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Three tools make exercise possible for cancer survivors October 18, 2009

Posted by PAS in cancer, research, survivorship, yoga.
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Pilates Girl for PCAGOE

Image by ittybittiesforyou via Flickr

Studies of the benefits of exercise for colorectal cancer survivors all agree on one thing: just do it! Regular exercise during cancer treatments, after surgery and during periods of remission appears to help increase a patient’s sense of well-being, ease side effects and even has been linked to prevention of recurrence.

All good things — but when treatment and surgery knocks your butt firmly onto the couch, how can you possibly follow those recommendations? And how can you avoid feeling guilty on the days when you can’t?

When I was first diagnosed, I was on Folfox + Avastin, a chemo regimen that had me in an infusion chair for two days every other week, followed by sleeping for the better part of 2-3 days as the effects of the infusion wore off. I still worked full-time, on non-infusion days. But when I wasn’t speeding through infusions on decodron and other steroids given to prevent nausea, or working, I was sleeping — especially the weekend following infusions. As I moved from chemo regimen #1 to surgery to chemo #2 to surgery #2 to chemo #3 to radiation + chemo #4 to surgery #3 to chemo #5, the effects of treatment and recovery piled up. Energy during the seven days after an infusion was less than zero. Energy during the off-infusion week was bare minimum, and only if I carefully managed my commitments.

The types of exercise I could do during treatment and can do now during remission are limited by incisions from my xyphoid process to pubic bone and another that cuts under my right rib-cage, by the peristomal hernia on my left side around my colostomy, and by complete lack of energy reserves typical in liver resection patients. Yeah, I know I should exercise — but I am not one for whom exercising helps me push aside fatigue. Far more likely my exhaustion will cause an accident or injury, so I have to be cautious. Safely getting some of that beneficial exercise every day is the perpetual challenge.

Luckily I had three tools at hand that made it possible for me to take advantage of every chance at exercise: television, Google and eBay.

Wait a minute, you’re saying. Those aren’t exercise tools! Ah, but what I discovered in months of being laid up recovering from surgery or flushing chemo out of my body is that there is a wealth of exercise information out in the world aimed at rehabilitation, people with limited movement and people who can’t necessarily do the same kind of cardia and weight lifting that I used to do pre-cancer.

1. Television

I watched my share of QVC, infomercials and late-night TV ads while speeding on decadron during infusions. TV exposed me to variations on pilates, dozens of exercise routines and programs, and some equipment that is easy to maintain and manuever than other machines I’ve used. FitTV and PBS exercise shows let me try-before-buying to find out what type(s) of exercise was comfortable. From those explorations, I moved to:

2. Google

If an exercise program looked like something I could make work from a sitting or laying-down position, I Google’d it. I bookmarked websites, tried out snippets of online routines, checked user reviews. Through all of the advertising venues, I found leads to many exercise resources including:
Sit and Be Fit, the website for the PBS tv show designed to promote healthy aging in seniors with limited mobility
BodyBlade: flexible, weighted bars with exercise DVDs. The shorter, lighter bars are designed for rehabilitation (my physical therapist’s office has an entire wall of BodyBlades in various lengths and weights.)
Pilates (specifically, moving my routine from the Performer machine to an exercise ball, since my Pilates Performer machine is at times too heavy for me to move)
Namaste Yoga, the website for the FitTV program featuring Canadian yoga teacher Kate Potter — who has her own website and a teaching schedule across the country.

3. eBay

Sears isn’t the only place where America shops. Once I’d found the types of exercise DVDs and equipment I wanted to try, I searched eBay. There, I found a second-hand Sport-Blade (similar to the 40″ CXT BodyBlade), complete with DVD and wall chart, for $10. I had taped favorite Namaste episode routines, but an eBay search turned up a full set of six of Potter’s DVDs (two full seasons of the TV series) for $10 plus shipping and handling — less than the cost of one tape from her website. I found a copy of Craig’s Pilates on the Ball in eBay books, in good used condition, for $5 (I picked up an exercise ball at a local Marshalls, but there are exercise balls on eBay, too.) Ultimately, watching Sit and Be Fit episodes on PBS convinced me that I didn’t need to pick up DVDs of that program, but my eBay searches did turn up a second-hand pedal exerciser, a kind of mini-bike I keep under my desk at work. I use it to pedal away stress during long teleconferences and meetings. It cost more in shipping than it cost to buy on eBay; total – $20.

I’ve walked the dogs (mostly) twice every day since diagnosed. But walking my dogs, while it gets me out, isn’t either cardio or balance-reinforcing as much as it’s moving meditation and five minutes morning and evening to put M. through some of her paces. But with the help of television, Google and eBay, I’ve been able to collect the tools to exercise a little bit every day — even when I’m (mostly) flat on my back. Ten minutes of yoga every day, two quarter-mile dog walks, several sets of stairs either at home or at work, a little pedaling during a meeting — I am not running marathons, racing a bike or climbing mountains. But my version of ‘just do(ing) it’ is going to have to do.

Can you exercise while you’re on treatment? What exercise do you choose? How often do you do it?

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1. Twitter Trackbacks for Three tools make exercise possible for cancer survivors « Life Out Loud [gaelenscafe.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com - October 19, 2009

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2. azahar - October 19, 2009

After not exercising at all during the first eight months after my colon resection in May 2008 (this 8-month period included two months on chemo and two more major abdominal surgeries) I finally started back at my Mon-Wed-Fri yoga classes the following January.

Well, when I say I didn’t exercise at all, I did go for walks almost daily. Except during the first 2-3 days after chemo infusions, and of course the first week or so after surgery.

Chemo knocked me flat, and when I went back on chemo April-July due to a recurrence the side effects were even worse than the first time. I am always in awe of people who can work at all during chemo, though I probably could have managed it during the third week of my three-week chemo cycle (one day oxiplatine infusion, two weeks xeloda pills and one “week off”).

I took things quite easy this past August, though I did some travelling and a LOT of walking. And in September I returned to my hour-long yoga classes Mon-Wed-Fri mornings, and also added pilates classes Tues-Thur mornings. As well, I started riding the exercise bike after classes for half an hour. So that means five days a week I spend an hour and a half at the gym, as well as take daily walks. At weekends, just walks.

I should point out that although I am going to yoga and pilates classes, I am not actually able to do all of the exercises during class, though I have noticed a marked improvement since the beginning of September. My instructors are aware of my situation and give me alternatives or I just do my own thing when the rest of the class is, for example, standing on their heads.

That pedal exerciser is a great idea, Gaelen! I have a stationary bike at home, which I should get into the habit of using at weekends, but that little machine is very clever indeed.

As for all those wonderful videos … I’m afraid I’m not as disciplined as you and actually need to go to a place where a real life instructor is telling me what to do. I’ve bought a couple of pilates DVDs and tend to fade out half-way through. Plus just walking to my gym is a bit of extra exercise, and I also get to socialise a bit.

In spite of all of this I remain very overweight – I need to lose at least 50 pounds. But as long as I stay in remission I reckon I should be able to lose about half of that over the next 6-8 months, especially with some diet changes I’ve been working on.

I would recommend to anyone either going through treatment, or recovering from surgery, to remain as active as possible. Even if all you can do is take a walk. But it’s also important to realise and accept one’s limitations at any given time. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for this, and as I think all cancer survivors come to realise, we end up finding our own personal way of coping while using medical advice and other survivors’ experiences as helpful guidelines.

Such as Gaelen’s very informative post today.

3. uberVU - social comments - October 20, 2009

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gaelen2: posted to WP.com: Three tools make exercise possible for cancer survivors http://wp.me/pxOen-4r

4. rotorhead - October 20, 2009

Gaelen-My thoughts on this are likely well-known to you already; I’ll paraphrase them in short: While in treatment, be active when you feel well enough; but when your body is telling you that it ain’t happening, then take care of yourself and listen to it. Your strategy is perfect-you actively sought out a variety of programs, tried many, kept some and stuck with it.

You know what my exercise was-basically anything I could do in the ocean. Some days it was “normal” other days it was at a reduced level, a few times I should have stayed on the couch. Again – when I felt well, I forced myself to get out and be active, and it helped me sleep better, feel better, look better (other than the sunburn on my thinning hair) and mentally be well.

Now I am fortunate to be off chemo and basically back to where I was before treatment, and exercise/activity is just another part of the day.


5. rotorhead - October 20, 2009

Az and Gaelen- and another thing, I count walking, including walking the dogs (my two Bostons) as activity/exercise. Walking is very healthy and burns calories efficiently, and you can do it with a friend.

6. gaelenscafe - October 21, 2009

Trust me, I also give full credit to walking, which was often the only exercise/activity I could manage beyond occasionally climbing the stairs to my second floor.
One thing about those videos (and the TV shows that pointed me to them) — there were many episodes of Namaste Yoga where I could only manage a couple of the poses from the warm-up or cool-down. And in between, I’d meditate to the music and do my isometric ab contractions and deep breathing. One chemo week, I managed five minutes of the actual routine – oh, was I proud of myself!
I confess I feel like a complete slacker when I hear stories of survivors who log miles or hours of exercise on their chemo weeks, who witness that they’re using exercise to beat nausea and/or fatigue. I used to call it a good (chemo) day if I managed to walk the dogs twice instead of standing like a post while they circled around me. More power to them, but for me…ouch!

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