About a year ago, I had the opportunity to meet someone I really looked up to in the non-profit world. As I nervously introduced myself and told her all about Maple Tree, I was secretly hoping she would impart her wisdom onto me and that we, of course, would become life-long friends.
Yeah…. That is NOT how this meeting went.
She took one look at me, snubbed her nose, and said, “Well. I mean, anyone can take a walk. Why is what you do so important?”
Her words really stung. They are forever burned into my brain.
Of course, being as passionate as I am about exercise oncology, I knew she was wrong. But no one had ever challenged me like that before!
Therefore, instead of calmly talking through her questions, I froze. I’m talking deer-in-the-headlights-freak-out-couldn’t-even-tell-you-my-own-name kind of freeze. There are no words to describe my reaction. Because, there literally were no words.
Now that a year has passed and I am older and wiser, I feel like I can finally articulate what I should have said all along!
Anyone can take a walk?
Really? Did you know that less than 5% of cancer survivors actually do take walks? That means that more than 95% of cancer survivors – all 15.5 million of them – are sedentary!!
Yet – here in Dayton, where Maple Tree is based, we work with approximately 66% of active cancer patients at the hospitals where we are partnered with full time. This is literally crushing the national average of 5%!
Why is it important that cancer survivors exercise?
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you already know the answer to this question. Exercise is SO important!! It improves patient outcomes and reduces symptom severity. It also reduces recurrence and mortality rates for certain types of cancers!
Oh yeah, and cancer patients who exercise during treatment can expect to visit the ER fewer times and stay in the hospital an average of 2 whole days less than those who do not exercise!!
Since nearly all cancer survivors experience side effects that directly impact their quality of life, that means they all would benefit from some form of exercise!
Can’t they just join a gym?
Okay, this is a valid point. Joining the gym is the first step towards beginning an exercise program. So kuddo’s to all of those people out there who have taken this important step.
But, in the 16 years that I have been conducting research in the field of exercise oncology, I have come to believe that exercising in a place that is tailored to the specific needs of a cancer survivor is extremely important to exercise compliance.
What I mean is this –
· People who are going through cancer are often experiencing major changes to their body image. The thought of walking into a commercialized gym is very intimidating to someone who has recently had surgery, is losing their hair, or is dealing with skin burns (etc) from treatment.
· Immunity is very important during cancer recovery. That is why it is important to exercise in a place that is clean and free from germs! This is very difficult to find in a commercial gym! I’m sure you know this, but sweat towels don’t disinfect! (EW)
· Because the heath status of people going through cancer treatment changes from day to day (sometimes minute to minute), it is important that a patient exercise with someone who is trained to meet the needs of a cancer survivor. Just any old exercise trainer won’t do! Not only do you want to work with someone who has a degree in exercise science and a thorough understanding of the physiology of the body, it is important that they also have a certification specific to exercise oncology! This is why all of our exercise trainers must complete a certification that we created (and is nationally accredited) before they can work with any of our patients! The safety of our patient’s is our top priority!!
· Sometimes, our patients just find it comforting to be around other people who are on a similar journey as they are.
Imagine. You are walking through a cancer diagnosis. You are feeling scared and overwhelmed. You have no idea what the future holds. On top of that, you don’t feel well. You are tired. You feel like no one understands what you are going through. You sometimes feel like things will never get any better.
Then you walk into a setting where people greet you with a smile – they are actually happy to see you! Even though you are tired, you are challenged to push yourself – even just a little bit. And you know what? You actually feel better once you do!
You see people around you who are also in treatment. They have days where they are not feeling well, just like you. They have days where they are tired, just like you, too. Yet, they continue to show up. You learn to count on seeing each other, and encourage one another as you go. You celebrate milestones with together. This place begins to feel like a family.
You look forward to exercise because you know it is making a difference.
That is why 96% of the people who begin a phase of exercise oncology at Maple Tree successfully complete it.
That is why more than 99% of our patients are satisfied with the impact Maple Tree has had on their treatment.
That is why, in 2012, our dear patient Betty said, “At Maple Tree I am so comfortable here. I feel like I can just leave my wig at the door!”
THAT, my friend, is why what we do is so important!