How Fitness Can Help During all Phases of Cancer Treatment

This following is a guest post by Melanie Bowen, an awareness advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. While a lot of us may be focused our next training session or race, you never know when these words may come in handy for you, a loved one or a training buddy. Here’s her post:

Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, many people feel that their fate lies solely in the hands of their doctors. Doctors play a crucial role in helping their patients survive cancer, but there are certain activities that patients can use to help give them the best odds possible. One of these activities, exercise, is proving to be tremendously helpful in preventing cancer and helping patients deal with treatment as well as possible. Here are some of the ways in which fitness and cancer interact.

Preventing cancer
It is not wholly understood why all cancers develop, but most experts now agree that it takes multiple factors to cause a case of cancer to occur. Some are speculating that physical fitness is effective at reducing precancerous growths, which can lead to the prevention of certain cases of cancer. While it is not known how many cases of cancer physical fitness actually helps prevent, it should be understood that even the healthiest people around can still develop cancer.

Preparation for cancer treatment
Those who have never been diagnosed with cancer or who have recently been diagnosed but have not yet commenced treatment, will want to view physical fitness as a means of preparing for cancer treatments. Chemotherapy often makes it difficult to eat, and many who undergo chemotherapy treatments lose a substantial amount of weight. Strength training and exercise can help people prepare for this possibility. If possible, those who been diagnosed with cancer may wish to gain a few pounds to help them fend off the weight loss that comes with particular chemotherapy treatments.

Recovering from cancer
After cancer has gone into remission, many people have difficulty regaining their energy level and strength. Physical fitness is the key for returning to one’s previous lifestyle. Cardiovascular exercise can help people increase their energy levels and it has also been shown to help their heart recover. Some weight training can help people recover lost strength, which can allow them to resume activities that they used to enjoy. Further, some believe that exercise can help fend off the reoccurrence of cancer in those who have fought their cancer into remission.

Whether diagnosed with mesothelioma, breast cancer or any other form of cancer, patients will want to consider physical fitness as a means of dealing with their cancer most effectively. While the road ahead will be difficult, some preparation and commitment to physical fitness can help ease the burden.

The Comeback Kid: #5 in a Series

In 1995, Lydia went through a series of life-altering events in a three-week period. On a Friday, she was laid off from her dream job as a Western Regional Manager for Tyco Toys after Mattel bought the company. She found a new job with Lego immediately and started the following Monday.

For her first assignment, Lydia flew to a sales meeting in Oklahoma that was already under way. “Tuesday afternoon, they sent us to Grand Lake for a surprise outing to enjoy some water sports,” she recounted, “We had a choice of going water skiing, jet skiing, or parasailing. I thought ‘Oh, I’ll take the parasailing!’ I had done it before in Hawaii.”

She was attached to a harness with a parachute and rope that was towed behind a boat. As the boat traveled at a high speed, the wind lifted her aloft, sailing in the air 500 feet above.

“When you’re up there, it’s totally silent. You just hear a bit of the wind and it feels like you’re floating. It’s a very peaceful and beautiful feeling,” she admitted, “I was loving it.”

Lydia was the last passenger of the day. The kids operating the boat were socializing with the other passengers. They were ready to clock out. And mentally, that’s exactly what they did when she was in the air. One moment she felt like a peaceful bird in flight. The next, she felt a sudden gust of wind. “There was this whoosh of wind in my ears. I opened my eyes and realized I was headed straight towards the water,” she recalled.

At first, she didn’t panic. She thought the captain was going to “dip” her – lower the engine to lose some altitude before revving it again. “Other passengers had asked to be dipped, but I didn’t want it.” There was no dip. The men on the boat never saw that she was in trouble. The boat continued to motor at top speed. She landed violently on her seat and was immediately flipped onto her stomach. “I held my nose and was held underwater for over a minute,” she explained, “My life did pass before me. It was a very odd sensation to be aware that your life is flashing in front of you. I saw images of my father who passed, family members, and my husband.”

Lydia was in a fight for her life as the parasail filled with water and tugged at her in one direction and the boat dragged her in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, people onshore who witnessed the accident screamed and feverishly waved their arms to get the attention of the boat’s staff.

The boat finally stopped. Lydia screamed in pain and shook with convulsions. Her back was covered in huge welts from the harness. At first, she couldn’t even walk. She was rushed the hospital. Lydia had permanent damage to her L4 and L5. Her S1 was herniated. “The ‘farm doctor’ gave me a prescription for some kind of pain medication and a muscle relaxer that is illegal to dispense in California,” she recounted with a laugh.

After she was released from the hospital, she returned to her hotel room and called her husband Bob. Lydia told him, “Sit down. I think I almost died today.” That night, she had wild hallucinations from the strong drugs.

When she returned to California, she immediately started physical therapy in the pool. Two weeks later, she lost her brother who was like a father to her. She was unable to work. Emotionally and physically, she was broken.

“The first thing they had me do was try to walk sideways. I was in physical therapy for months and months and months,” she explained, “To this day, I have to go into the hospital every five months and have the nerves in those vertebrae burnt. It’s called radio frequency thermal coagulation. They put me in twilight and send lead wires down to the disc and inject it into six different locations. It’s an extremely painful procedure that takes a good 10-12 days to get over. It’s my alternative to back surgery.”

What kept her going the past 14 years? How could she give up? She and her husband quit smoking together, they quit drinking together, and they even battled cancer together. Today, she’s in treatment for her second round of breast cancer. Her husband Bob fought esophageal cancer and had his stomach removed. He’s cancer-free after six years. “He’s my hero! He’s a very strong man,” she proudly proclaimed.

And then there’s her mother, a lovely 86-year old woman who 30 years ago hit rock bottom. In the throes of alcoholism, she left her family a three-page suicide note and shot herself. Miraculously, she survived and hasn’t touched a drink since.

“My mother taught me to keep going,” she explained, “If you can come from such a low point that you don’t want to live. You’re a mother and a daughter and that means nothing because you’re in such the hollow depths of depression – not caring about yourself or believing that you have a good future in this world and then turn your life around. That’s what keeps me going.”

“My mom continues to send us cards. They make such a difference when you’re going through a tough time,” she said, “She always writes on them ‘Never, ever give up!’ with the “ever” underlined.” And that’s exactly what Lydia does. She gets physical therapy for her back. She gets treatment for her breast cancer. She doesn’t give up. After all, Mom knows best.

NOTE: The parasailing company on Grand Lake responsible for her accident was eventually taken over by another company/operator years later. Although she still does not recommend this activity to anyone after her experience. If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.