Therapist Takes On Endurance Challenge In Support Of Fight Against Blood Cancers

February 27, 2018
By: Karen E. Butler, Director of Communications

Atkinson takes a breather while on a weeklong trek in 2016 with her boyfriend hiking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The pair take a couple of weeks off every year to hike a national park.As an oncology recreation therapist, Tiffany Atkinson, MS, LRT, knows first-hand that “bouncing back” from the sometimes destructive effects of cancer treatment can be an uphill climb. However, when it comes to helping her patients transition back to health and wellness, Atkinson urges them on, assuring that it’s always worth the climb.

A few years ago, Atkinson heard about The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team In Training program which features endurance challenges that could test her own resolve — physically, mentally and emotionally. Neither her patients or colleagues were any too surprised when Atkinson signed on.

“I’ve always loved working out and being active,” said Atkinson, 28, who received her undergraduate degree in exercise sport science and her master’s degree in recreation therapy. “I enjoy a challenge. Team In Training offers me this personal challenge while at the same time giving me an opportunity to support a cause I truly believe in. It’s a win-win.”

Lauded as the largest charity endurance training program in the world, Team In Training has raised more than $1 billion to support blood cancer research throughout the U.S. With the supervision of experienced coaches, the program prepares athletes for premier endurance challenges by providing, over the course of three months, comprehensive training plans, cross-training routines and diet and nutrition plans.A recreational therapist, Atkinson helps a patient knit a hat as a Christmas gift for the eldest of her five children. "I love recreation therapy because I help patients through fun activities."

Atkinson has participated in three previous endurance challenges. She signed on this year to hike Bryce Canyon, located in Utah’s Zion National Park.

“It’s going to be a challenging two-day hike where we may cover up to 10 miles each day,” shared Atkinson, who with her boyfriend takes off two weeks each year for well-planned backpacking adventure. “I can’t wait. I love to visit places I’ve never visited before. I look forward to meeting new people, who, like me, want to use their passions to do good.”

Atkinson, on-staff at Duke for six years, will be accompanied by Kristan May, 28, of Roanoke, Virginia. Atkinson met May when she was providing recreation therapy sessions for May’s boyfriend, Jey Tyree, 35, who was at Duke receiving inpatient treatment for leukemia. Tyree lost his battle with leukemia in October 2017. Atkinson and May continued to correspond, cultivating a friendship borne of shared passions and similar interests.

“When Tiffany invited me to participate, I was like ‘Let’s do it!’” shared May. “I always say, ‘Jey taught me how to live. I taught him how to love.’ A true adventurer, an endurance challenge would be right up his alley. We have to stop cancer. That takes researchKristan May and her boyfriend Jey Tyree play a Wii game prescribed by recreation therapist Tiffany Atkinson. Tyree succumbed to leukemia in last fall., and research costs money. These events help.”

As part of the program, Atkinson and May are required to raise at least $5,400 each for LLS. Atkinson, who registered in early February, has already collected $1,000 toward her goal.

“Working in oncology has made me want to live life to the fullest,” she said. “We’re not promised tomorrow. It’s important that we make the most of today.”

Atkinson, May and the many 50 others participating will hike Bryce Canyon June 22 through June 23 where they will ascend the 1,500-foot-high Angels Landing which provides vies of rock faces and the canyon below. They will hike amid geologic features, such as hoodoos, tall columns of weathered rock, and spires. To learn more about The Leukemia and Lymphoma’s Team in Training or to donate to Atkinson, visit Atkinson Team In Training. To donate to May, visit May Team In Training. Atkinson is also hosting Paint Nite. Learn more at Paint For A Cure.