Get Up Offa That Thing: Exercise Helps Cancer Patients

March 16, 2010 at 4:18 PM (Energy, Happy, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

Don’t hate me because I’m in good shape.

When I was younger, I was a sloth. My mom signed me up for gymnastics classes, diving classes, riding lessons, the local swim team. I didn’t last long in any of them. The problem was, they all involved exercise and effort. I was much more of a sit-down-and-read-a-book kind of girl. Because sports were mandatory at my school, I volunteered to be the goalie for both field hockey and lacrosse, if the coach would let me get out of running laps with the rest of the team. (Hey, if I could stand in one place for the whole game, why did I have to get in shape?) I was even voted “Class Couch Potato” in my senior yearbook.

Then, when I was 21, I met this guy. He never sat still. Rollerblading, cycling, running, hiking, sightseeing… if I wanted to spend time with him, I had to get up. But still it took an engagement ring before I really got serious about working out. (Holy crap, a wedding gown? I better get my rear in gear.)

Fast-forward to the birth of my first son. All of a sudden, working out became a treat (sort of), a ninety-minute period of alone time when I was responsible for no one but myself. And, as any mother, stay-at-home or otherwise, can tell you, we don’t even get that in the loo. If I had to exercise for some peace by myself, I’d do it. (Never mind that it had to be at 5:30 a.m.; that just gave me the excuse to nap when the baby napped.) It turns out I am vainer than I am lazy.

Fast-forward again to my life P.C. (post-cancer). When I recovered from my first surgery, I realized that without all those tumors inside me, I felt better than I had in at least a year. Possibly since before I had had kids. So I kept working out. And during the IP chemo, which I was told came with “crushing fatigue” (boy, did it ever), I kept working out. Some days just a lurch down to the bottom of the hill and back, but I got moving. It helped me to feel in control of my body, in control of my life, in a disease process that is totally out of the patient’s hands in so many ways. It gave me time to think things through while I staggered, and make some personal decisions without interruption. I’m convinced that having a pretty high percentage of muscle mass helped me come through the six rounds of IP cisplatin as strongly as I did.

Once chemo is over, every time, and I start crawling out of the pit, exercise helps me feel like a normal person (at least until I catch sight of my squishy, pale, bald self in the weight room mirror). It helps me get my energy back sooner than I would have just waiting inside my house. It helps me get rid of the carbo-belt that develops around the waistband of chemo patients, thanks to the fabulous anti-emetics available nowadays and the raging cells looking for sugar.

Today, I found a study that shows how cancer patients that get regular exercise have more vigor and less emotional distress than cancer patients who don’t. (Sign up for a free MedScape account to read it – they have great articles.) Which I probably could have told you without the grants and the patients and all that time, but now we have proof.

So my advice for cancer patients: GET UP. Lurch down the hallway and back again. Once you can do that five times, add some stairs. Go for a swim. Walk the dog. Go down to the end of the driveway and get the mail. Once you finish chemo, treat yourself to a gym membership or a daily walk with a friend, and keep moving. The oxygen will help your body recover; the muscles will burn off the spare tire, and the companionship will keep you coming back.

Look, I love an afternoon in a comfy armchair with the cat and a good book as much (and probably more) than the next girl. But it isn’t going to prolong my life the way being in shape will.

Besides, the chair and the cat will still be there in an hour.

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Cancer’s Sweet Tooth, And Mine

January 29, 2010 at 11:52 AM (Age, Diet, Energy, Family, Recovery, Treatment) (, , , , , , )

About six months after my heinous surgery for my first recurrence, Mr. Wonderful, needing to DO something about this, hit up amazon.com for a box of Cancer Nutrition cookbooks. While I spent some time leafing through them when they first arrived, much to his chagrin I didn’t actually implement any of their eating plans, nor did I run out and buy the ingredients for the seven different varieties of kale-and-cauliflower soup. I eat veggies, but couldn’t stomach the thought of vegetarianism or macrobiotic whacko-ness…if these were effective cancer-beaters, wouldn’t we all be living on broccoli by now? Surely there would be a press release, and someone would be trying to make money on it.

My diet isn’t perfect, but we eat very well: lean poultry and fish, with the occasional hamburger or pork tenderloin;  plenty of unrefined carbs and whole grains, vegetables, etc. We don’t eat out often, maybe once a month, and when we do, it’s usually a salad for me (but I’m happy to pick fries from my kids’ plates – no calories if I didn’t order ’em!). I drink only occasionally, eat a healthy breakfast every day, get plenty of exercise, etc. etc.

But oh, the sweet tooth. Raised by a woman who didn’t see the need for dessert after dinner every night, when I reached the age of independence, I started supplying my habit, and haven’t looked back. Now that I have discovered how hard it is to control my weight through exercise alone (thank you, menopause), I do limit myself to the single afternoon diet Coke, and I’ve trained myself to like black coffee. I can go nearly all day without naughty snacks, yet once the kids are in bed, the trolling begins. What am I craving tonight? Four marshmallows (25 cal. ea.)? No, those didn’t do it. Handful of Cinnamon Oat Swirls (130 cal. per 1/2 cup)? Nope. Keep looking… Peppermint Joe-joe? Heavens, no, those are 75 cal. a piece! Maybe a chocolate truffle (60 cal.).  You see my issue.

Last week I read yet another (unconfirmed but footnoted with journals) article on the relationship between tumor growth and sugar. Upon further research, it appears the scientifically-reliable, journal-publishing, study-backed community is still unconvinced that cancer cells gain their evil powers from dietary sugar. But for some reason I felt as if I had crossed some threshhold, some point of maturity that gave me the strength to actually take this final stage of control of my diet. If I cut out refined sugars and carbs (table sugar and processed sweeteners, not honey or maple syrup; white bread and pasta, not whole-grain), maybe I’d give the Avastin a leg up and really knock those tumors down. What harm would there be? I’d still be eating carbs, fruit, veggies, etc., just more of a caveman diet. Not far from where I started, but without the useless sugar. Sure, go for it. You can always quit.

Seven days later, I’m shocked. Not only am I not feeling like I’m making any great sacrifice, I don’t even miss it. See you later, sugar. I started eating completely unsweetened cereal (used to eat Barbara’s Shredded Oats), and found myself, on Thursday morning, noticing the natural sweetness of a walnut. A walnut. I’m having a grapefruit with a drizzle of honey after dinner, and being satisfied, even full, and not looking for more. And some of you will argue that I didn’t have any to lose, which is false, but my (admittedly not bulky) layer of energy stores seems to be fading away FAST. Could it be this easy to keep my weight steady?

WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME THIS BEFORE??? (I’m looking at you, Ed and Mom.)

[I’ll keep you posted on further developments, including the results of my upcoming 2/11 CT scan.]

P.S. Ed, sorry about the cookbook thing. And not doing this in 2008.

P. P.S. Mom, I’m just kidding – I know you’ve been telling me this for years. Would you stop being right all the damn time?

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