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Bonding over burpees helps these cancer patients get through treatment

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Posted at 1:06 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 18:29:07-05

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Signing up for Erica Porter’s fitness class can be an exercise in pure punishment for your muscles. 

 “It is the best workout you will ever get," said member Kelli Petersen. 

The instructor pushes students like Kelli Petersen to reach their physical limits. 

 “She is amazing and you definitely stay in shape with her,” added Kelli. 

Kelli doesn’t miss her weekly sweat-inducing workouts. 

“Anything you can do to stay physically active and in-shape makes you feel better wholly as a whole person,” described Kelli. 

The woman from Chesterfield might be the last person you would think who would want to be here.

The veteran who spent 33 years in the U.S. Army, and who served a tour in Iraq received a gut punch. Stage 2 Breast cancer, surgeries and chemo left her reeling. 

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Kelli Petersen spent 33 years in the U.S. Army, and served a tour in Iraq.

“I was diagnosed last February,” said Kelli. “It is a shock to your system. Yeah.”

The mother of one retreated. But Erica would not let her friend of 10 years be defeated. 

“She was talking me through some stuff. I was getting choked up and she said, ‘I know you’re still processing’ and she said, ‘And that is okay,’” reflected Kelli. 

Erica said physical activity is just as important as any medicine when coping with cancer. 

“The treatment is overwhelming. The diagnosis is overwhelming. It is difficult. I get it. But do something for yourself. Move,” said Erica. 

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Kelli joined Erica’s Endorphasm Foundation. 

“Once I figured out the ‘why not me?’ attitude you start moving forward with what’s next,” said Kelli. 

The foundation is a place where cancer patients and their families join customized classes for free with trained instructors.  

“Do something. Do not sit because you’ll fall into that cycle into feeling sorry for yourself and being more tired. Help yourself,” said Erica. 

Physical fitness reins supreme with Erica. She wrestles professionally with the Women of Wrestling. In the spotlight, Erica is known as "Jungle Grrrl." But the athlete’s royal rumble goes beyond the ring. 

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Erica Porter wrestles professionally with the Women of Wrestling as "Jungle Grrrl."

“To understand it one must experience it. I will leave it there,” said Erica. 

In June of 2020, Erica was diagnosed with Stage 4 incurable cancer. Erica promised not to give in to her disease. 

“Caring for ourselves and this one vessel that we have is ours to control,” said Erica. 

She pushes herself and other patients to peak performance. 

“Whatever that period of time you have, shouldn’t that period of time be amazing?” said Erica. 

Kelli is following Erica’s example. 

“She was right. The more I moved, the better I felt,” said Kelli. “She knows what you’ve gone through because she’s been through it, and she is going to be there.”

Sixty minutes in this class certainly leaves muscles aching. But just like Erica, Kelli Petersen believes the path in her fight against cancer should not just lead you through the hospital pharmacy. 

“There are days you don’t want to come in here, but I’ll tell you what every time you walk out of that door you feel like the most amazing person on earth.” 

For more information about Erica’s Endorphasm Foundation, click here.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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