November 19, 2019

Cancer-Related Fatigue Program Benefits Patients, Students

PBA News

Breast cancer treatments left Robin C. Brown too tired to get out of bed for more than a couple of hours a day — until the University’s cancer-related fatigue program got her moving again.

Dr. Stephen Sylvester, a physical therapist for more than 25 years, started the cancer-related fatigue program to ensure that people fighting cancer can exercise under supervision and at no cost to them. Each participant benefits from an exercise program customized to his or specific needs, Sylvester said.

Over eight weeks, participants exercise three times a week for one hour in the Greene Complex for Sports and Recreation, where they learn how to exercise safely at home.

Student volunteers — primarily from the Health & Human Performance department — apply their knowledge of exercise science, body mechanics and physiology while supervising the participants. They get the benefit of hands-on experience.

“I saw a lot of really conscientious students. That warmed my heart more than anything,” Sylvester said at a celebration concluding the program for the fall semester. “No matter how much you try to do things at home, it’s not the same as having two people watching over you.”

Cancer-related fatigue affects 90 percent of patients treated with radiation and 80 percent of those treated with chemotherapy. For most people, slowly increasing exercise is one of the most effective methods of managing the fatigue.

Many of the program’s fall graduates said the benefits were multifaceted. That was the case for Barry Lawson.

“You have no idea how this changes your day when you get up and don’t feel quite right,” Lawson said. “It injects a big shot of exuberance. When you leave, you feel so good, and not just because of the exercise, because of the people involved.”

Marcus Lantier, an exercise science major, supervised Lawson. Lantier said he learned from Lawson’s dedication to get up and exercise after nine months of radiation for pancreatic cancer.

“I learned that people going through tough times such as cancer can be so strong,” Lantier said. “It’s inspiring. It makes me want to do better.”

Tanya Burke began the program after treatment for breast cancer and found the spiritual aspect especially helpful. The walls of the gym were full of motivational messages, and student volunteers wore shirts with Isaiah 40:29: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

“That reinforcement was really good to get every session,” said Burke, who later joined the Marshall E. Rinker School of Business as an adjunct professor of management.

Linda Wyckoff has been fighting cancer or its collateral damage off and on since 2000. The communal exercise creates accountability, and the student volunteers are “like cheerleaders, in addition to personal trainers,” she said.

“It’s more mental than physical, or maybe a combination of both,” Wyckoff said. “It’s just encouraging to be there and see the kids — young, healthy, energetic, full of life and concerned about us.”

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