Since she was a young college student, Survivor Fitness board member Marriah Mabe felt a calling to work with cancer patients. This special calling has led to a career defined by her compassion and sense of duty to serve others.
After moving from Maryville to Memphis, Marriah graduated from the social work program at the University of Tennessee while her husband attended medical school. After completing her studies, she was hired as a social worker in the survivorship program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work at St. Jude,” said Marriah. “That’s where I fell in love with supporting patients and families through the journey of diagnosis and treatment—really even the survivorship piece is where my heart is.”
Today, Marriah works with cancer patients and their families at one of only a few dozen proton beam therapy clinics in the United States.
Most people are familiar with radiology as an integral part of cancer care. After all, nearly one out of every two cancer patients will undergo some form of radiation therapy. Among those patients, only a small sub-group qualifies for proton beam therapy—a procedure in which protons are separated from hydrogen atoms, sped up in a particle accelerator, and used to destroy tumor cells while minimizing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.
What may sound like science fiction to some has been a life-saving treatment for others since 1954. But due to its high cost—a single proton beam therapy machine can cost upwards of $200 million—proton therapy clinics are a rare commodity.
That’s why patients travel from far and wide to receive treatment in Knoxville. Away from home and facing a life-threatening diagnosis, patients can rely on Marriah and her colleagues for the support they need.
“We have a lot of patients from three hours away or even further,” said Marriah. “Transportation, housing, and other basic needs is where I come in to help patients overcome the barriers to getting here and getting treated.”
Aside from the logistics of traveling for treatment, Marriah provides encouragement and emotional support during a difficult medical journey.
“I’m here to be a resource for them, even if it’s just somebody to talk to while they’re with us in Knoxville,” Marriah explained.
It was a proton therapy patient who introduced Marriah Mabe to Survivor Fitness, which operates in Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga. Today, she proudly serves on its board of directors to help cancer patients bridge the gap between remission and recovery.
“While a diagnosis is shocking and overwhelming, options to move forward are put in front of you,” said Marriah. “After treatment, patients go from running 100 miles per hour to feeling like they’re doing nothing—a sense of losing control that catches people off guard.”
“They think life will get back to normal, but normally can look very different for different people,” she continued. “Many patients struggle because they want to find a way to contribute to their health moving forward, but they’re not sure how to get started.”
That’s where Survivor Fitness comes in by connecting patients with qualified professionals for customized, one-on-one fitness training and nutritional guidance.
By reclaiming their physical health, survivors build confidence and feel empowered to reclaim the lives they led before being diagnosed and treated.
“It’s a great thing to help patients regain that sense of control,” said Marriah. “Besides the benefits of exercise, one of the best benefits of Survivor Fitness is how it connects survivors with one another. Even if it’s just one person, discovering that you’re not the only one going through the challenges of survivorship can be a huge piece in knowing things will be okay.”
Marriah Mabe, LCSW, is an oncology social worker at Provision CARES Proton Therapy in Knoxville, Tennessee where she oversees the clinic’s Art Therapy Program, serves as chair of the Provision CARES Ethics Committee, and leads the Pediatric Program Committee.