Exercise and cancer

Who needs Lance Armstrong when we have so many heroes ?

Exercise helps during cancer treatment


Last week I wrote about Suresh.  He was thrilled when he came to see me and said, “I always wanted to do the half-marathon before the disease hit me and now after the treatment I will run the half-marathon”.  He completed the half-marathon without a hitch and to me he is one of the real heroes! 

During his treatment, I found him reading Lance Armstrong’s book ‘Its not about the bike: my journey back to life”’.  Incidentally Lance Armstrong also had the similar disease.  I felt so terrible that Lance  let down so many people who looked up to him as a motivation during their fight against cancer.  I think that was definitely criminal.  Unfortunately  sports heroes letting down their fans is happening now. But patients feel so let down when their role model is a fraud.

Yuvraj had a similar problem and wrote about his success story. He is currently hero-worshipped by all.  Rightly so and he too read  the Armstrong’s book. There are many Heroes amongst us – just ordinary people with extraordinary courage.   Many  like Suresh who believe that they can kick the disease and continue to exercise and be physically fit. 

Let me tell you that physical fitness is one of the most important needs for effective treatment.  It is clear that a strong body can resist and fight the disease and also tolerate drugs that are necessary.  For all those who are on treatment or off treatment, do not forget to exercise.  That is your biggest single weapon against the big C. 

When do you start exercising?

If you are a fitness enthusiast like Suresh- DON’T stop. Keep exercise to at least 20-30 min of walk even during chemotherapy. Even aerobics with less intensity are fine. It relieves your stress and take your mind away from thinking about side effects.

What if you have not exercised regularly?

Its advisable to start walking at least 10 min three times a day. Yoga and meditation would help and I definitely encourage you to “keep fit”.

What about yoga?

It has been shown in many studies that yoga reduces the anxiety. Let me tell you that it is the anxiety about therapy that is worse than therapy. I have seen less literate patients take therapy without blinking.

I am attaching the NCCN guidelines for exercise during treatment, which are useful

Exercise, Exercise and Exercise and reduce your weight. This is particularly true for breast cancer where excessive fat can predispose. 

Exercise reduces the cancer risk.  More about it next time.




Family Support is essential for Cancer Treatment and that’s here, at home !!

Suresh, a fit, young Chartered Accountant, , was working out in a gym, when he suddenly had headache and noticed weakness of his hand.  He was then rushed to the hospital.   MRI Scan was done and he was shocked found to have a large mass in the brain.  Further Scan of chest and abdomen showed nodules in the lung and a mass in the abdomen.  In staging terms, it is Stage IV Cancer and as  anyone would assume, the family thought it is the end of the world, but there is always a silver lining in the cloud.  Suresh’s uncle and his wife rushed to me in the night completely shattered at this news.  On further tests he was found to have a ‘germ cell tumor’- the same diagnosis as Yuvaraj Singh.

It is indeed fortunate as this tumor melts away with modern chemotherapy.  They can also be detected by simple blood tests like Beta HCG and ALPHA Feto Protein. Suresh was positive and just said ”Doctor, just give me a chance to run Mumbai Marathon’.

His uncle said “We have no financial limitations and can we go abroad for Chemotherapy if you feel, if it is going to make any difference”.  I thought about it and said that Chemotherapy drugs are standard – they are same and the schedules are the same.  Our Medical Oncologists are very efficient, equal to anyone in the world but one big positive point for staying closer home is’ family support’ and the assistance you can get from so many members of the family and friends.

Manju, his wife, is phenomenal.  She took charge of the whole support system – her sister was asked to take charge of the young children. His uncle looked after the company interests and Manju devoted herself completely to taking care of Suresh, his diet, chemo cycles and of course providing the emotional support he needs.

Emotional support to me is the most important element of cancer care.  Suresh’s friends dropped in to cheer him up and he busily immersed himself in his work, reading and regular exercise.  His company was supportive and rallied behind him.

All were in smiles when Beta HCG started dropping, tumor melted away and at the end of the cycles, he had a lemon sized residual mass in the abdomen which I operated and took out with some difficulty, of course.  After that they wanted to go on a holiday to USA and also take an opinion.

I always recommend that one has to organise the work, the family, because treatment can be long, upto 6 months, with multiple admissions.  Certainly going abroad works out difficult and many times you are in an impersonal environment.  I can assure you that no doctor, other than Indian doctors, would respond 24×7 to their patients.

Suresh and his wife went to Dr Einhorn of Indiana university, a world authority on germ cell tumors who introduced the  Chemotherapy for germ cell tumors.  He was very happy with the care in India and planning of the overall treatment and in fact said  ‘perhaps many surgeons would not have removed the residual mass as it was technically challenging’.  They came back happy and satisfied they got the world’s best care and today Suresh is back to work, full of energy and activity and recently did Stanchart half marathon , a proud achievement for all.

Next week I will write about his passion for exercise and motivation and how exercise helps in treatment