What Exactly is a Cancer Exercise Specialist & Why Should You Refer to One?

Andrea Leonard President/Founder of CETI teaching case studies

As a 36-year cancer survivor and 28 year fitness veteran, I can speak firsthand to the benefits of exercise for cancer patients. Before I go into my own personal experience I want to share the most recent position statement from the Exercise and Sport Science of Australia on Exercise Medicine in Cancer Management.

“Overall, evidence supports that the implementation of exercise prescription brings with it reduced morbidity, improved function and quality of life, and potential for improved survival, with very low risk of harm. However, the strength of the evidence in support of exercise safety, feasibility and benefit is dependent on cancer type and outcome of interest. While for the majority, multimodal, moderate to high intensity exercise will be appropriate, there is no set prescription and total weekly dosage that would be considered evidence-based for all cancer patients. Appropriate exercise prescription for cancer patients needs to be targeted and individualised according to patient- and cancer-specific considerations.”

In 1995 after my mother’s second diagnosis of breast cancer, she asked me if I could help her in her recovery. The first time post-mastectomy, she ended up with a frozen shoulder (she was never told to move her arm) and permanent nerve damage/chronic pain (resulted in drug addiction and a month of detox at John’s Hopkins). She was never told about lymphedema and was going to undergo an abdominal TRAM reconstructive procedure to spite the fact that she had bulging lumbar discs and chronic back pain. There is much more to this story, but the point is that there was virtually no information available to the general public at this time. With the support of my mother’s breast surgeon Katherine Alley, I embarked on a three-year project to write the first book on breast cancer recovery using a progressive resistance program – “Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors.” It was published in 2000, but I believe that it was before it’s time. There was still so much controversy about whether or not exercise was okay and at what intensity. Much like cardiac rehab. was 30 years prior, the medical world was not ready to accept exercise as part of the cancer recovery continuum.

In the last few years as more and more studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise in cancer prevention, minimizing treatment side-effects, cancer recovery, and long-term survivorship, more and more allied health professionals have jumped on the bandwagon. The problem that I see however, is that no matter how well-intended some health & fitness professionals are, they are potentially doing more harm than good. Working with cancer patients is not a one size fits all kind of program. Even with the latest information published by the American College of Sports Medicine, one must understand how to modify all components of an exercise program to meet the INDIVIDUAL and EVER-CHANGING needs of the patient. Anyone wanting to work safely and effectively with cancer patients and survivors MUST understand the intricacies of various cancer surgeries, treatment protocols, lymphedema identification, prevention, and management, psychological issues, fatigue, comorbidities, assessment protocol, and so much more.

“I look at it like a mathematical equation. You take A (surgery date, incision site, recovery time, organs removed, and acute & chronic side-effects/comorbidities) and add B (treatment types, duration, intensity, date of last treatment or currently undergoing, and acute & chronic side-effects/comorbidities), and add C (lymphedema risk, precautions, drainage exercises, and education), and D (results of assessment – limited range of motion, muscle imbalances, balance issues/neuropathy, lymphedema girth measurements, etc.) and then and only then can you put together an INDIVIDUALIZED/COMPREHENSIVE cancer exercise program.” – Andrea Leonard

During the live workshops, students get to EXPERIENCE what it is like to have lymphedema and how it impacts their ability to perform certain exercises. They get to feel what it is like to exercise with neuropathy and see how it affects their mobility and ability to balance. There is no better way to understand the limitations and frustration that these side-effects pose on cancer patients than to have students experience it first-hand. Not only does this get their creative juices flowing with exercise programming options, it helps them to empathize with some of their potential client’s frustrations.

The Cancer Exercise Training Institute updates it’s materials every two years. The world of oncology is changing on a daily basis and it is imperative that those working with cancer patients, both during and after treatment, remain current with their information and training. Cancer Exercise Specialists participate in ongoing education during the course of their Advanced Qualification and are required to re-test (based on new and updated materials) every two years to remain current. No other organization maintains such stringent educational requirements. This allows CETI to ensure the competency of anyone that is listed on the International Cancer Exercise Specialist Directory.

In the past two years as the fitness world has become more convinced of the importance and need to offer cancer-specific services, CETI has been blessed to partner with the American Council on Exercise, Functional Aging Institute, MedFit Network, PTA Global, National Federation of Personal Trainers, World Instructor Training Schools, and American Academy of Health & Fitness. In 2019 we expanded our reach to Asia, Canada, and New Zealand and in 2020 we will broaden our reach to include Netherlands, Germany, Jordan, Dubai, Australia, and more.

Whether you are a cancer patient/survivor looking for the most comprehensive, safest, and most effective exercise programming, or you are an allied health professional (nurse, PT, OT, doctor, personal trainer, massage therapist, yoga instructor, group exercise instructor, Pilates teacher etc.) looking to add cancer training to your offerings, CETI has the resources for you! If you would like to earn CEU’s and become a Cancer Exercise Specialist to ring in the new year, we have a great deal for you! During the month of January you can get started on your journey to become a Cancer Exercise Specialist and save 30% on the one-time payment or 4-payment plans. Use code NEWYEAR30

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