inspiration

“Live in the peace of the moment; on your bike!” – an inspirational journey

Usually when you talk about cancer, or hear about somebody being diagnosed with cancer, we are instantly jumping to negative thoughts. However, we often miss the rest of the cup, the cup that can be half full if we wish it to be – the cup can even be three quarters full if we wanted it to be! 

Today I will speak of my encounter with Helene O’Neill. Helene is definitely a glass is three-quarters full kind of woman. A few weeks ago I presented my research at the Australia and New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) annual scientific meeting in Canberra, Australia – a meeting for the latest in women’s cancer research. It was a great day with some amazing oncologists presenting their research, interesting debates but also an initiative to have volunteers who assist with patient support groups enlighten us of their experiences. This is powerful because at the end of the day, I, along with others have passion for the health industry to help each individual person.

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Now Helene, a Uterine cancer survivor, did not sound like anything could get her down, and would rather take life by the horns. She spoke with such confidence and pride. She had strength that needed to be witnessed, as she is an inspiration for cancer survivors around the country, and this is evident with her passion for exercise and the community work she does with ANZGOG. I needed to find out more from her and her story, to share it, and assist in inspiring and motivating others so I asked her a few more questions….

Helene was diagnosed in 2007 around the same time her hometown of Newcastle flooded, which included her house. Her mother-in-law also passed away around the same time so it was a particularly sensitive period to say the least. Her oncologist, Dr Geoff Otton removed a grapefruit-sized tumour from her, performed a hysterectomy and removed lymph nodes, but she did not require radiation therapy.

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(above – The 2007 Newcastle floods were not going to hold Helene back)

I asked Helene how she felt physically and emotionally right after her treatment. She said “I was extremely tired in the early part and did suffer a loss of confidence with things like exercise”, which is completely understandable, right? “My bike is my friend and I remember the first time I went for a ride after the operation – a trip that normally takes 10 mins took me 30 mins – I was paranoid !! My quality of life was affected as the fear of lymphedema scared me but I attended a clinic and learnt a lot about the condition so I could get on with life.”

So the tasks usually simple to Helene were suddenly much more of a challenge, and that is where it is important to take the necessary steps to regain your fitness, be inspired and get back your lease on life. Helene was always healthy and physically active and her cancer diagnosis was not going to stop her. At first she feared she may have to stop exercising, but put that behind her as being active made her feel healthy and happy.

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(above – Helene getting back on the bike)

The self-proclaimed “super-competitive” former gym instructor is keen to try any form of exercise. Happy to avoid gyms, Helene likes to run, row, ride bikes and swim. She also enjoys sports – tennis, badminton and coaching soccer! Now, I thought I was super-sporty, but she is giving me a run for my money!!

I asked what a typical week of exercise looked like for her just to put into perspective:

Weekdays:

* Most mornings – mixture of running, riding, rowing and swimming – 1 hour

* Cycle to work (and also on the job) – about 1 hour

Afternoon/evening walk – 45 mins

* Sport: Tennis on Mondays (1 hour), Soccer on Tuesdays (1.5 hrs) and Badminton on Fridays (2 hrs)

Weekends:

* Variety of surfing, bush walking and paddle skiing

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(above – for those who don’t know paddle skiing, it is a water sport requiring a great amount of core abdominal strength, and is also very fun!)

I’ve spent much time talking in previous posts of the benefits of exercise in scientific research, but what also matters is how each individual feels. So how does being active make Helene feel? “I love the adrenalin rush. I also know that exercise is one aspect of my life that I am in control of. I like to exercise on my own so I can vary the activity, the pace and the duration and use the time to get to know myself better.” She is in the minority of people who requires little encouragement to exercise, so she definitely doesn’t need me running around telling her she is doing a great job, considering she has been a representative sports athlete since she was 5 years old. Even sometimes her husband tells her to slow down, as she “refuses to let age and health get in her way“. Amazing!

However, it is not without its challenges, the risk of lymphedema and infection remain a possibility, but she is willing to meet those challenges head on.

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Now as an ambassador for ANZGOG and to patients in rural areas, I asked Helene if she could provide a few words of inspiration to survivors who may be newly diagnosed or struggle for motivation. I often think these words are way more powerful from somebody who has had these experiences and bounced back, rather than a health professional like myself, who cannot speak of cancer first-hand – and this is what she said:

“Support comes in many forms but the one person I can rely on is myself. I encourage patients to steer away from the excuses, listen to their body and view exercise as one of the means to get well. There’s the adage ‘that cancer isn’t a sentence’. Basically it’s an opportunity to discover a ‘new’ you. Whilst everyone has a different cancer trip, it’s better to live in the present and enjoy every day to the max. I love to share my story – not the cancer journey – but the day-to-day highlights that I enjoy. Sure you reflect on the past but that’s not going to change – live in the peace of the moment. On your bike !!!”

I really hope you have found Helene’s story inspirational, as I have. Pass this story to somebody who you care about, a friend or a family member who can benefit from the support. Share on Facebook or Twitter to keep growing a community. Follow this blog for more posts, provide any comments or questions, join an e-mail list and like me on Twitter. Any questions, feel free to get in touch as well by e-mail.

Your Exercise Physiologist

David Mizrahi

E-mail: d.mizrahi@unsw.edu.au

Twitter: @Davemiz_EP

 

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Presenting ovarian cancer & physical activity research at the ESSA conference, Adelaide

Every two years sees the national Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) conference held, which brings together about a thousand researchers, clinicians, academics and some amazing presenters to discuss the latest in physical activity research, clinical guidelines and the opportunity to collaborate and bring forward great ideas to move the field forward and create the best possible outcomes for our patients.

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The highlights of this conference for me were:

* Prof Daniel Green – why exercise is better for the cardiovascular system than we first believed

* Prof Graham Kerr – Exercise in patients with neurodegenerative disorders

* Dr Kim Bennell – exercise as therapy for osteoarthritis

* A/Prof Lorimer Moseley – Exercise for the patient with chronic pain

These talks were inspirational and I managed to learn some great information. However, this conference was also more special for me as I was fortunate enough to present my research on exercise for women with advanced ovarian cancer.

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It was a great environment to discuss my findings, in which these patients who were undergoing chemotherapy who exercised for more than 90 minutes/week had reduced fatigue, slept better, improved quality of life, were stronger and had less anxiety.

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I also had a poster viewing session, which was a great way to interact with other researchers. Here I met an expert in chronic pain, Matthew Jones, and he was able to give me insight into how he helps to reduce pain by exercising in young healthy people, something of massive interest we seek to investigate in the future for cancer survivors.

I also managed to attend some great presentations of colleagues and experts in the field:

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Dr Fiona Naumann (above) spoke on the complex considerations for exercise physiologists working with cancer survivors, Carolina Sandler gave great insight to the Post-Cancer Fatigue experienced by survivors, and how exercise therapy can help manage this, whilst Simon Rosenbaum discussed his research improving the mental health issues for patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In terms of cancer & exercise research, there was also other great talks on reducing side-effects of Prostate cancer treatment by Brad Wall and Tina Skinner, and a pre-surgery exercise program by Andrew Murnane. Anna Meares OAM, olympic medalist for cycling also presented her amazing story of recovering from a fractured neck vertibrae only to return and win a silver medal at the London games.

 

Overall, it was a fantastic few days – and to top it off, I was very surprised and honoured to be awarded a research award for my work.

 

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Check out the Twitter feed for the ESSA conference #ESSA14 

 

Now, I return to Sydney with a whole range of new ideas, more potential researchers to do further work with as I set the bar high with what we can achieve and assist as many future survivors as we can.

 

Please add me on twitter, ask questions, share our quest with other survivors, follow and most of all, just get out there and get active! We are here to help!

Your exercise physiologist,

David

Twitter – @Davemiz_EP

E-mail – d.mizrahi@unsw.edu.au

exerciseoncologyaustralia.wordpress.com

 

Weekly Walking Challenge – Day 4

So at the half way point of the weekly walking challenge that we have set for ourselves today, think to yourself if you are happy with your progress, and what will you achieve for both a) the rest of the week and b) next week.

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The general recommendation by the American Cancer Society and American College of Sports Medicine is 150 minutes/week – so 30 mins x 5 days a week is common.

Can you make time to go for 2x walks over the weekend? 

 

Here are some handy tips:

* plan the day before for when you will exercise

* go for morning walks, to avoid procrastination of leaving it until the afternoon

* take a friend/family member with and make it social

* get a pedometer and measure step count (aiming for 10,000 steps/day)

* get on/off the bus 2-3 stops early and walk to the stop

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Keep a tally of how many minutes you achieve each session and per week, write it on a piece of paper and stick it on the fridge as a reminder/motivator. Every week your goal is to maintain or increase the amount. 

 

You can do it! Get out there, feel good, be strong, live life, be empowered, be positive!

 

Your Exercise Physiologist,

David

Encourage a friend, a family member, a loved one

Thanks for the overwhelming response in readership I have received over the past few weeks from all around the world, it is great that there is growing interest in taking charge and moving forward after diagnosis. I would like to use this post to try and get the word out, to share some lifestyle tips and provide encouragement to those who have been affected by cancer. My previous posts have highlighted that exercise is safe and provides numerous evidence-based benefits during various treatment types and after treatment. 

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Today, I would like all of my readers to share this blog with somebody they know – a friend, a family member, a work colleague, through Facebook, Twitter, email or word of mouth, who has had somebody in their lives (as so many of us have) affected by cancer. I want them to know that they are not alone in their journey, that there are many people, including myself, a complete stranger, who is willing to help improve their quality of life. 

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By connecting the community, we can share each others stories, experiences, challenges and triumphs – and that can be valuable to encourage people. I wish to gain peoples stories from diagnosis and thereafter, including how they began to exercise, what routines they got in, their likes/dislikes etc. so people who come along earlier into their journey can have some inspiration. 

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In the chemotherapy suits last year at Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, one of my patients who I had trained, was telling other ladies with ovarian cancer in the clinic how she had built up over the previous 6 months and was attempting her first City2Surf run (14km charity run). I was so impressed with her, she was so proud of herself. Although she stopped halfway for a coffee to enjoy the beautiful Sydney harbour views, it was a most amazing accomplishment. 

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Recruitment for my study went through the roof after that. Women were asking around the clinics to sign up, it was a great advertisement for living a healthy lifestyle, despite undergoing chemotherapy every week, and an example of a great supportive network.

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It is this power that I want to use by connecting people so we can share stories, read stories, have the inspiration to try go for a long walk, to have the inspiration to try and jog on the beach, to be inspired to go to a yoga class or a gym class, to ask my doctor what exercise services are on offer. 

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Please follow and share this with somebody who can benefit, who can re-gain strength and get more out of life, and feel free to get in touch with any questions, comments or stories you may have. 

As always,

Your Exercise Physiologist,

David

Twitter: @davemiz_EP

E-mail: d.mizrahi@unsw.edu.au