The traditional wisdom has always been that patients and survivors should get as much rest as possible. Just relax until your body heals completely. Rushing back into an active lifestyle could actually jeopardize your health. But exercise for cancer patients can be as important as medical treatment and nutrition.
Recent studies suggest increased physical activity is precisely what the body needs – both during cancer treatment and afterward, in recovery. Regular exercise not only results in higher survival rates post diagnosis, it also reduces the likelihood of cancer returning during the remission stages.
So what are the best exercises for cancer patients? Not surprisingly, many of the best exercises are similar to those you enjoy while healthy.
Exercise During Cancer Treatment: Building Flexibility, Strength, and Endurance
Aerobic training (i.e. running, jugging, swimming, biking)
Strength training (i.e. weight lifting, pushups, sit-ups)
Ideally, you should follow the above routines 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes each session. But it’s important that you not overexert yourself – especially during the early stages. Start slowly at first and give your energy levels and muscle tissue time to adjust to the training. As your fatigue goes away and your body becomes stronger, it’s safe to scale up accordingly.
When Is the Best Time to Begin Exercising During Cancer Treatment?
Believe it or not, the best time to jump back into exercise is right now. It’s not simply that physical training is beneficial. Prolonged inactivity is actually detrimental to the cancer treatment and recovery processes.
But before jumping in, make sure you consult with your physician about any potential risks that exercise might pose. Every case is unique. And there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that could delay one’s transition back into an active lifestyle. However, in the majority of instances, the “health” risks that cancer patients and survivors face are no different than those faced by the general population. Sprains, stiffness, and soreness represent the biggest potential obstacles for most.
Whole grains, fresh vegetables, seasonal fruits, and lean protein (i.e. chicken and fish) are critical components of a healthy lifestyle.
Getting lots of sleep will help your muscles heal more quickly in between each training session.
While exercise for cancer patients can help maintain strength and flexibility, your body needs time to recover, especially given the stresses of treatment. Remember, even when it comes exercise, cancer may require you to make lifestyle changes. Pace yourself. Listen to your body.
Need More Cancer-related Exercise and Training Advice?
Have more questions about safe exercise routines during the cancer treatment or recovery process? Contact us today to schedule a consultation. We’ll discuss exercise, nutrition, and other aspects of an integrative cancer treatment program.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout the month, there are breast cancer awareness events, charity walks, fundraisers, and open houses happening all over the country (see here for a partial list). Below are some of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month events in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Upcoming Breast Cancer Awareness Month Events in NoVa
Hosted by the American Cancer Society, Making Strides is an annual walk held in cities across the nation. This year, there will be an organized walk in Richmond, VA on October 20. Click here to participate or donate.
Walk for Awareness
Hosted by the Women Veterans Committee of Richmond’s McGuire VA Medical Center, Walk for Awareness is a free event open to civilians and active duty personnel alike. Held this year on October 18, the Walk helps to bring attention to how breast cancer affects everyone – even our brave women in uniform. Click here for more information.
DC United Auction
For you sports fans out there, DC United will auction off game memorabilia to help raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. For more information about how to get involved during this month-long campaign, click here.
Bras for Hope Breast Cancer Awareness Party
Belle Mode Intimates is a professional bra-fitting & lingerie boutique. They’ll host their annual “Bras for Hope” Breast Cancer Awareness Party Oct. 27, 12pm – 6pm at their Fairfax Corner location. Belle Mode is also offering bra-recycling throughout October. Foreach bra recycled, customers receive a promotional discount coupon to use at the Breast Cancer Awareness party. Learn more at www.facebook.com/BelleModeIntimates.
More Breast Cancer Awareness Activities in Northern Virginia?
This brief list only scratches the surface. There are countless Breast Cancer Awareness Month events all over the greater DC metro area. For a more complete schedule of upcoming events, check out this page on the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation’s website.
With cautious optimism, you can finally celebrate the fact that you’re a cancer survivor.
Now begins the recovery process.
But for many, this recovery can last longer and be more difficult than the cancer treatment itself.
How do you transition back into a normal life?
In fact, what does “normal” even mean now?
There is no universal roadmap or timeline, and “normal” means different things to different people. But you can lean on the collective experience of those who preceded you and learn how to set reasonable expectations of the days and months ahead.
What Emotions Can You Expect after Treatment?
Every cancer recovery is unique, with reactions covering the full range of emotional expressions:
Some experience jubilation, having just survived an incredibly trying ordeal. They greet each sunrise with renewed hope and gratitude.
Others experience depression. The cancer and treatment became such permanent fixtures in their lives that their sudden absence creates a void.
And then you have countless stages of relief and grief in between these 2 extremes.
The only common element is uncertainty as you face an unknown future – often without the 24/7 medical support to which you’ve grown accustomed.
Overcoming latent fears is not something you can rush. The recovery process is as much psychological as it is physical. Give your mind time to heal and recognize all emotions as perfectly acceptable.
What Is a “Normal” Life After Cancer Treatment?
The concept of “normal” is as varied as the range of potential emotions.
Many cancer survivors approach the future with reservations, taking baby steps as they slowly reconstruct their former lives.
Others throw themselves full force into activities they abandoned during treatment. Eager to make up for lost time, they embrace new challenges and opportunities.
And still others redefine what normal means by dedicating their lives to helping others – especially fellow cancer patients. They derive new meaning from the simple act of giving back.
However you choose to define normal, it’s important that you remain future-oriented.
This doesn’t mean suppressing or ignoring the past. Doing so is both unrealistic and unhealthy.
But you should make plans for tomorrow, next week, and next month. Activities can be as insignificant as movie dates with friends or as involved as major home improvement projects.
The point is, future-oriented thinking is what gives our lives purpose. Decide what you want to achieve and map out the necessary steps for realizing those goals.
Handling Future Visits, Tests, and Treatments
For many cancer survivors, the most stressful aspect of remission is continued treatment. Each visit to the doctor’s office brings a new wave of emotions and uncertainty as they wait to hear updates.
The best ways to prepare yourself for continued visits include:
creating an action-plan with your physician – a timetable of tests, goals, and expectations over the course of your treatment
mapping out contingencies that include both best and worst case scenarios
sharing all relevant information, including any symptoms or pharmaceutical side effects you may be experiencing. Communication is absolutely critical to the healing process
avoiding going to the doctor’s by yourself. Instead, schedule future visits with close friends or family members by your side
The above are a process – not 1-time actions. Be prepared to reassess your recovery needs periodically and develop new timetables as necessary.
Handling Social and Work Relationships
As you return to social and work settings, you might notice an interesting trend.
Those who were mostsupportive during your treatment are often ill-equipped to offer continued support during the recovery process itself. They don’t know what to do or say once the crisis has been averted.
Do they avoid all cancer-related topics in your presence or should they discuss your treatment and recovery openly?
This social uncertainty suddenly thrusts you in the position of having to put others at ease. Some survivors outwardly put on a happy face and exude confidence – even when such emotions aren’t warranted.
There are 2 important things to remember:
Surrounding yourself with a supportive and loving social network is critical. If continued interaction with colleagues and friends proves stressful, then reach out to other cancer survivors or anonymous support groups.
Decide what you need and approach friends, family members, and co-workers on your own terms. Don’t feel pressure to act (or not act) in a way that runs counter to your needs.
Have More Questions about What to Expect after Cancer Treatment?
Every year, thousands of cancer patients beat the odds only to discover that many of the most difficult challenges still lay ahead.
Recovery is not an easy process.
But just know that you’re not alone on this journey. If you need help or have additional questions about what to expect during remission, contact us today.
Through our series on Cancer Caregivers, we’ve been exploring the role caregivers play in supporting a person undergoing cancer care. We looked at cancer caregivers as communicators and as decision makers. Today, we’re focusing on caregivers as a provider of hands-on care.
For many caregivers, helping the patient with pain and symptom management is daily part of providing care. You may be asked to dispense pain medication or remind the patient to take a scheduled dose. You might also help refill medications and pick up prescriptions. It’s important to keep careful records of which medicines the patient has taken and when.
The side effects of treatment – both during and after treatment – can be an immense burden for the patient to bear. Common side effects and symptoms may include:
Fatigue or drowsiness
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
Anxiety or stress
Often, a patient is homebound or has been discharged from a healthcare facility when these symptoms manifest. Doctors and nurses aren’t always on-hand to alleviate these conditions. It falls on the patient and his or her caregivers to cope with the physical and emotional fallout during and after treatment and as the disease progresses.
Resources for Cancer Caregivers
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health provides resources for understanding the symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment. Consider these helpful tools if you are a cancer caregiver helping a patient with hands-on care:
This post is part of our series on cancer caregivers and the roles they play. In our last post, we examined the cancer caregiver’s role as a communicator. Today we’re looking at another important role for caregivers: Decision maker.
After a cancer diagnosis, there are numerous decisions that need to be made. Medical care, finances, end-of-life decisions – it seems every decision is a big one. Patients may lean heavily on caregivers for help in making these decisions. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Luckily, there are those who can help caregivers understand the options. Doctors, caregivers, and patients all play a role in making decisions.
Cancer patients have many information needs. They want to know about staying healthy, tests and treatments, side effects and symptoms, and emotional issues. Gathering information is one way caregivers help in the decision-making process.
Cancer caregivers and patients often look at sources beyond their doctor for additional information, second opinions, and alternative viewpoints. It’s common for patients and their families to do the following:
Search the Internet for information about a specific cancer and its treatment.
Join cancer forums to learn from cancer survivors.
Read sources they previously wouldn’t consider if those sources suggest a possible cure.
Not all sources of cancer info are credible. Good sources of cancer information include government agencies, cancer centers, medical journals and cancer organizations. The Cancer Treatment Library created by Natural Horizons has links to resources we’ve evaluated for credibility and trustworthiness.
There’s a lot of cancer information out there, some of it credible and some not. Doctors, research groups, Internet sites – who do you trust? Which information is relevant? Which is a red herring? How do you sort fact from myth?
Information from outside sources can be confusing or misleading. It may conflict with what your doctor said. Sometimes it’s just plain wrong. A caregiver needs a keen eye for evaluating information and identifying credible resources to help with decision making.
Consider the source. If you use the Web, look for an “about us” page. Check to see who runs the site: Is it a branch of the government, a university, a health organization, a hospital or a business?
Focus on quality. Does the site have an editorial board? Is the information reviewed before it is posted?
Be skeptical. Things that sound too good to be true often are. You want current, unbiased information based on research
At some point, a cancer caregiver may need to make medical and financial decisions. This is a big responsibility. Some of the factors to consider:
Did the patient sign an Advance Medical Directive indicating treatment preferences?
Has the patient signed a Power of Attorney for Health Care statement?
If an Advance Directive is not in place, are you prepared to authorize a medical intervention?
Based on your familiarity with the patient, would s/he want this intervention?
Have you considered alternatives such as palliative care?
What are the faith/religious preferences of the patient? What would s/he want in light of these beliefs?
What are the financial factors that may influence medical decisions (e.g., limited medical coverage)?
Is the decision being influenced by someone who doesn’t want to spend money on the patient’s care?
Questions a caregiver can ask the doctor before authorizing a treatment or intervention:
What is the likelihood of a recovery or improvement after the treatment?
Will the patient be able to regain lost capacity?
What is the likelihood of death within six months, even if treatment continues?
Will the treatment be a benefit to the patient, or will it cause distress?
What are the healthcare facility’s policies and procedures regarding the intervention that is being considered?
None of these decisions are easy, and they can be stressful on cancer caregivers. Don’t be afraid to seek help and support while caring for a cancer patient. Understanding the decisions you’ll be asked to make, and your role in the decision-making process, can help prepare you for the task.