Project eases recovery from cancer treatment

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — In the midst of treatment for lung cancer, Louise Still bruises easily, is often weak and has a tough time breathing. So, needless to say, it’s sometimes a challenge to find the motivation to get up and exercise.

“You feel better when you do exercise, but you’ve got to pull yourself out of bed,” she said.

A new pilot program at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is making it easier for Still and others going through or finished with cancer treatment. The six-week exercise class allows them to work at their own pace while learning movements they can continue when the class is over.

“The focus is that you can do all of this at home,” said Karen Wingert, a physical therapist and clinical associate professor at the University of Missouri who leads the class. “The whole focus is you do not have to go to a gym to be physically active.”

Although they use weights in the class, “I say use a can of corn” at home, Wingert said. “You don’t have to buy weights.”

Still already is finding herself mimicking the movements several times a day, comforted by the fact she’s not expected to follow a rigid workout schedule.

Previously, Still — who never smoked — tried her hand at yoga, but the classes proved to be too pricey. At an overall cost of $15, the weekly courses at Ellis are more affordable, she said.

Other than group warm-ups and stretches, the exercise routine is customized to fit each person’s needs and physical abilities.

“Karen doesn’t push you,” said Toni Martin, a breast cancer survivor. “It’s go at your own pace.”

Exercise is good for anyone but has been shown to be especially beneficial for cancer patients and survivors. Research has shown breast cancer is less likely to reoccur among post-menopausal women who work out, Wingert said.

Another MU researcher, Stephanie Reid-Arndt, an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Health Psychology in the School of Health Professions, has found that tai chi specifically might help cognitive functions in cancer survivors. She published a study showing those who practice the Chinese martial art saw improved memory and mood and less fatigue.

Tai chi involves slow-motion routines that are suited to a range of abilities, so it’s something a lot of patients can do.

“It can be an empowering experience,” Reid-Arndt said. “A lot of times, when people are going through treatment for cancer, they receive a lot of care from others — and that’s wonderful — but they’re also looking for ways to be proactive and take care of themselves as well. Nonmedicine-based interventions are appealing to a lot of people.”

Kathy Windmoeller, a breast cancer survivor, was among the group that participated in Reid-Arndt’s 10-week trial. “It was calming and gentle and really helps with balance,” she said.

Today, Windmoeller continues tai chi along with other workout routines at Wilson’s Fitness.

Wingert is considering incorporating tai chi into a future six-week exercise program that would piggyback the current class.

She’s looking at several activities to see what works best for her patients.

Still, for one, is hoping the group exercise programs continue. “It helps to be around other people who are going through similar things,” she said. “And it helps when you know what to expect.”

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