Wellness instructor helping patients kick cancer while fighting it herself


The Huntsman Cancer Institute, respected worldwide for its medical treatment of patients, also offers Chinese practices of deep breathing, meditation and gentle movement to help patients with recovery.

The institute has new research supporting the benefits, and the teacher is finding deeper value for herself.

“It’s really powerful; a stress-reducing experience,” said Trent Alvey, a breast cancer survivor taking Tai Chi and Qi Gong classes twice a week through the Wellness Program of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Tai Chi and Chi Gong are ancient Chinese practices blending meditation and breathing with gentle movement. Toni Lock started the class at the institute three years ago for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. The group meets at Red Butte Gardens.

“It started with one or two people, and I have built my class up,” said Lock. “I love it.”

So do the students, who support each other in this group exercise and meditation.

“It makes all the difference in the world about how you handle your treatment, how you can go through your treatment,” Alvey said.

Cassidy Doucette, a doctoral candidate and nurse educator with the institute, studied the benefits of Qi Gong in this class over a five-week period this winter.

“It drastically improved fatigue and quality of life in cancer patients and their caregivers,” said Doucette, adding that Qi Gong helped participants with improved focus, breathing, balance and optimism.

“It went from my glass is half empty to my glass is half full,” Doucette said of the patients’ change in attitude after practicing Qi Gong. “I have more energy. I feel better.”

As the study evolved several months ago, the instructor had a chilling surprise in her own life.

“In the middle of it I became a patient,” Lock said.

Diagnosed with breast cancer, Lock said she took 10 days off and had breast cancer surgery, but she went right back to teaching the class. She said her experience with cancer expanded her awareness of the rough road cancer patients travel.

“It gives me a chance to actually feel what they felt,” she said.

Lock suddenly had similar perspective on what it was like to go through chemotherapy, lose all of her hair and feel extreme fatigue from the disease.

“I’m doing my best to go with the flow of life right now,” she said. “That’s what I teach my students.”

She’s getting guidance and tips from them, too. The students have helped their teacher find her path through the challenges of being a cancer patient.

“There is a lot of group energy and love that was here today,” Lock said. “They’ve really been helping me through this.”

The class, she said, has helped her clear her body of cancer and keep her energy up. Lock finished chemotherapy last week and begins daily radiation treatment next month, for a total of 19 sessions.

“I don’t like to look too far ahead,” she said. “It’s just one step at a time.”