer patients at UNCCRI clearly fits within the mission of The Weld Trust, and in 2020, a grant was provided to UNCCRI toward their operating costs.
When Clay was first diagnosed, he was presented with several service providers including nutrition, massage, mental health, and physical therapy, but not exercise services. He believes and is advocating that a referral to UNCCRI should be included with these initial service providers. Not only does this provide the patient with a more accurate baseline assessment, but also gives them some measure of control over their treatment.
During Clay’s tenure at UNCCRI, he has worked with about 10 different students, with whom he has developed very special relationships.
“They’re helping you, and this program makes you feel accountable. I have an obligation to keep going and stay alive. The Institute has played a part in this journey.”
Each week the hard work and dedication of the staff at UNCCRI empower Clay in his fight against cancer.