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Exercise and the "C" Word

Cancer is a scary word. Most of us have been touched by cancer, whether in a family member, friend, or personal experience. It is made more terrifying because after a diagnosis, outcomes are measured in probabilities and statistics. Facing the unknown puts us out of balance, making it difficult to plan, think, and function. It also forces us to consider, regardless of how statistically insignificant, the possible terminal outcome.

Every person deals with cancer in their own way, and there is no one “right” way to handle it. Something that can be helpful is to see the thoughts and perspectives of those who have already faced it. Researchers at Lancaster University have put together a list of metaphors aimed to help those facing cancer put it into perspective. Compiled from the experiences of people who have been through it, the metaphor menu helps to put into perspective what life is like in the face of cancer with items like metaphor number 8: “I respect Cancer and never underestimate the power it has, but, if you can face up to it and hit it back head on, you stand a good chance of beating it for a bit longer”. This menu is available through Lancaster University . It’s important to note that different metaphors will resonate depending on where someone is in their experience of cancer, check resources out and return to them more than once to support your journey (another metaphor from the list).

If cancer is a scary unknown, even more so is the idea that you might have to be in it alone. Support systems are essential to help navigate the process. A medical team, solid social and emotional support, mental health resources, and physical support all play into the venn diagram of what anyone living with cancer needs. BC Cancer has resources listed on their website to direct people to support systems they need.

As far as physical activity during cancer treatment and recovery, there is significant evidence that exercise can support wellbeing during treatment, and improve outcomes after. At a basic level, participation in physical activity and sticking to a routine just adds a sense of normalcy to an otherwise abnormal time in your life. But more than that, physical activity can also help to manage pain, improve mental health, reduce fatigue, maintain bone density and balance, and improve sleep quality for those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

What is essential to remember while going through treatment is that although staying active is important, expecting to be able to stick to a highly structured routine is unrealistic. You have to approach each day as it comes. That may mean that some days you’re tired and a short walk is all you can manage, while other days you have more energy and can complete a rigorous strength training session. Once treatment has concluded, having a plan focusing on a very gradual increase in exercise duration and intensity helps to support recovery while not overtaxing your energy resources still needed for recovering from the treatment itself. Having the support of a trained professional to help reign in overzealous expectations and can help keep you on track and prevent your plan from being derailed. There are also Cancer Physiotherapists that can help you manage symptoms, answer questions, set goals, manage expectations and get you back to exercising while using the exercise as medicine in your cancer fight (metaphor number 3 if you’re counting).

If you or someone you know is facing the scary unknowns of cancer, metaphors, support systems or the benefits of exercises are a few things that can help navigate the journey.

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