Live Your Best Life

by Denise Walker

Cancer takes away a person’s dignity and control. These are the true facts of living with a cancer diagnosis.

Following surgery and treatment there are numerous debilitating side effects that cancer patients often experience, including:

• Cognitive changes

• Fatigue

• Loss of range of motion

• Changes in organ function

• Changes in taste and smell

• Difficulty swallowing

• Problems with balance and dizziness

• Pain

• Hair loss

• Appetite changes

• Depression

• Lymphedema

Many cancer patients think that they have to live with all of the side effects.

When I received my personal trainer certification a few years back, my very first client was a friend from high school. During her initial assessment I learned that she was a breast cancer survivor, struggling with a range of motion issues and other side effects. 

I thought, ‘Wow! I am not going to be able to train her like I originally planned.’ So, I did some research and found a book by Andrea Leonard on helping to train cancer survivors. I developed a program specifically for her to help reduce the side effects from her treatment and surgeries.

As a personal trainer, it’s good to find your niche. I did more research and discovered there was a cancer exercise specialist certification. I had found my niche!

I was surprised to realize that many doctors don’t promote exercise during cancer treatment,  and some patients said that their doctors never mentioned it at all. 

This is something that we are working very hard to change. Exercise has so many benefits, and even more so for those who are undergoing cancer treatment or who are survivors.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says being inactive can diminish body function and lead to muscle weakness and a reduced range of motion. Exercise benefits during cancer treatment include:
• Improved physical abilities

• Improvesd balance and lower risk of falls and broken bones

• Prevents muscles from wasting due to inactivity

• Lowered risk of heart disease

• Lessened risk of osteoporosis

• Improved blood flow to legs and lowered risk of blood clots

• Less dependence on others for help with normal activities of daily living

• Improved self-esteem

• Lowered risk of anxiety and depression

• Less nausea

• Improved ability to keep social contacts

• Lessened symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)

• Improved control of weight

• Improved quality of life

The Cancer Oncology Society of Australia has issued formal guidelines recommending exercise as treatment for all cancer patients, the first recommendation of its kind in oncology:

All people with cancer should avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following diagnosis (i.e. be as physically active as current abilities and conditions allow).

All people with cancer should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain participation in:

• At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week.

• Two to three resistance exercise (i.e. lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups.

• Exercise recommendations should be tailored to the individuals abilities noting that specific exercise programming adaptations may be required for people with cancer based on disease and treatment-related adverse effects, anticipated disease trajectory and their health issues.

• Accredited exercise psychologists and physiotherapists are the most appropriate health professionals to prescribe and deliver exercise programs to people with cancer.

• All health professionals involved in the care of people with cancer have an important role in promoting these recommendations.

Health professionals often fail to discuss lymphadema with cancer patients. Lymphedema is swelling caused by the excess buildup of fluid under the skin, and is often caused when lymph nodes are removed or damaged. 

The lymph nodes act as a filter for waste. When the lymph nodes are damaged or blocked, lymphatic fluid may accumulate beneath the skin and cause gradual swelling. This can be particularly problematic for cancer patients. Regular exercise to help drain the lymphatic system is required, but cancer patients need to know how to do these exercises in such a way that it does not actually cause the lymphedema.

Cancer Exercise Specialists are trained to help people who have had many different types of cancer overcome and even reverse issues involving range of motion and posture, minimize side effects of treatment, and help to focus awareness and prevention of lymphedema by:

• Conducting and interpreting the results of postural and range of motion assessments 

• Creating an individualized exercise program 

• Helping with motivation to start and continue an exercise program

Many of the agonizing problems which plague cancer patients can be reversed.

Starting and maintaining an exercise program after cancer diagnosis results in patients who are stronger both mentally and physically. Various studies mention increase stamina, increased functional capacity, strength, self-esteem, and proves treatment tolerance, and satisfaction with life, and decreased pains. Increased physical activity has been associated with less fatigue during and after chemotherapy and radiation. 

Many patients are able to reach new heights in strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular conditioning, even with a lack of physical activity prior to surgery. 

I am proud to of the work I’ve done to develop several programs which will help local cancer patients and survivors to Live Their Best Life by seeing the benefits of exercise through treatment and to lessen the side effects of a cancer diagnosis.

I want it to be known that cancer patients do not have to live with limited range of motion, poor posture, neck and back pain, lymphedema, chronic fatigue, etc. Let me help you live your best life!