By Brian Mason, PT, DPT
At times, the side effects of cancer treatment can be very debilitating. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other treatments can affect a patient’s activities, leading to weight loss, cancer-related fatigue and worse. Luckily, there are ways to combat some of these side effects to improve vitality and quality of life.
What Causes Frailty in Cancer Patients?
Many cancer patients have trouble eating and absorbing nutrients while undergoing treatment, which can lead to rapid weight loss and decreased mobility. If patients feel unsteady due to side effects, they tend to avoid going out and being social.
Some cancer treatments are purposely aggressive to provide the best chance of survival. As a result, patients can become passive while undergoing treatment and awaiting results. Chemotherapy in particular can affect the nervous system and cause patients to be fearful of engaging in physical activity.
Many studies have shown that movement equals mental stimulation, which is a key component to fighting cancer – and staving off frailty. Several free programs are offered at the Fitness and Wellness Center at CentraState and Star and Barry Tobias Health Awareness Center to help cancer patients regain their strength and alleviate some of the side effects of treatment. These monitored, small group classes encourage social interaction and can help patients feel more confident and remain independent.
- The Cancer Wellness Program aims to keep patients engaged in their own wellness and socially active. Our staff leads participants in general mobility and balance activities that are appropriate for their diagnosis, treatment protocol and progress in their cancer journey.
- Yoga and Tai Chi classes address balance issues through low-impact movements. These integrative therapies enhance the mind-body connection while helping individuals to combat stress, build energy and boost immunity. Classes are held one to two times a week and are safe for all ages and fitness levels.
- Sound Journey seeks to help revitalize one’s body and balance one’s energy through breathing, dancing, and listening to healing sounds. Participants get to release tension and deepen their inner joy in a playful and freeing way as they move to the rhythms of African and Native American music and the melodies of Eastern cultures during this unique class.
- Chronic Disease Self-Management is designed for those living with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, heart or lung disease, and those who care for them. This free, six-week course provides skills to improve one’s outlook, life and well-being. This class is open to caregivers even if the one they care for is not able to participate.
- Health Coaching provides specific guidance in the areas that are important– nutrition, fitness, boosting a positive outlook and dealing with a chronic condition. Our health coaches, some of whom are nurses, are health and wellness experts and can provide participants with the support they need.
Benefits of Exercise During Cancer Treatment
Studies have shown that breast cancer patients who participate in moderate physical activity, such as walking at a rate of 2.5 miles per hour for 30 minutes each day, have a 44 percent improvement in recovery. Our programs are appropriate for patients with a variety of diagnoses and, in general, can:
- Decrease fatigue and increase energy
- Reduce depression
- Maintain physical independence
- Improve quality of life
- Reduce the side effects related to treatment
- Maintain muscle, heart and lung health and function
About a year ago, a patient undergoing cancer treatment joined our yoga class. While she completed the program several months ago, she continues to join us each week because the class provides physical activity, social interaction, and, perhaps more importantly, it provides spiritual support and hope.
If you’re beginning to feel like you’re losing physical function and strength due to your treatment regimen, talk to your doctor. To join these programs, you’ll need a referral from a physician. Then, our specially trained staff will assess your balance, range of motion and overall strength to determine which programs will provide the most benefit.
Brian Mason, PT, DPT, is the clinical director of Rehabilitation Services at CentraState Medical Center. He can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.