fitness_180x150When my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1995, my family was shocked and confused. We had never heard of that type of cancer. Had it perhaps come from his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam? What were his chances of survival? Through his cancer treatment, Dad did remarkably well. Through chemotherapy he was able to maintain his weight and most of what hair he had on his head. Although the treatments were moderately effective, Dad decided to have a stem cell transplant. Again, he responded well to the transplant surgery. Unfortunately, he contracted an intestinal infection and died in the hospital from an obstruction. The senselessness of how he died still bothers me. It isn’t hard to understand why today I am drawn to provide well-being support services for cancer survivors. I launched Thrivors to help empower others after I felt powerless to help my dad.

The concept of prescribing exercise for a cancer diagnosis is still a relatively new part of treatment. The most progressive healthcare providers and physicians are prescribing evidence-based physical activity as a means of strengthening the cancer patient before treatments and maintaining strength and function through the course of treatment.

As the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has grown to over 15 million, the focus has moved from not just surviving cancer but to having the greatest quality of life attainable. Cancer is no longer just an acute, episodic event, but rather a chronic condition with secondary complications requiring management over time, and for which the incidence of cancer recurrence may be reduced.

The National Cancer Act of 1971 set in action numerous research programs to examine cancer diagnosis, treatment, care delivery, and rehabilitation needs. In the 1970s and early 1980s, cancer treatments required longer hospital stays, and patients received physical as well as psychosocial rehabilitative services from multi-disciplinary teams of providers. This strategy was the norm for some time, but a combination of advances in treatment, less radical surgery, earlier detection of disease, and an increase in outpatient services caused rehabilitative services for patients to be discontinued. As a result, exercise was no longer a part of the recovery process.

In 2005, I started leading exercise classes for cancer survivors. As a pioneer in this new field, I found that the class participants were my best teachers. I listened to their experiences and researched their treatments. I became a student of each participant and began learning about the impact of cancer, the various treatments, and the power that exercise could have on their well-being.

As well as learning what patients could do, I also learned that sometimes participants have to stop exercising for a period of time. When a person has a setback or delay in regular physical activity, a quality wellness program takes that change into account and allows the participant to resume exercise at a safe and appropriate level. I have found that patients appreciate having multiple options for engaging in well-being.  For example, the modules of exercise, nutrition and mindfulness on the Thrivors platform are at the fingertips of users when the time is right to use them. By being mindful of variable health status, supportive services have the capacity to optimize functional ability, improve quality of life, and to nurture health and longevity at a patient-driven pace.

Through my dad’s battle with cancer and through the experiences I had with the survivors I have worked with, I learned that the cancer journey can be very disempowering: your body often betrays you, and sometimes your employer, your healthcare insurance, your physician, your friends, and even your family can let you down. I have seen that exercise empowers cancer patients and survivors to get their bodies back. They might not be able to return completely to their “pre-cancer self,” but they can arrive at a new, empowered understanding of the physical self that provides them with a sense of control and confidence.

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