Monday 5 May 2014

Running Through Cancer and Beyond

Running Important to Physical and Mental Recovery After Cancer

Running is important to cancer recovery both physically and mentally
It’s been three years since my battle with cancer. I had always been a casual runner, venturing out for a 5 km jog a couple of times a week but lately I have been running a lot; enjoying the cooler temperatures and increasing ease in my stride. And I have my cancer diagnosis to thank for this transformation.

Running has been so important to my cancer recovery both physically and mentally allowing me to focus on getting better and cope with difficult times. My diagnosis of Stage Three Colon Cancer meant that I had to undergo surgery to remove a large portion of my colon and surrounding lymph nodes, followed by a six month course of chemotherapy. As any cancer patient understands, you end up feeling much worse after your treatment than you ever felt before. The side effects of therapy certainly left this 50 year old runner struggling to regain and maintain a confident stride through the daily demands as a health practitioner and mother of three active teenagers.  But it was because I felt so lousy and not in the drivers-seat for the first time in my life that I was relentless in my pursuit of recovery and a sense of well-being.

As a career physiotherapist I was well versed on the benefits of running to maintain a healthy lifestyle and more specifically well aware of the scientific research indicating the odds of surviving colon cancer are significantly increased with exercise such as running.  In fact exercise is now recommended during treatment as well as after, for colon and other types of cancers.  This knowledge gave me a means to participate in my own recovery and put me back in the driver’s seat, well at least shot-gun!

Practical Exercise Tips for Running While Battling Cancer

Running proved to be the best exercise for me while battling cancer.  Here are some practical exercise tips, that I learned along the way that may help others to stay active:

  • Try a foam donut cut out over your port-a-cath (implant used for chemo) to minimize the irritation of your sports bra rubbing against it.  Camping foam, a couple cm thick works well & it can be easily taped in place, with first aid tape or just slipped under the bra strap.
  • Don’t tie running shoes as tightly as you did before treatment; carefully adjust the tongue of the shoe to avoid constriction of the blood flow and minimize pressure on sensitive nerves. 
  • Consider new shoes with more cushion support than you previously may have had, to protect the sensitivity of your feet if you are dealing with chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy.
  • Consider wearing compression stockings if you have even mild swelling in your feet (a common condition if you have had lymph nodes removed).
  • Use lemon or orange slices in your water bottle to minimize the metallic aftertaste of chemotherapy and encourage you to stay hydrated, which is most important during treatment.
  • Get some new motivational music on your iPod. It is surprising the impact this can have on your mind and spirit – making the journey so much more tolerable.
  • Run outside to avoid crowds and other sources of infection (like pools or gyms) when your white blood cell count is low. There is nothing like a little fresh air to clear the cobwebs of chemotherapy-related fogginess. 
  • NEVER run to the point of complete exhaustion - be sensible in your energy expenditure. Always remind yourself not to ‘empty the gas tank’ and leave a little energy to deal with the rest of your day. 

Exercise is an Opportunity to do More Than Just Survive Cancer

Exercise gave me an opportunity to do more than just survive cancer; it helped me to begin living my life again and in many ways helped me to transform into a better human being.  My wish for cancer survivors and runners alike comes from the words of one of my favourite running songs, “May your paths be the sound of your feet upon the ground”. You never know where a run might take you or where life will lead you.

To find out more about Cancer Rehab Canada please see our website.

Please contact one of our 62 Cancer Rehab locations across Canada. Links will direct to a Cancer Rehab provider in your area.

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