As a patient I have read scores and scores of material about how exercise helps increase patients’ ability to fight cancer and helps prevent recurrence. That’s great. Right? I mean it puts something in the control of the patient. Right?
Well, let’s just say, there’s more to think about. The road to recovery in itself can be debilitating. Many have surgeries with resulting scar tissue, and then begin chemo as soon as possible, if not before the surgery, and some have radiation before, after, or during the chemo. And then there’s recovery from the recovery which has quite often left the patient as small lump of who they were before.
That’s the way it was for me anyway. Prior to my cancer battle, I was an athlete, exercising quite a bit and very healthy except for the cancer of course (and there was too much stress in my life admittedly). So when I see these articles, it’s just infuriating. Let me explain ….
Chemo, along with the psychological trauma depleted me, with my first bout of cancer. I was sick and unmotivated. And then Avastin made me feel like I had rheumatoid arthritis and I ached and ached. As I was just starting to feel better I had to do a second battle for a different cancer. This time my stamina was demolished and my muscles were so atrophied. I was like “scush” (yes that’s my own word) on the couch. Along with the significant scarring from surgery, my body image plummeted and I honestly could not figure out how to even start again.
I give sincere thanks for proof that exercise is a significant factor in fighting cancer. But right now, in my experience, it’s only amounting to academic papers and statistics for most oncologists. Honestly, couldn’t the field of oncology do better about paying attention to what is really going on with their patients? Not one time did a medical or surgical or radiation oncologist suggest physical therapy. Not once! And it would have helped me and I am sure it would help many.
I finally did go to an integrative oncologist. After, complaining profusely about my loss of physical ability (and honestly, for me, some of my identity with that), and the painful scar tissue, she recommended physical therapy for reconditioning. What a thought! Thank you! Thank you Dr. Laurie Herscher! It started me on my way. I was able to complete the PT and then transition to the gym where I continue to regain strength and stamina. My sense of well being is starting to move as well.
But I can tell you that I don’t understand why this isn’t standard course of action, for an oncologist to offer their patients. Many could benefit tremendously with some sort of therapy during and after chemotherapy and radiation, and to help recover from surgeries. I have read volumes on how oncologists consider quality of life, but besides not ever asking me what I thought mine was, not one ever suggested physical therapy as an adjunct to chemo or radiation, or as a transitional step after treatment and reaching remission to actually live my life again.
I remember when my last chemo was finished and my blood count was actually normal, I tried to run. I couldn’t run, and was seriously afraid of falling! Before chemo, I could have run a mile at a drop of hat. I was stunned and it was a devastating feeling. Was I never going to be able to run again? I wasn’t old enough for that.
I realize that maybe before treatment many people may not able to run, but I am sure patients commonly feel this way about some physical aspect of their lives during and after treatment. They are weaker, less coordinated, feel unsteady, have less control over balance, and less stamina. Equally, there are many people in chemo or radiation, that may not be able to exercise during treatment, and some patients are not in good physical shape to begin with, but it matters.
Supporting physical therapy should be offered and encouraged if the patient is able. Exercise does boost the immune system, and helps the patient psychologically with feeling like they have some control, like they have a way to combat this thing, or that they are making their way back to whatever their normalcy was.
There is also a lot of written material produced by experts about how important life changes are, like transitioning to a healthier diet, incorporating meditation into a daily routine, and exercising. These are all proven to help with recovery from cancer and in preventing recurrence. But again, for many surgical, radiation, and medical oncologists, once a patient has reached remission, they forget the rest, or they are simply focused on their expertise along the way, and not on helping the patient help themselves.
Maybe oncologists don’t understand themselves what the chemo is doing. Oh they get it by watching the cancer markers, and the white and red blood cell counts and the hemoglobin, and liver enzymes, but I mean on a personal level. Do they really understand what it translates to in a patient’s life? Getting to remission is more than just awesome, but there’s a lot more to recover from. Cancer can leave a massive wake …..
Chemotherapy and radiation themselves are awful (though currently necessary) methods used in medicine. They are poisons. So from the aspect of the oath, “Do no harm,” oncologists should take a step further and incorporate recovery from cancer recovery into their standard course of care. Remission is a terrific and hopefully reached goal, but the possibility of reaching remission could be enhanced and regaining a quality of life that is meaningful should be considered. Help the patient exercise!
Exercise does boost the immune system and it’s ability to naturally fight cancer, so oncologists this is your call. Help your patients during their fight and help them recover more fully. And patients, if your oncologist doesn’t offer it, push for it! It makes a difference.