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Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Post: The Benefits of Physical Activity During Cancer Treatment

I admit it, I hate exercise. I don't find it fun or stress releasing and the best part of exercise for me is when it's over. Yet long before my cancer diagnosis, I knew that exercise and a healthy diet are important to everyone's lifestyle, so I pushed myself to workout even when I didn't want to. Ironically about a year before I was diagnosed, I was probably the healthiest I had ever been, I was working out 4-5 times a week and eating more fruits and veggies than I ever had before. It was kind of cruel that just when I thought I was so healthy, I found out I had cancer. Yet, I was determined to not let cancer take my life away from me, and that included keeping up my exercise routine of kickboxing and spin classes. The Monday after my first chemo treatment I was back in spin class, sure that I could continue my workouts throughout my entire treatment. It worked for a while but slowly I got weaker and weaker and was forced to scale back. I even tried a swimming class last March as a way to have a low impact workout, but it was hard to keep up and I felt like my body was failing me. Before I knew it, I hadn't worked out in almost a year. So a few weeks ago after my recent setback, I realized that despite everything I've been through, I AM still stronger then I was last year. I want to have some form of control with my health and exercise helps me feel like I am making a difference. Yeah I still hate it and I'm shocked by how out of shape I am, but it feels good to push my body (not too hard!) and to feel like I am getting stronger, even though I'm still undergoing treatment.

Recently David Haas, a cancer patient advocate for the Mesthelioma Cancer Alliance reached out to me about how beneficial physical activity is to people going through treatments, in remission, and even family members of cancer patients, and he wanted to share with everyone who reads my blog. It was perfect timing considering that I am re-dedicating myself to fitness and I agree that physical activity is so important. He wrote a great article on the benefits of physical activity as a complimentary cancer treatment that I have posted below. Please read and share with loved ones in your life.

The Benefits of Physical Activity as a Complimentary Cancer Treatment
By David Haas

According to the National Cancer Institute, researchers are currently focusing their efforts on understanding the relationship between cancer and physical activity. So far, studies have indicated that regular physical activity reduces a person’s risk of developing certain cancers, specifically cancer of the breasts, colon, prostate, uterus and lungs. Scientists are also interested in whether exercise can inhibit the spread of cancerous cells, prevent cancer from reoccurring and improve survival rates. While researchers are not yet certain whether exercise is capable of inhibiting the development of cancer, it is clear that physical activity provides some very important benefits.

Using Physical Activity to Reduce Stress and Promote Well-Being:

Going through cancer treatment is both physically and mentally exhausting. Many common treatments leave patients weak, fatigued and physically ill. During treatment, the last thing that most patients want to do is exercise. However, light to moderate exercise can have significant benefits.

Patients who exercise during treatment frequently enjoy higher energy levels, enhanced mood and increased feelings of well-being. Being diagnosed with cancer can also take away a patient’s sense of control. Regardless of where an individual is in the recovery process, strengthening one’s physical condition can help patients regain control over their body. While cancer patients might not be able to fight their disease directly, they can put up a fight by increasing their overall heath.

Strengthening the Body Through Physical Fitness

Regardless of whether an individual is currently going through mesothelioma treatment or has been in remission for years, physical activity can be extremely beneficial. While battling cancer, many patients lose muscle mass, strength and physical endurance. Regular exercise can help a patient regain lost muscle mass and strengthen his or her body. Physical activity has also been proven to strengthen the heart, lower cholesterol and improve overall health. Many times, feeling stronger physically goes a long way in improving one’s mental outlook.

People experiencing negative side effects due to their treatment can also benefit from regular physical activity. Exercise can help patients increase their appetite, reduce water retention and manage pain. Light activity, like yoga or walking, can also help patients deal with nausea and constipation. Curbing these unpleasant side effects can make the treatment process significantly more enjoyable and enhance the patient’s quality of life.

Thanks David!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In a better place

The new life that I've had since I have been diagnosed has definitely taught me that each day is different. As bad as one day can be, the next can be great. We all have our struggles and unfortunately this is mine. But for once, after a bad scan I haven't totally fallen down the rabbit hole. I'm not sure if it's because I'm just used to the process of picking myself up, dusting off and trying to live positively again, or if I've really grown as a person. It's hard, but it just happens.

This week I met with my doctor again to discuss everything and I didn't cry! Which is a major accomplishment. I even made a joke...asking him to "turn off" the cancer in me since they are able to "turn on" cancer genes in rats, I figured they could do the same in me and I'll be done with this mess. Should be an easy task, right? I wish.

He had me list all the chemo regeimins I have been on since July of 2009 and it's a mouthful: AVBD, ICE, BEAM, Gemzar, C-OPP, Rituxan, Bendamustine, Vincristine, and the newest, Adcetris. I mean, ridiculous, right? I remember each one, when I took them, the side effects, everything. And most of the chemos were back to back with little rest in between. AVBD was the first chemo I had and while I felt nauseous sometimes, I continued to bop along and live my life. It wasn't until I was on ICE that I realized, yes I do have cancer and this is what chemo feels like. It was the absolute worst and to this day if I hear or see the word Estoposide (the E in ICE), I feel sick to my stomach...ugh, I didn't even like typing it!

So, my doctor said that the mission right now is to control the disease. The cells have figured out a way to become resistant to all the drugs we've thrown at it and in the process the drugs have beat up my body. So we have to find a happy medium between controlling the disease and not making me sicker. Adcetris, the newest drug, had the least side effects and I felt ok on it most days. It's funny how the body forgets, a year ago I was short of breath and could barely walk to the subway station without crying because I was so weak. Now I practically run to the subway because I'm always running late and I take it for granted. Since I'm feeling pretty good these days and the devious cancer cells have become resistant to the drugs, my doctor decided to give me a break from chemo for a while. I will continue to take the oral medication at home (yay! no IV) and in 3 months we will reassess. The oral meds work slow so we're not sure what result I may have...although I have been feeling dull chest pains, very similar to what I felt on Adcetris, so something is either shrinking or growing in there. If I'm doing well on the oral medication--it's called Revlimid (I'm going to have a biology degree when this is all done and I HATE science...or I guess now I love it since it's saving my life? Weird.) Anyway, if it's working, we'll keep me on it. The theory is that the further I get away from chemo, the better I will feel, so 6 months or 9 months from now, we can blast it with chemo again and that may do the trick. That's the plan for now, but ya know, things always change. And the silver lining is that I still have less disease now (it's kind of scattered in small spots throughout my chest) than I did in the beginning.

The thing I love about my doctor is that he's very collaborative and willing to work with other experts in the field to get their opinions. So when the time comes to reassess, he may send me to Texas or Seattle for other opinions. This is all so crazy, you would never know I was sick if you saw me on the street, yet there are demon cancer cells inside of me everyday and I think I still have problems believing it sometimes. But such is my life!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not the post I hoped to write...

The post I hoped to write was that I kicked cancer's ass finally, that I can finally say I am in complete remission, with no evidence of disease. Yet, those of you who have been reading my blog from the beginning have seen me on this emotional roller coaster, experienced my highs and lows and know that everything is not that simple.

Today was one of those lows. After a great scan in October that showed I was in partial remission, the scan I took yesterday showed that there was a small increase in the lymph node cells. Part of me is shocked, but the other part is not because I've been down this road before. Something works, and then it doesn't. It's like I keep putting in the same movie, hoping for a different ending this time. Or one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books where I keep picking the wrong ending. I'm exhausted, defeated and really, really sad. This drug was supposed to be my silver bullet, the one that changed my life and ended this nightmare. But to the surprise of my team of doctors and nurses, it wasn't. Research showed that if a patient initially responded to the drug well, they should continue to respond and I did have really high hopes. Again, I've learned I'm part of the small percentage that it doesn't continue to work for. I hate writing these posts after trying to be positive, but it's the truth in my story.

So what are the next steps you ask? Well, one thing I love about my doctor is that he always has a plan. He doesn't like to stick with any regimen that shows it may not be working anymore...he's always on to the next one. So the new plan is for me to take an oral pill that is technically not chemo, but as been known to shrink lymphoma. The good thing? No trips to the doc for IV drips, I get to take it at home and it doesn't have too many side effects. That's as much as I know now, my brain was a little fuzzy to all the details. Thank goodness Ross was there as my 2nd set of ears and to comfort me...actually 2 doctors and 1 nurse comforted me as was all very surreal, I felt like it was happening to someone else.

But in the next moment I realized it was happening to me. I looked in the mirror at my red, puffy eyes and noticed I desperately needed to get my eyebrows done. So after several long tearful conversations with some of the staff and a few blood tests for the new medication, I went to get my eyebrows threaded and threw in a manicure just because I was feeling sorry for myself. As I walked to the nail salon, I was simultaneously crying and laughing at the absurdity of the situation. But that seems to be my life these days...cancer treatment and eyebrows (believe me they were out of control). I'm not saying that this is easy, I just had an all out marathon crying session with Ross and I'm incredibly upset about this situation, but some moments help me remember I haven't completely lost myself in this disease. And as my hubby and I settle in to watch "The Office" (the only show we watch together) and I hear myself laugh at loud on such an awful day, I realize that I will get through this somehow, someway.