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Sea Change In Cancer Treatment: Get On The Treadmill

PORTLAND - When you get cancer, hopping on a treadmill is probably the last thing on your mind. But a growing pile of evidence shows exercise is precisely what doctors should advise you to do. The American Cancer Society has released new guidelines urging patients to get active, even as they endure exhausting chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This is a big change, one that some believe isn’t happening fast enough.

Laura Rosencrantz is a personal trainer for Inpower Fitness in Portland. She’s certified to work with a specialized group — cancer patients.

They’re tired and often nauseated from chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. Rosencrantz’s job is to design a personalized exercise program and help them get through it.

“It’s diminishing their fatigue, their depression, anxiety,” she says. “It’s improving their sleep, it’s decreasing nausea and it’s actually showing to improve chemo completion rate…”

That rings true for one of Rosencrantz’s trainees, breast cancer survivor Leslie Weber. But, her fitness experience is hardly normal compared to a healthy person.

“It is very difficult,” Weber says. “As treatments go on, your level of energy goes down…your blood cell counts go down…you get winded very easily. I had to taper from doing an elliptical to a bike because that was a lot less taxing on me.”

That’s why someone like Leslie Weber benefits so much from a personalized training program and numerous studies have come to the same conclusion.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Director of Breast Medical Oncology at University of Washington and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

She says personalized fitness programs like Laura Rosenkrantz’s are expensive and rarely covered by insurance.

“It is not widespread yet — that it is totally tailored to the cancer patient but that is the growing movement,” Gralow says. “I very much support it. I think cancer patients have unique needs… they’ve had unique exposures.”

Gralow adds that despite the recent evidence, some cancer doctors resist pushing their patients to exercise.

Trish Carr has seen both sides of this change. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2004. Since then, she has been through three rounds of chemo and two rounds of stem cell therapy.

Her doctor approves of her training regimen, but that isn’t where she found out about it.

“I can’t remember anybody in my support group or anybody I have come across mentioning specifically that their doctors have recommended exercise,” Carr says. “I think it’s just coming into their radar range.”

Carr has maintained her training, to varying degrees throughout her most recent treatment — and what a difference it’s made…

Trish Carr: “ I was able at Thanksgiving to carry a 10-pound bag of potatoes and my 15-pound turkey in the other hand…”

Carr’s fellow trainee Leslie Weber did hear about exercise from her cancer doctor. Given what it’s done for her, she was amazed to read in a recent British study

“For me it was a no-brainer but reading that so many other people had such an opposite experience from their doctors was surprising to me,” Weber says. “I kinda thought, we’re in this enlightened age…people get this now…but not everywhere apparently.”

But for personal trainer Laura Rosencrantz, her mission is clear.

“Studies are coming out and over and over again proving how beneficial and how crucial it is that patients exercise throughout treatment and so now I think the roadblock is just educating people and getting the word out…”

…And she has her work cut out for her…

On the Web:

Inpower Cancer Exercise Program

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

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