Medical Minute: Strength for Cancer Patients

There are obvious benefits of exercise. Staying in shape and losing weight are the big ones. It also can improve a person’s sense of well being and how they feel about themselves, but it’s not prescribed for everyone. In fact, for many years exercise for people living with cancer has not been encouraged by the medical profession.

For fifteen years, Joan Johnston has been taking this walk on Stanford University’s campus.

“It’s about a three and a half mile walk, which we do in about 50 minutes,” says Joan.

She used to walk with a group of friends, but Joan hasn’t been able to keep the same pace for about a year.

“I was diagnosed in March of 2002 with colorectal cancer,” Joan says.

Chemo, radiation and surgery left Joan too tired to keep up, so she joined Joyce Hanna’s exercise and strength training program for cancer patients.

“I try to focus in on people who would not or could not do it on their own,” Joyce says.

For years, exercise was thought to increase fatigue in cancer patients and decrease the immune system. New research shows that’s not the case for most patients. Dr. Walter Bortz agrees.

“People who are going through this double burden of cancer and its treatment do remarkably well with an exercise program,” says Dr. Bortz.

Patients here exercise twice a week. They leave with more energy, more self-esteem and a better quality of life.

“Norman Cousins has a wonderful statement. What he says about cancer is, ‘Accept the diagnosis, but reject the verdict.’ This program is about living, and I like that quote,” says Joyce.

So does Joan.

“It improved the energy. It did take away the fatigue.”

Today, she enjoys every minute with her family and cherishes every conversation she has with granddaughter, Ella.

Joyce Hanna says to exercise in moderation, under supervision and at a slow to moderate pace. She also says exercise should be specifically tailored if the patients have lymphedema. Efforts are ongoing to spread the program nationwide to YMCAs across the country. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

For more information, contact:

Joyce Hanna, M.A., M.S.
Stanford University School of Medicine
730 Welch Road, Suite B
Palo Alto, CA 94304
E-Mail Joyce Hanna

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