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Trainer Inspires Clients To Defeat Cancer, Too

Publication: San Antonio Stories

When Samantha Aguirre works out, old-school rap pumps her up. She swings 30-foot-long battle ropes until the thick cords roll like waves in the sea. Lunge jumps and squats burn muscles in her legs. She pounds a heavy bag with pink boxing gloves, then drops for pushups.

Aguirre’s mantra is to keep moving and don’t stop. For the past seven years, the wife and mother of three girls has stayed fit as a personal fitness trainer, devoting hours to cardio sessions, weight training and aerobic exercise. Her intense physical conditioning became crucial during a life-changing event.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, Aguirre, 42, shared how staying fit helped her navigate complex breast cancer and become a certified cancer exercise specialist inspiring other breast cancer patients.

“I never settled for being told that I had cancer,” Aguirre said. “I shared that with my clients. I’m not handicapped, just taking additional treatments to keep on fighting. Don’t give up the things you love to do. Your diagnosis doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life — you have to live like there’s no tomorrow.”

In 2018, Aguirre underwent six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. She had a double mastectomy, 22 rounds of less aggressive chemo, 30 rounds of radiation and a hysterectomy.

Her workouts stopped six weeks after her surgeries, but she walked a mile a day until she was able to get back to training. She didn’t have headaches or nausea, but the fourth and fifth days of chemo drained her. After those days, she continued going to the gym, adjusting her sessions to the medications. When she lost her hair, she wore wigs with a hat and kept exercising. Aguirre said the activity helped with neuropathy, or numbness and tingling through her body.

“Working out and being active helped with side effects and my mental state of mind,” Aguirre said. “I’m a believer that happiness makes life better.”

Aguirre credits her recovery to her support system. Her husband, Robert, 43, knowing the struggles she was going through, was her shoulder to cry on. Aguirre said he did what had to be done, such as setting the alarm clock for 4 a.m. to tend to her surgical drains.

“He was my ride or die,” Aguirre said.

She never showed her daughters, Natalya, 15, Natasha, 14, and Nadya, 8, how the treatments affected her. Any moments when she broke down took place out of sight, behind closed doors.

“I’m really proud of my daughters,” Aguirre said. “They stayed in honors classes, didn’t miss school, never cried. I was very proud that they saw me as a strong woman, as I want them to be. I want them to understand that life isn’t over, and you have to keep moving.”

Her parents were by her side when her husband was working, there to see that she was OK. Aguirre doesn’t have siblings, but she has a sisterhood and friends who supported her through every treatment and surgery.

On Nov. 19, 2019, after completing a year of treatment at Texas Oncology-San Antonio, family and friends cheered as she rang a bronze bell to celebrate the last of her treatments. As Aguirre hugged her supporters, she grasped a certificate that read “Survivor.”

Before her diagnosis, Aguirre was an insurance broker for five years, working on the side as a personal fitness trainer at Mix Fit SA.

In March 2019, Aguirre had her first session with a cancer patient.

Now, she works out three times a week in the evenings with a personal trainer she said keeps her accountable.

Aguirre set up a gym in her South Side home. A blackboard hangs on the garage wall, scrawled with clients’ exercise routines. Jump ropes line the floor. There’s a stationary bike for warmups, a weight bench with weights and resistance bands for basic training. Workouts vary between 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the client’s treatment.

She has a full-time job as a marketing coordinator, seeing clients after work and on weekends. Before one-on-one sessions, Aguirre asks about their mobility, state of mind and willingness to do the work. She records their surgeries and medications before developing a program that’s suited to them. After the assessment is complete, the client has to get a permission slip approved by their oncologist.

COVID-19 made it hard to see patients. She adapted and used FaceTime sessions or went to their house wearing a mask. She wasn’t only a cancer exercise specialist, but someone who helped her students talk about their journey.

“It’s like a hairdresser,” Aguirre said. “I go work out with them and talk afterward.”

One of her clients, Ron Oden, 65, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in August 2020. He said having Aguirre on his wellness team was as important as having his surgeon and oncologist and their teams on his “cancer-killing team.” Oden said “in-the-fight workouts,” were important to fight off side effects of chemo and radiation treatments — times he said were when “you do not want to do anything but feel bad and feel bad about yourself.”

“That is where a trainer like Coach Sam comes in,” Oden said. “She knows what you are going through and that you need to keep moving. So she motivates and pushes you like you need. This is how you beat the hell out of cancer.”

She shares her journey on Instagram videos at Coach_Sia80. Her business is called Fitness to Fight Cancer with Coach Sia.

Dr. Emmalind Aponte, Aguirre’s oncologist at Texas Oncology–San Antonio, said Aguirre is an example that if someone has the sickness, they can try to do other things and keep normalcy in their life. She said Aguirre has remained positive, able to keep exercising, and has adapted her fitness goals through her journey.

“To me, she’s inspiring,” Aponte said. “She has the best attitude and has been able to go back to her life without cancer taking the best of her life.”

For more information on breast cancer and mammograms, visit TexasOncology.com or Texas Breast Specialists at texasbreastspecialists.com.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Stories

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