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Breast cancer recovery helped by exercise, nutrition

Pros help patients find motivation.Local experts know about the struggle.

For someone undergoing treatment for breast cancer, the mere thought of exercising can increase their already extreme fatigue. And even thinking about eating, with the level of nausea they’re feeling, can make their stomach turn. Yet studies have shown, that exercise and good nutrition can help patients better tolerate their cancer treatments, as well as help them better manage side effects of treatment.

“I think the key component of managing cancer is to take care of yourself and I definitely believe that nutrition and exercise can help you regain your health,” said Dr. Rita Hadley, surgeon at Advanced Surgical Partners in Springboro.

“Nutrition is important because it helps you stay strong and gives you a better chance of recovery from cancer and that is why it is important,” said Hadley. “Cancer and sometimes the treatment of cancer can cause a loss of appetite which may cause a “wasting” syndrome and make you feel worse. Some of the medications that are used for cancer treatments can cause constipation and other side effects which can become worsened if your diet lacks enough fluid or fiber or nutrients which are necessary to get you through that time period.”

As for exercise, she says that it helps to increase range of motion — especially for patients who have undergone surgery as part of their treatment, increases energy levels and often provides an emotional boost as well, which is powerful, especially if a patient has been in bed for a long while, just not feeling well.

However, she says that exercise shouldn’t always translate into weight loss, but rather into feeling better and having more energy. “It could a simple exercise program where it is walking or riding a bike or doing simple activities that get you out of bed and moving,” Hadley said.

But finding the motivation to move when you’re just plain feeling sick and tired is extremely difficult. Thankfully, there are people out there, in addition to a patient’s team of doctors, who are dedicated to helping cancer patients find that motivation.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle we face,” said Karen Wonders, associate professor of exercise science and program adviser for the sports science program at Wright State University. Wonders is the founder and director of Maple Tree Cancer Alliance — a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with cancer by focusing on their physical and spiritual health.

“At least 98 percent of all cancer patients undergoing treatment experience fatigue,” explained Wonders. “Even a small amount of physical activity can help. Studies show that if you take a nap when you’re feeling that fatigue, it can actually make you feel even more tired; but, getting up and walking for five to 10 minutes can make a big difference.”

The primary objectives of the exercise program at Maple Tree are to improve overall quality of life, increase strength and endurance, manage treatment-related side effects, increase range of motion, and improve treatment tolerance. Treatments can include simple stretching exercises done lying down, seated or standing up, strength training, yoga — all dependent on the current condition of the patient, Wonders said.

“For a patient who is coming to us following breast cancer surgery, we’re going to focus on helping her to get back her range of motion,” said Wonders. “So, we’d likely start out with stretching exercises.”

The nutritional guidance patients coming to the center receive is designed to help improve quality of life, maintain a healthy weight, improve treatment tolerance, manage treatment-related side effects, and improve eating habits.

Patients typically visit the center one to two times a week and work one-on-one with the same trainer and dietician throughout their treatment. Wonders says that while patients generally come to Maple Tree for at least six to nine months, they are welcome to come for as long as they wish. The cost is $40 per month, but assistance is available. “I don’t want people to worry about how to pay for this,” says Wonders.

Wonders says that she and her team of certified cancer exercise specialists and registered dieticians take great care in tailoring programs to meet the individual needs of patients and that they recognize the importance of maintaining flexibility.

“We realize that there will be days when a patient comes in here and just doesn’t feel good. On those days, we may have to be scale things back a bit,” Wonders said. “We believe in meeting our patients where they are.”

For more information on the Maple Tree Cancer Alliance, visit the organization’s website at:

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