Sarah Feist
Personal trainer Jenn Matt, left, and Janet Masseth work in an outside training session. (Jacy)

For many women, the thought of stepping up your fitness routine is a daunting, overwhelming task. Now can you imagine attempting this after a bilateral mastectomy and eight rounds of chemotherapy? That is the reality for Warrant Officer Janet Masseth, a Bismarck resident and strategic initiative coordinator with the North Dakota National Guard.

Masseth was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2013 and has undergone numerous surgeries and chemotherapy treatments as a patient at Sanford Health in Bismarck. She has not been declared cancer-free yet, but she is on a path to wellness by committing to running and improving her fitness.

Prior to Masseth's diagnosis, she was extremely active. She played volleyball and basketball and completed two sprint triathlons, nine full marathons, nine half marathons and numerous 5K and 10K races. While focused on her chemo treatments Masseth put racing on the back burner, but she recently ran another half marathon in August at the Go Far Women run in Fargo.

Masseth credits the Livestrong program, hosted by the YMCA in Bismarck, with improving her physical and emotional wellness. Livestrong is tailored to anyone who has or is recovering from cancer, and trainers attend special courses to learn how to work with cancer patients. The program focuses on improving energy levels and self-esteem, building strength and endurance, improving flexibility, circulation and functional ability, reducing therapy side effects, restoring balance, improving body image, reducing stress and more.

"I was knocked down so far after chemo, I didn't even know where to start to get back into shape," Masseth says. "There was no way I could have mustered up the guts to walk into the gym alone (after) being so out of shape to work out."

Masseth says Livestrong has helped her mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

"I am gaining my self-confidence back," she says. "If you are eligible to go to Livestrong, do it!"

In addition Masseth works with a personal trainer at the YMCA, Jenn Matt, and receives fitness support from her doctor, her husband, Dustin, and friends Jon and Sarah Skedsvold, who cheer her on at many race sidelines. All of these measures have helped Masseth get her fitness back on track.

"I am enjoying running again," she says. "You just have to stick with it and don't give up when it gets hard."

For those of us on the outside looking in, Masseth's determination and strength is admirable. When asked how she keeps her upbeat and positive attitude, she cites her fellow Livestrong class members, her CaringBridge website, her arts and crafts (her homemade reversible coffee/tea sleeves are available at Steep Me a Cup of Tea in Bismarck) and allowing herself to open up.

"I am not going to lie, it's not easy to stay positive with so many ups and downs throughout the different procedures and treatments. But just allowing yourself to be open to others and allowing them into your life (helps)," she says. "I received care package after care package ... and I can't say 'thank you' enough to everybody who has lifted me up when I was knocked down."

Masseth is not in remission just yet. She has spots on her right lung and liver that are too small to biopsy, which her oncologist is monitoring. She will undergo reconstructive surgeries in the next few months and attend multiple doctor appointments. Another big step will be having her port removed. The port was installed beneath her skin in her upper chest, allowing drugs to be administered and blood samples to be drawn with less discomfort than repeated needle pricks.

Don't be fooled, though -- Masseth hasn't slowed down and continues day-to-day with her job, hobbies, volunteering and fitness. She serves as a youth mentor for Tragedy Assistance for Survivors (TAPS, for short, assists families who have lost a service member by helping them learn to cope and heal) and is a member of the North Dakota team of Red, White and Blue, whose mission is to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Masseth encourages other cancer survivors to go forward by helping others, focusing on fitness and ultimately finding a reason to keep moving.

To learn more about Livestrong at the YMCA, call 701-255-1525 or email To sponsor a TAPS mentor and help defray costs to send North Dakota service members to D.C., email John Ferderer at

Breast Cancer Awareness

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are six steps for cancer survivors to pursue once they are ready to begin a fitness routine. Remember, as with any new exercise or fitness routine it's important to check with your medical provider first.

1. Get the all-clear from your doctor.

2. Work with a professional. Consider a personal trainer or physical therapist experienced in working with cancer survivors who can build a program tailored to your needs.

3. Take your time. Even if you were super active prior to your diagnosis, you may need to start slowly and gradually build up your intensity and duration.

4. Rest. Try to sleep well every evening, but you must also rest between exercise sessions and allow your body time to recover.

5. Find support. Look to friends, family, community or other cancer survivors who share goals and challenges and can support your active lifestyle. Ask your health care providers for local groups or check online for support networks.

6. Find what moves you! Fitness doesn't have to be running, just try an activity that you enjoy! If you are new to exercise, consider yoga or pilates. Join a gym to try different fitness classes. Go for a daily walk. Just move!

Sarah Feist is a lifelong North Dakotan who lives in Hazen. She blogs about her passion for food, travel, exercise and more at