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Cancer and Exercise FAQ’s

Where do I start with exercise after my mastectomy? How can I start doing weights for my chest and shoulders to keep the post-surgical area strong and without causing pain?

Ideally, you want to begin moving as soon as you can after surgery. This can begin as early as 3 days post surgery (and only after your surgeons clearance and stitches are removed). This would include daily activity movements such as brushing your teeth and brushing your hair. When your range of motion gets to about shoulder height then you can start with more specific range of motion exercises.

Once your range of motion is near or back to normal then light weights can begin. A gradual increase in weight is appropriate as long as there is no pain or discomfort. If there is pain/discomfort then discontinue or reduce the weight/range and work within your limits. With patience and proper planning you will regain your strength and get back to your usual routine.

Everyone recovers at an individual rate and some people will get back to their chest and shoulder routine before others. It’s important to listen to your body and seek the advice of a professional if you have any questions or concerns. Post surgical therapy can also speed recovery which can help you get your strength back sooner rather than later.

What percentage of intensity of my pre cancer exercise program should I do once I start my chemotherapy?

The best way to approach changing your fitness program  after diagnosis is with an individual assessment and work within a certain range of perceived exertion. The percentage before vs after isn’t the best approach as the treatment effects can drastically affect how you will feel and it’s a individual experience.

Can I use the pool when undergoing cancer rehabilitation? Why or why not?

Although the pool is a great therapeutic tool and is highly recommended for many rehabilitation situations please exercise some caution when using a public pool during treatment. While the immune system is compromised it is best to stay clear from areas high in bacteria such as community pools. However, if your blood counts are good, you are feeling well and you take extra precautions there is no reason why you cannot incorporate pool therapy into your recovery plan.

I personally caution against public pool use during chemotherapy and advocate it when treatment is finished. Pools at private clubs that have limited access to the public and that are kept clean are the most ideal if aqua therapy is going to be a part of the exercise plan.

Why should I include exercise as part of my cancer recovery plan?

Exercise is vital to help combat the toxic effects of the chemotherapy. It helps to enhance your immune system, fights fatigue, and increases quality of life by increasing the ability to perform daily tasks. Many studies have shown that not only do patients feel better but they have a better prognosis than those who do not exercise during treatment. It is very important to discuss with a professional the appropriate use of exercise during your recovery plan.

The Amercian Cancer Society has some general guidelines but there are contraindications to exercise that you need to know before beginning a program.

What is CAM and why should I use it during my cancer recovery?

CAM is Complementary and Alternative Medicine and includes therapies and medicinal treatments that are not used in conventional western medicine. This can be energy medicine, massage therapy, Aurveyda, Chinese medicine, nutritional supplementation and many others. One study suggests that as much as 85% of cancer patients are using CAM in conjunction with traditional chemotherapy and radiation, most of which do not inform their physicians.

Most treatments have shown to help mitigate side effects, reduce stress, increase recovery time, and increase quality of life. The importance of healing touch cannot be understated and even nurses across North America are regularly using Therapeutic touch and Reiki in hospital for recovery and healing and Integrative Medicine is quickly emerging as a specialty, even Dr. Oz has given CAM some media spotlight.

Be sure to speak with a trained professional before taking herbal supplements as some may negatively affect chemotherapy. While many patients feel uncomfortable talking about their use of CAM with their Oncologist it is very important that you make them aware of anything that you are doing alongside your chemotherapy/radiation.

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