Forward Motion

Exercise programs prove beneficial for cancer patients.

LENA HUANG
PUBLISHED: 1:00 AM, THU JUNE 12, 2008
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
Ben Lauderdale has lost a lot to cancer. Ten years ago, he lost his wife to lymphoma, and in 2001, he lost a kidney to metastatic bladder cancer. But at age 80, plagued by gout and neuropathy, Lauderdale says he found some hope in the strangest of places—in a small, simple room filled with equipment at the First Christian Church in Tyler, Texas. But it wasn’t religion he found—it was exercise.  

“It gives me incentive. It helps my circulation and my balance. And I can’t tell you how, but it aids my day. If I miss one day, I don’t feel as well,” Lauderdale says.

As the physical and mental benefits of exercise are being realized by survivors like Lauderdale and are being confirmed through scientific studies and research, exercise programs across the country are emerging to meet the unique needs of people with cancer.

The Tyler program, developed by the nonprofit Cancer Foundation For Life, or CFFL, is a free exercise program to rehabilitate cancer patients in and out of treatment. While patients often come to CFFL to alleviate side effects or to rehabilitate from chemotherapy or radiation, they often leave with much more—a positive mental outlook and a sense of empowerment, says founder Gary Kimmel, MD.

“You can’t take someone who is debilitated, bald, with neuropathy, and put them in a fitness center with a bunch of young, fit people,” says Dr. Kimmel, a retired oncologist who established CFFL in 2001. “Cancer patients have to have the right environment. They have to have ownership because that way, they can share their experiences together. They are able to empower each other, to achieve levels of activity perhaps never conceived of because they are next to someone who has been through chemotherapy and radiation, who regained their strength, vitality, and quality of life. This program model is extremely effective.” 

In Seattle at the Swedish Cancer Institute, ACTIVE (Addressing Cancer Through Individualized Exercise) medical director David Zucker, MD, PhD, sees how personal empowerment through exercise can help patients rehabilitate from cancer.

“When someone gets cancer, it is often the first time that person realizes, ‘Mortality applies to me.’ … Some people describe it as being in a free fall,” says Dr. Zucker. “Often, the only thing that person has to hang on to is the cancer diagnosis. And while it is important for patients to pay attention to treatment, it is equally important for them to pay attention to the billions and billions of healthy cells in their body. Exercise gives those healthy cells attention.”

As a rehabilitation physician and clinical psychologist for patients with cancer, Dr. Zucker says most of his patients experience fatigue, alone or with other side effects, such as pain, nausea, anxiety, and depression. And while treatments exist for each side effect, exercise is one treatment that spans over several side effects.

“We have seen a physical confidence in our patients, an understanding of the side effects of treatment and how to use exercise to cope with them well,” Dr. Zucker says, adding participants also report improved tolerance to treatment, reduced fatigue, improved mood, better sleep, less pain, and improved tolerance or ability to participate in everyday activities since attending the program.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
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