Here is an inspirational story about how exercise has helped improve the lives of some enthusiastic cancer survivors from Texas:
Specialized workouts help keep cancer patients in fighting shapePosted Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2012
By Jan Jarvis – Star-Telegram
After working out for 30 minutes with a trainer and then walking two miles on the treadmill, Linda Wood was more than exhausted.
“Oh, I think I died,” she told her son when he asked her how her workout went.
There’s a heavy dose of irony in the 64-year-old’s glib remark. Since last year, she has been living with follicular lymphoma, a slow-growing but incurable type of cancer. She also has papillary thyroid cancer.
But instead of giving in to the disease and hanging out on the couch, Wood has turned into a health nut who exercises daily and follows a nutritious diet.
“I don’t have any control over my cancer, but this is something I can do,” she said. “It gives me the feeling that I am doing whatever is possible to be as healthy as I can.”
Wood is among a growing number of survivors who are turning to exercise as a way to help them cope with cancer and all the challenges that go with it. They’re not giving up on chemo or tossing out conventional treatments, but they are exercising as a way to help them deal with the side effects and improve their long-term survival. Some are trying yoga to relieve stress and increase flexibility; others are swimming, walking or running to improve their stamina and fitness level.
Area organizations are reaching out to cancer patients by offering exercise programs, nutrition counseling, meditation classes and psychological support, geared for the special needs of those living with a life-threatening disease.
The Moncrief Cancer Institute, the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, the YMCA, Baylor All Saints Medical Center, and Cancer Care Services are among the organizations that offer programs to survivors, even after their treatment ends.
“This community has recognized a need for post-treatment care and sought to provide it,” said Stephanie McLaughlin, a cancer exercise specialist who works with survivors. “It’s doing an awesome job of making services available to help cancer survivors live a healthy life.”
Tailoring the workouts
It’s 6:45 a.m. when a group of sleepy-eyed exercise enthusiasts drag themselves to the weight management program at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Their hourlong workout includes cardio and core and resistance training to build strength, increase stamina and improve flexibility. Despite the early hour, participants are devoted to the workout.
Wood is among those who rarely miss a class, no matter how tired she is. The support she gets is extremely important and makes a big difference in her life, she said.
At the Moncrief Cancer Institute, survivors work with a trainer and get nutrition counseling to help them after a devastating diagnosis. But getting on with life after their cancer treatment ends is fraught with challenges.
Being diagnosed with cancer is certainly anxiety-provoking, but then patients get to work fighting the disease and that’s their focus, said Dr. Keith Argenbright, medical director for Moncrief Cancer Institute.
“Once they are done with their medical treatment, there’s a real void in their lives,” he said. “It is second in anxiety levels only to the time when they were actually diagnosed.”
Any exercise program has to be tailored for each cancer survivor’s specific needs, which can vary greatly, McLaughlin said.
“There’s not a mold for cancer survivors,” she said.
Some are doing quite well physically, but they need motivation and guidance getting back to their routine after treatment, McLaughlin said. Others have never exercised before and need to learn how.
“This may be the first time they’ve done stretches,” she said. “The class helps them learn how to safely exercise after cancer.”
Side effects from treatment also must be considered in deciding what type of exercises are going to be most beneficial or how they can be modified to meet the individual’s needs, McLaughlin said.
Beyond the benefits of exercise, the classes help participants regain their confidence and self-esteem as well as bond with others who understand what they are going through.
Janet Pierce began the exercise program at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders after being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2011. She also attended a nutrition class at Moncrief Cancer Center and began following a plant-based diet. Since then, she has lost 47 pounds. But it’s the support she gets from others in her class that has been so important to her.
“I really value the friendships I have made with other cancer survivors in the exercise program,” she said. “It would have been much harder to fit into a class with people who had not experienced the side effects of medication and treatment.”
After she had surgery to remove a tumor the size of a football, followed by chemotherapy, exercising was not a top priority for Sheryl Nichols.
“Chemo makes you extremely tired,” said Nichols, who was treated for Stage IV ovarian cancer. “There were days when I could barely walk.”
Despite her exhaustion, Nichols started exercising and recently started the LIVESTRONG program at the YMCA.
“After I started going, my blood counts went up,” she said. “Soon, I was walking a mile.”
Since then, Nichols has become an enthusiast.
“Exercising makes me feel so much better,” Nichols said. “It has uplifted my spirits.”
Jackee Cox was once a self-described desk and couch potato, but that changed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and then began exercising through Moncrief’s Survivorship Program.
After she started training with light weights and working out, her energy level, zest for living and mental focus improved.
“When I graduated from the Moncrief Center in January, my formerly flabby arms had definition and muscle and I had better muscle tone all over,” she said.
After being treated for breast cancer last year, Kristi Evans discovered that a new yoga class at Baylor All Saints Medical Center was just what she needed to help her relax and do something good for herself.
“It makes me stronger,” she said. “When you are diagnosed, you feel so out of control, but with yoga I feel like I have gained control of my body.”
It’s not surprising that yoga, with its emphasis on relaxation and mindfulness, is such a good fit for those who have been diagnosed with cancer.
“Cancer survivors face anxiety, depression, fatigue and stress,” said Dr. Asad Dean, a Fort Worth oncologist. “Yoga can really help with their quality of life.”
It also gives people a sense of empowerment, Dean said.
“It’s a way of taking a proactive step,” he said. “There’s a feeling of gaining control over the cancer.”
A growing number of doctors are prescribing exercise to cancer patients for reasons that go beyond the physical benefits.
“It helps fight anxiety and depression,” McLaughlin said. “As they get their strength back and improve physically, they recover emotionally, too.”
There’s plenty of research supporting the value of exercise for everyone, but for cancer survivors, it takes on even more significance.
Structured activities have been proved to reduce risk of reoccurrence, Argenbright said.
“Most of the studies have been done on breast cancer, but there is definitely proof that exercise can prevent a reoccurrence,” he said.
Being active for at least 30 minutes every day has been proved to protect against breast, endometrial and colon cancers, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Increasingly, research has shown that women who are overweight at the time of their breast cancer diagnosis and who gain weight during treatment face a higher likelihood of breast cancer reoccurrence and have worse survival rates.
In studies of women with breast cancer, yoga has been shown to reduce fatigue and improve quality of sleep, physical vitality and overall quality of life. One M.D. Anderson Cancer Center study found that women who took a yoga class twice a week reported having more energy, less daytime sleepiness and better physical functioning.
But cancer survivors don’t need studies to prove that exercise can make a big difference in quality of life.
Pierce, for one, has the proof she needs.
“Despite my dire diagnosis, I feel and look better than I have in years and my blood work and scans have shown large decreases in tumor size and activity,” she said. “This may be entirely due to medication, but my hope is that improved physical health and nutrition will help sustain that improvement until cancer research comes up with something better.”
Good for them! I know exercise makes a huge difference in my life. I have a good friend who has undergone the same three chemo cocktail therapy regimen I am enduring right now.
This gentleman is overweight and lives a very sedentary life. He basically stayed in bed for six months while he received treatment. It isn’t easy, but I get out and walk each and every day. I swim three or four times a week and also lift light weights (I am restricted from heavy lifting due to bone damage caused by my bone marrow cancer) whenever I get a chance.
It isn’t always easy. But because I “push my way through it all” and keep moving, I am able to live a relatively normal, active life–despite the chemotherapy.
So exercise works! Best of luck to all–and don’t forget to feel good, keep smiling AND keep moving! Pat