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Open house set – The SIU Carbondale Strong Survivors program and Phil Anton, program director, will celebrate the grand open of the program’s new location on Wednesday. The free fitness, conditioning and nutrition program for cancer survivors is located in Davies Hall, Room 123. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

March 03, 2020

Opening of new Strong Survivors Cancer Rehabilitation lab is Wednesday

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — For 15 years cancer survivors by the hundreds, along with their caregivers, have gotten a new lease on life with the help of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Strong Survivors program.

The free fitness, conditioning and nutrition program that more than 200 SIU students have helped facilitate through the years now has its own dedicated space. Everyone is welcome to attend the grand opening set for Wednesday, March 4, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Davies Hall, Room 123.

Showcase for new facility

The grand opening and open house is a great opportunity to see the extensive array of fitness equipment, from weights and exercise balls to treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bicycles and beyond. The new facility is both functional and inspirational.

The SIUC Strong Survivors Cancer Rehabilitation Laboratory (CRL) is dedicated for the Strong Survivors program, which since 2009 had shared space with the Integrative Movement Laboratory elsewhere in the building.

Succeeding for 15 years

The Strong Survivors Program launched in 2005 and since that time, more than 800 cancer survivors and their caregivers have participated in the program.

“Having a slightly larger and truly private space for the program will help us to administer Strong Survivors’ mission more effectively and improve participant quality of life to a great degree,” Phil Anton, Strong Survivors director and exercise science program coordinator and associate professor, said.

Former participants, students invited

All current and previous Strong Survivors participants are invited to attend the grand opening. Likewise, the current and former SIU students who serve or have served as staff members helping the participants in their recovery journeys are encouraged to stop by. 

Refreshments will be served.

Restorative effect

The Strong Survivors program provides free exercise testing and training to participants at any stage of their cancer journey, whether they are finished or still undergoing treatment. The goal is to help them improve their quality of life and return to the lifestyle they previously had or something close to it.

Program participants, who progress at their own pace, typically exercise twice a week with specially prepared individualized regimens based on their individual needs, physical assessments, medical histories and personal goals. Aerobic, balance, strength and flexibility training are typically incorporated, and the program features a nutritional component as well.

The university collaborates with Southern Illinois Healthcare and John A. Logan College on the program. SIU students serve as personal trainers and work individually with each participant, giving students, particularly those in the exercise science and rehabilitation fields, unique teaching and experiential opportunities. Students work individually with clients, assessing fitness and needs, establishing training plans and personally assisting in implementing those plans. Participants say the individualized attention and relationships make the program all the more effective.

There are currently 37 people participating in the program at SIU or through an affiliate class at John A. Logan.

Cousin’s death served as inspiration

Anton’s cousin and childhood best friend, Julie Honerkamp, was the inspiration for Strong Survivors. At 13, she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma in her thigh bone. Six years and numerous surgeries later, she succumbed to cancer in 1990. But she’s still very much in Anton’s heart and thoughts and in her honor, Anton created a program to help other people recover from their battles with cancer.

Free program

There is no cost to participate in Strong Survivors, for cancer survivors or their caregivers.

For more information about the program, visit the website at, call 618/453-3116 or email Anton at