From what i’ve seen and heard from patients, chemotherapy is one of the toughest parts of cancer treatment. 6 months of hospital visits, sleepless nights, nausea, fatigue and uncertainty. Then walks into the clinic David, the Exercise Physiologist, every week to see if there are any new patients he can ask to come and join his studies..
Every week for all of last year, I would visit 2 hospitals in Sydney, each on two mornings per week to see if there were any patients eligible to recruit into my trials. Women with recurrent ovarian cancer undergoing chemo to be precise. This is a group of patients who’s cancer has returned and spread, requiring higher doses of chemo and as a result, having worse side-effects of treatment. This was the first study to date to include this patient group – so it was very challenging but exciting at the same time to try and assist these patients throughout treatment.
Here are some things we do know during chemotherapy:
* Patients (and their families) tend to withdraw themselves during chemo (6 months of inactivity!)
* You may become weaker during this time, along with additional side-effects of treatment
* Recent exercise studies have displayed safety, as well as countless psychological and physical benefits
* Reaching recommended physical activity guidelines can decrease your risk of cancer recurrence and all-cause mortality by more than a third!
Back to my recruitment. I would speak with numerous patients about their lifestyles, the majority not doing anything due to excessive fatigue – with nearly all of them not knowing how exercise can help them. I had about a 50% uptake rate, which is about normal for studies such as these, with many women not willing to commit to a 3 month study. However I did not mind, I still provided them with advice and encouragement to walk whenever they can and build up their endurance during chemo.
Now to the ones that did join the study, firstly I did baseline health checks, with most of them having physical and mental function, low muscle strength and excessive fatigue – not surprising. Everyone received a different exercise program tailored to their needs and goals, but started at 90 minutes/week (about 15-20 mins/most days of the week). This would be a combination of aerobic exercise (mainly walking and gym cycling) and resistance training (gym weights and resistance bands). It was not without its challenges for these amazing women. Here is an example week for one:
Monday – walk 20 mins (including hills)
Tuesday – theraband resistance session – 25 mins
Wednesday – chemo day – light morning walk – 15 mins
Thursday – rest day (feeling ill)
Friday – rest day (feeling ill)
Saturday – rest day/light walk 15 mins
Sunday – resistance exercises and walk – 30 mins
No week would really be the same depending on how they responded to the treatment, but i’ll tell you this now, if they hadnt been exercising, they would be feeling a whole lot worse. Im very happy with a week looking like this if possible.
If you’re undergoing chemo – you can do it. Don’t aim for a marathon, set a realistic aim at giving it a go – because you can achieve that. 10 minute walks around the block will assist in alleviating the fatigue and sets a platform to increase this. Some is better than none and more is better than less. The aim is 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise (increased breathing rate). But if you can only achieve half of this amount, that is more than fine, it is a start. You cant progress if you haven’t started. If you havent started your journey, let it start now….one step at a time.
I hope these posts provide support, motivation and guidance. Feel free to ask any questions or comments and again please forward to a friend or family member undergoing the cancer experience.