When cancer treatment is over and the scans and tests are showing no signs of illness, it’s easy for survivors to put cancer treatment and everything that goes along with it in the rearview mirror.
However, there are certain needs for cancer survivors that must be addressed and monitored for maintaining the best quality of life.
That is why the UC Cancer Institute Survivorship Program’s Be Fit was established, to help create an individualized nutrition and exercise plan for survivors and help them throughout recovery and beyond.
"Exercise and nutritious eating habits are healthy behaviors important for cancer recovery,” says Bev Reigle, PhD, registered nurse and director of the survivorship program. "Sometimes, physical complications may arise in survivors as an after effect of treatment, but the correlation between the two may not be made by the survivor. That is why we have assembled a dedicated team to educate survivors on these types of complications and teach them exercise that is safe, as well as the best foods to eat to help them receive the nutrition needed for optimal results.”
As part of Be Fit, survivors undergo a physical examination by Michelle Kirschner, a nurse practitioner within the survivorship clinic. Pat Woellert, Be Fit coordinator and certified clinical cancer exercise specialist and cancer exercise trainer, will then see the survivor at a separately scheduled fitness assessment to determine each individual’s cardiac fitness, flexibility, muscle strength, body composition and balance.
"We put together an individualized exercise program for each of our clients, based on the results of these tests and discuss them with the client—and make adjustments if needed—to make sure he or she is comfortable and understands what is recommended,” says Woellert. Aerobic, balance, strength and flexibility exercises address cancer survivor issues such as fatigue, peripheral neuropathy (weakness, numbness and pain from nerve damage, usually in the hands and feet), deconditioning, weight gain and loss and psychological well-being.
Each client sees Woellert for a full fitness assessment followed by a discussion of the assessment results, a minimum of six, one-hour supervised exercise sessions, with the option to continue in a 12-week, two days per week program. Clients may also transition to select YMCA locations, which include Blue Ash, Campbell County, Central Parkway, Clippard and M.E. Lyons, to join the Livestrong program for cancer survivors.
Each survivor also meets with Bonnie Brehm, PhD, a registered dietitian and professor at both the UC College of Nursing and the UC College of Medicine, to develop an individualized food plan based on his or her current nutrient and calorie needs, as well as food preferences. Practical strategies and tips for incorporating nutrient-dense foods into daily eating habits are discussed. In addition, nutrition-related issues which are being experienced by the client, such as fatigue or weight gain/loss, may be addressed.
Reigle adds that, in being part of an academic program, data will be collected on outcomes of the patients within Be Fit in order to both improve the program and provide information on overall outcomes for survivors in programs similar to this one. At this time, the Be Fit exercise and nutrition services are supported through the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation. The physical exam conducted by the nurse practitioner is at cost and may be covered by insurance.
"According to the American Cancer Society, there are now more than 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States and that number is expected to grow to nearly 20.3 million by 2026,” Reigle says. "Survivorship is a necessary component of care as rates of survival continue to climb. It begins after diagnosis and continues throughout a patient’s lifespan where several baselines of care are established and re-established.
"Our survivorship program and sub programs like Be Fit are unique to the region and are important to help survivors live to their highest level of wellness and quality of life.”