A Master for the Gallery

cuOne of the lovely aspects of the work that I do is to witness and support the success of our delegates. I’m just on my way back from a meeting at the Sussex headquarters of Cancer United, a charity for cancer patients which is a model of excellence.  It’s one of those projects that embodies the difference that makes the difference, and is the brainchild of one of our first NLP Masters, Jan Sheward.  And the meeting was no ordinary meeting.  It involved taking part in a dance class dancing a routine to Footloose with a group of cancer survivors led by the lovely Ash, an hilarious talented professional dancer: scoffing excellent food from Jan’s big hearted daughter Erica,  herself an outstanding businesswoman: an hour in the hot tub with Jan and personal trainer Dwayne, large gin and tonic in hand: and a lot of laughs alongside a dynamic meeting with a great outcome.

Jan came our way 7 years ago, during the kind of year that slaps us all in the face at some time or another.  She lost her business, her home and was diagnosed with breast cancer.  By chance, she read a short article that I’d had published in the Coaching journal of the Association for Coaching.  She liked what I was saying, and wrote to me. I replied, woman to woman, breast cancer survivor also.  Before long, Jan enrolled on our Certificate in Coaching Course, by her own admission, angry, bitter and lost.  She loved the learning, and jan-shewardfound out what she wanted to feel instead. By her own account, the experience changed her life.  Her next task was to discover where she wanted to direct her change of heart.  She tried one or two avenues and then four years ago, Master Practitioner in NLP under her belt, Jan decided to use her learnings, her wisdom and her determined spirit to create a cancer charity with a  difference.  She called it Cancer United. She began with a weekly support group for people who were on the cancer journey, any cancer, no distinctions based on where in the body the cancer manifested.  No place for moaning and groaning in this group, instead Jan relentlessly supported her clients by challenging limiting beliefs, injecting humour and fun, and helped her members to create future based meaningful outcomes, whatever situation they were in.

Jan loves exercise, and she believes it was this passion that helped her own cancer recovery.   So it was only a matter of time before she began introducing her support group, by now a merry band of supportive fun seekers, to the notion of regular exercise.  She brought in personal trainer Dwayne Clevett (he of hot tub fame), and paid for him to train in cancer rehab, and in NLP.  Dwayne designed a bespoke programme in which anyone could take part, and took it to the support group.  And made it fun.  Together, Jan, Dwayne and Erica had created the first model of spin off group CU Fitter.

CU Fitter is created around the principles and understandings that:

  • Evidence tells us that exercise increases recovery from cancer, enhancing quality of life, supporting lower remission rates, making lives longer
  • Many people in the journey of cancer lose confidence, struggle with body image, and believe that they would not fit into an orthodox gym environment, or don’t believe that they can exercise
  • There are very few professionals trained in the science of cancer rehabilitation, AND in the psychological principles required to engage individuals in bespoke programmes
  • Exercise can be fun for anyone.jan-sheward-cu-fitter

Jan’s vision changed.  Now she wanted the CU Fitter model to go global, by building bespoke gyms and  training health and exercise professionals in creating engaging exercise  programmes for cancer rehab. All this on no income and an embryonic charity dependent on small grants.

Did I mention Jan’s determination?  Jan tussled with all sorts of obstacles and now successfully engages the collaboration of the local Health Trusts, Universities and world renowned experts in cancer survivorship.  The charity has grown.  The conversion rate from enquiries to engagement in programmes is over 90%.  There is a CU Fitter bus, there is a Cancer United minibus.  Next week is the CU Fitter charity run, promising to be double the size of last years.  And the charity has just won sponsorship from Saatchi, giants in the world of promotion.


A year ago, CU Fitter opened its own gym, specially designed for cancer patients and dedicated to survivorship and fun.  The mission is mushrooming. The charity needs to be self sustaining, the programme needs to spread. This Deccu-fitterember, I am honoured to be part of the design and delivery team on the very first programme for exercise professionals from CU Fitter.  The course will equip personal trainers with the knowledge, the psychological know how, and the tools to practise the CU Fitter model in their localities with survivors of cancer.  It is an accredited course, and the difference that makes the difference in our quality of training is that we engage our delegates with `real live’ cancer survivors.  We assess not only on knowledge but on the holistic skill set necessary to use that knowledge in a way which fully engages and respects each individual patient.  Our core tutor team are all recognised experts on an international scale. Successful delegates will be able to join a professional register, to have access to a wealth of resources and information in a fast changing area, and will be licensed to thrill the world of exercise with the CU Fitter ethos and effective exercise.

This is an awesome achievement over this four year period.

Jan and I have become friends as well as colleagues, I’m a Trustee of her charity, and she often acknowledges the impact that learning NLP with us had on her life. Today, I’m proud to return the compliment and acknowledge Jan as one of the most inspiring and kind hearted women I have ever met. She is a shining example of the power of thoughts and beliefs, and I feel fortunate to be working alongside her.  Mastery indeed 🙂

If you would like to know more about the CU Fitter programme for health and exercise professionals, please e mail jan@cancerunited.org.uk