Guarantee or Hopeful Possibility; does a Cancer Patient Discriminate?
I was fifteen when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. I had very little knowledge of the world as I know it now; and certainly knew nothing about my mothers’ diagnosis. Over the next few months…and years….I witnessed my father taking care of my mother; changing her bandages, helping her to shower, blow drying her hair, and taking care of my young brother and I. My mother became a stranger and my father was playing the role of both parents. My mother was in chronic pain from the nerve damage she suffered during her sugery. As a result she became addicted to narcotics to control the pain. She was “unavailable;” barely able to survive her pain from day-to-day.
Doctors had no trouble writing a script for one pain killer and anti-spasmotic after another; regardless of their addictive properties and other side-effects. My mother never criticized their choices, she was simply happy to be alive. She was diagnosed with a second breast cancer, and then thyroid cancer, in the decades to follow. She was given sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and pain pills. As they would become ineffective due to drug tolerance, they would prescribe new combinations. Half of the time she didn’t know if she was coming or going; and still struggles with the addictive properties of her prescribed pain relief to this day.
When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a thyroidectomy and RAI therapy. I have struggled with body image, self-confidence, and eating disorders, my entire adult life. As a result, I was determined to help myself, and others like me, by becoming a Certified Personal Trainer. I have been certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Copper Institute, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the National Sports Professionals Association (NSPA).
I have spent the last 21 years creating the Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation, an OR 501-C3 and the Cancer Exercise Training Institute. In 2000 my first book, “Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors,” was published with the help of the chiefs’ of breast surgery at Georgetown, George Washington, and Johns’ Hopkins University Medical Centers. I have written ten editions of the “Cancer Exercise Specialist Handbook,” “Breast Cancer Recovery with the BOSU(R) Balance Trainer,” and more. I share this with you to show that I do have some CREDIBILITY when it comes to cancer and exercise. I have also spent the last five years teaching breast and prostate cancer patients how to exercise safely and effectively at OHSU-Oregon Health Science University.
I have trained hundreds of cancer patients over the last two decades and, as one would expect, have lost several of them to cancer. I have always been open to new scientific discoveries as well as to those tinctures that were not scientifically proven, and considered as “snake oil” by many. The thing that fascinates me to this day is that people are afraid to question their medical providers; they are afraid to “go against” what their doctor prescribes or recommends. Don’t get me wrong, I have had the good fortune of working with several physicians, surgeons, and oncologists who also were willing to step out of the “pharmaceutical” box to explore other possibilities.
I have been very close to a good number of men and women with stage four cancer. I hope that you never have to watch someone become a shadow of what they once were as cancer strips them of their strength, their physique, their self-confidence, and their dignity. If YOU were told “You have a few months to live,” make your arrangements, what would you do? Would you “live like you were dying” and start checking off items on your bucket list? That’s very difficult to do when you don’t have the strength to get out of bed and you are vomiting and wasting away from the chemotherapy that has proven ineffective (yet you continue to undergo treatment until you take your last breath).
This year marijuana became legal in several states; one of which is OR, where I reside. Prior to 2015 it was a medical marijuana state and patients could gain access to various forms of cannabis. I have never been PRO or CON; but I can tell you this…..If it was me that was given a terminal diagnosis, I would try ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that stood half a chance of working. What would I have to lose, I’m going to die anyway. I BEGGED several of my clients to try Simpson Oil; a form of cannabis, high in CBD, that has shown promise with some cancers to cause cell apoptosis (programmed cell death). They would not, however, because their medical provider would not advocate it. Instead they pumped them with pharmaceuticals, numbed the pain, and watched them whither away and finally succumb to the dreaded disease. What if it would have, could have, might have helped? Even by adding a few months to their lives? They will never know.
My mom, like many others, pumps her body full of pharmaceutical drugs, but she, too, is afraid to go against doctors orders and try something less conventional to manage her pain. This is a different scenario, referring to pain management, as opposed to a possible cure.
Everyone is looking for PROOF. There MUST be scientific research and studies by Mayo Clinic and Sloan Kettering, etc. before it becomes mainstream. This brings me to the point of my article. EVERYONE knows that exercise helps to prevent obesity which happens to be related to a relatively high percentage of cancers. Exercise reduces your risk of Diabetes, Osteoporosis, and Heart Disease, which may all be long-term side-effects of cancer treatment. Exercise may have a favorable affect on one’s hormone levels which can reduce the risk of “hormone fed” and reproductive cancers. It can also speed up the passage of ingested foods, minimizing the amount of time a potential carcinogen is in contact with the mucosal lining of the stomach.
I posted a study from the NY Times last week on Facebook about how exercise may lower cancer risk. I received a negative comment from someone who accused me of being a snake oil salesperson and giving people false hope. He negated the study because it wasn’t thorough enough and involved mice. I told him I was not going to waste my time arguing with him or providing him with the many citations that I have used in my handbook. He went on to accuse me of taking advantage of people who are scared and dying. This was war now. How dare he accuse me of any such thing. We went back and forth with our own opinions until I finally just quit responding to his ignorance and arrogance.
I beg of you to be open-minded when it comes to alternative therapies for cancer patients; even if you are the patient. We make no promises. We are not giving false hope. Simply providing options and possibilities for those who are open to them. Neither the hopeful patient, or the alternative care provider should be ridiculed for wanting to TRY to beat this disease. Don’t make accusations until you, too, have walked in their (our) shoes. My father had bladder and prostate cancer as well as Mylelodysplastic Syndrome (a pre-AML). He had a heart attack on my wedding day in 2014 and refused to go to cardiac rehab thereafter. He died 6 weeks later. I am convinced that exercise most CERTAINLY could have kept him alive for a while longer.