Team Survivor Northwest - Empowering Women in Newcastle and the greater Seattle area

Two Newcastle women, Amy Robertson and Jo Gartenberg, find strength and empowerment in their cancer diagnosis through Team Survivor Northwest.

Executive Director Jennefer Boyer

When you hear the word cancer, you may think of chemo, radiation, surgery, and hardship. But at Team Survivor Northwest, cancer means climbing mountains, weekly hiking and walking groups, sweating it out in fitness classes, paddling in Dragon Boat races, and training for triathlons.

Team Survivor is a local nonprofit organization that provides free health, fitness, and wellness programs to women who have had a cancer diagnosis. Whether in active treatment, remission, or facing a new diagnosis, these women reclaim their power by moving their bodies and healing their hearts together.

“The comment that I hear the most from our members is how they never realized a cancer group could be such a positive place. They love being around others who get what they are going through without having to explain anything, without others feeling pity toward them, and often without even having to talk about cancer unless it comes up naturally in conversation,” says Executive Director Jennefer Boyer. “They can be themselves.”

These words ring true for member and Newcastle resident Amy Robertson, who was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer in April 2020 – two weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I felt like I had cancer behind closed doors because of COVID,” Robertson says. 
In addition to chemo, radiation, and a mastectomy, Robertson also developed heart failure. A former collegiate athlete, she felt beaten down by her inability to walk without fatigue. That’s when her oncologist encouraged her to join Team Survivor, which was hosting online fitness classes in the wake of the pandemic.

“The first class I took was so hard, but Toshiko (the instructor) was so supportive and kind. Heart failure made it difficult to do anything, but I kept going and continued to get stronger,” Robertson says. “I thought it would be sign on, exercise, and leave, but it’s so much more than that. As I got more involved in more exercise classes I felt better. I realized I wasn’t alone.” 
Newcastle resident Jo Gartenberg is not only a member of Team Survivor, but she also serves on the Board of Directors. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, she began taking fitness classes, and ultimately summitted Mount Adams with the Team Survivor Mountain Climbing Program. Gartenberg says she believes it is the strength and resolve of Team Survivor’s membership that makes the organization so empowering.

“Everyone has the same goal of wanting to be healthy and to feel like this disease didn't define them. Team Survivor is a way of taking back control,” she says. “There is always someone who can support you and help you out.”

Team Survivor Northwest’s mission is backed by research – there is an undeniable link that shows exercise during and after cancer treatment decreases mortality rates (in some cases by as much as 40 to 60 percent).

“In addition to the increased survival rates, we see other benefits from exercise including more effective treatment, decreased pain and side effects, better sleep, improved mental health and so much more,” Boyer says. 

For Robertson, that life-changing power of exercise truly helped her regain her sense of self. She now participates in Team Survivor’s new Water Aerobics class in person, where she has been able to do things with her body in the water that she couldn’t have dreamed of when she started her journey. 

“I felt like I lost myself somewhere, but then I found myself again right where I left it. I'm different, but better,” she says. “The members and instructors accept you and celebrate you just as you are.”

There is something for everyone at Team Survivor. Outdoor programs include dragon boating, midweek hiking, walking, cycling, triathlon training, mountain climbing (this year’s groups conquered Ruth Mountain and the Chain Lakes Loop), and even snowshoeing! Move to Heal fitness class offerings (both online and in person) include yoga, Pilates, water aerobics, strength training, and Zumba. 

Team Survivor relies on the generosity of the community to help sustain the quality and breadth of its offerings.“I feel unlucky but so lucky,” Robertson says. “The generosity of people is incredible - I don't have to empty my wallet because so many generous people support these classes to make it possible for me.”

Boyer encourages the Newcastle community to learn more about Team Survivor Northwest ( and find ways to get involved in this important cause.

“A woman's ability to return to her health after a cancer diagnosis should not be limited to those who can afford to have a pass at a gym. Every woman deserves access to the health benefits of exercise in a safe, inclusive environment,” she says. “This is a group of inspiring women who have refused to let cancer define their limits and they are lifting others up on their journey to recovery and beyond.”