published Monday, August 12th, 2013

Combating cancer: Exercising benefits cancer patients, both in treatment and after

Sixteen years after her cancer diagnosis, Lynda Hood stays in shape and good health by working out daily.
Sixteen years after her cancer diagnosis, Lynda Hood stays in shape and good health by working out daily.
Photo by Tim Barber.

One week after being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the summer of 1997, Lynda Hood underwent major surgery. Two days later, a week before her chemo treatments began, she started exercising to help the healing process.

“It made me feel better,” she says.

Sixteen years later, there’s no sign of cancer, and Hood says she’s a firm believer that routine exercising has helped keep the disease at bay.

The benefits of exercising during recovery is becoming more widely known. In 2005, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that breast cancer patients who walked briskly for three hours a week had almost a 50 percent reduction in their risk of recurrence.

Cathy Skinner, a trainer certified by the American College of Sports Medicine to work specifically with cancer survivors, told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis that the “cancer journey can be very disempowering because your body can betray you, and there’s lots of things you just don’t have control over,” she says. “But exercise, state of mind, nutrition — those things you can control.”

Local musician and Realtor Barry Wilde says exercise was his saving grace 10 years ago after undergoing treatment for cancer.

“I had throat cancer, and I had lived an unhealthy lifestyle of bad food and cigars,” Wilde says. “My doctors suggested that I do exercise to relieve the nerve damage from the neck radiation that messed up my left arm. It worked.

“I got in a workout program designed for me by Trevor Haines at Dojo Chattanooga. I had lost 100 pounds with the cancer treatment, and Trevor built me back up with muscle. I never gained the weight back, and I still work out with him every week. The cancer has never resurfaced after 10 years, and I am in the best shape ever.”

Research indicates that physical activity after a diagnosis of breast cancer may be beneficial in improving quality of life, reducing fatigue and assisting with energy balance, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Both reduced physical activity and the side effects of cancer treatment have been linked to weight gain after a breast cancer diagnosis.

One study found that women who exercised moderately — the equivalent of walking three to five hours per week at an average pace — after a diagnosis of breast cancer had improved survival rates compared with more sedentary women. The benefit was particularly pronounced in women with tumors that responded to hormone treatment.

On Sept. 17, the North River YMCA, partnering with Memorial Hospital, is launching Livestrong at the YMCA, a pilot program in the area that offers cancer patients the opportunity to help build muscle mass and strength through exercise. The same program will be offered at the Downtown YMCA in January, the Hamilton YMCA in March, and the YMCA in Cleveland, Tenn. in the fall. Along with physical help, the program also lend emotional support to cancer patients, according to ymcachattanooga.org.

Program director Michelle McDougal says the 12-week program is free to people who have received or are still receiving treatment for cancer. Families of the participants will also be given a free 12-week membership so they can be at the facility the same time as the participant, she says. After the completion of the program, families on limited incomes will be offered a YMCA membership at reduced rates, she says.

“You don’t have to be a member of the Y to participate,” McDougal says.

McDougal, a certified cancer exercise specialist who received her training at University of Alabama in Birmingham, says patients can still be in treatment while in the program.

“We offer specialized programs for individuals and groups,” she says. “If someone is only able to walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes a day, then that’s what they’ll do.”

McDougal has a direct connection to cancer.

“My mother, mother-in-law and grandfather all passed away from cancer, so this program means a lot to me,” she says. If someone calls about the program, I will get back in touch with them within 24 hours. I don’t want anyone to slip through the cracks, because I know we can help. We can change these people’s lives through basic exercise and nutrition knowledge.”

Livestrong is funding the pilot program, but after the initial launching, money to support it will be raised through YMCA membership fees, donations and fundraisers, she says.

Livestrong is the charity founded by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who was banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency from elite-level competition in cycling, triathlons and other sports for doping. The charity has gotten bad publicity lately because of its connection to him, but McDougal says Livestrong itself is still doing “good work … the fact that its name has been tainted does not diminish the good work the people there do.”

Hood says she began to exercise soon after surgery to expedite the healing of a stomach muscle that was cut to help rebuild her breast.

“The physical recovery of actually standing up straight and getting movement back in my arm was demanding,” Hood says. “I did exercises to stretch my stomach to be able to stand up straight.”

Within days, not only was she standing up, she was also walking through her neighborhood.

“I have always liked to be outside. I like to walk, run and play golf,” Hood says. “The doctors did not want to change anything I did. Exercise was good for me during and after my treatments — I just didn’t do as much.”

Today, Hood walks about three miles every day.

“For my health, I need to stay active,” Hood says. “I feel better when I do. Exercise is extremely important in my life. Arimidex (an anti-cancer medicine she continues to take since her surgery) is really tough on your bones and exercise and walking is a great way to keep my bones strong.”

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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