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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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Yoga Bear helps cancer survivors: The Collective | Stories About Movement | Nau.com August 21, 2009

Posted by PAS in cancer, survivorship, yoga.
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Everyone always asks a cancer patient, how can I help? What can I do? Or they offer — if there’s ever anything you need, please don’t hesitate to call.

Okay, I’m calling…and I’m asking for help. 😉

I’ve posted before about Yoga Bear, which recently won a social media makeover as part of a competition I wrote about in May. My friends at YogaBear are now in the running for a $10,000 grant being offered by Nau.com ‘s Grants4Change program. Halle Tecco, founder of YogaBear, would like to extend YB’s Share-a-mat program, which provides free yoga classes to cancer survivors throughout the U.S. into The Healing Yoga Project, where yoga instructors would be able to offer gentle yoga programs directly to hospitalized patients.

Here’s Halle’s story: Halle Tecco

Halle has changed the lives of thousands of cancer survivors through founding and running Yoga Bear, a national non-profit focused on wellness and healing for the cancer community.

Yoga Bear’s flagship program, the Share A Mat campaign, matches cancer survivors with an introduction to yoga through free passes to over 170 partner yoga studios nationwide. Over $80,000 worth of yoga passes have been distributed to cancer survivors in 25 states.

Next for Halle is the Healing Yoga Project, which brings the healing power of yoga into hospitals and directly to cancer patients receiving treatment. Yoga may manage the symptoms of cancer treatment, both physically and emotionally, and Yoga Bear works with those who need it most.

You don’t need money to help this cause. Just visit Nau.com at the links below, create a free account and vote for Halle and Yoga Bear. Voting ends on August 31, and candidates must have at least 100 votes to be considered for the grant. So if you’d really like to help cancer survivors help themselves, let’s help Halle and YogaBear create a hospital extension program to bring healing yoga to more patients. Click on this link:

The Collective | Stories About Movement | Nau.com

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More on the journey to recovery with yoga May 31, 2009

Posted by PAS in cancer, survivorship, yoga.
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I mentioned yesterday that, just out of surgery, I began exploring yoga to help me with balance, strength and endurance. It was my third abdominal surgery–which meant a healing incision from my navel to pubic bone along the original incision from my anterior perineal resection (APR) in 2005. I didn’t want to do anything that would risk my $125K tummy tuck–but I had to get strong enough to at least be able to walk the dogs!

The waterwheel series by Kate Potter, one warmup from her FitTV series “Namaste Yoga,” was a favorite practice that I still do at least once a week. All but one of the moves in the last few seconds of this very short video are things even someone who is just beginning surgical recovery can manage with modifications. And the first time I was able to bridge, and to fully extend my legs over my head, even for a few seconds, I knew I was on the right track to rebuilding my strength. Enjoy this excerpt; I’ll post some additional favorites from Potter’s videos in the next few days.

waterwheel excerpts with katepotteryoga.ca from kate potter yoga on Vimeo.

YogaBear, a not-for-profit corporation which links cancer survivors with yoga teachers and studios for free yoga classes, will be providing free introduction-to-yoga classes as part of National Cancer Survivor Day on June 7 in NYC at Rock & Run on the River, as well as in other NCS celebrations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’re also looking for Reiki practicioners to help out on that day; you can contact them for more information at http://www.yogabear.org

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