Pumping Iron with Cancer Patients

Lake County's Only Cancer-related Fatigue Program

"What can I do about fatigue?"

It’s the most common question that the oncology team, Robin Flory, P.T./C.L.T., Claudia Wiser, P.T./C.L.T. and Leah Haverhals, P.T., D.P.T./C.L.T. of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital hear from cancer patients.

Until recently, the answer from the medical community has been: “try to rest.”

However, oncology physical therapists like Haverhals have long observed the benefits of exercise in cancer rehabilitation. Encouraged by research confirming these observations, the oncology team of the Rehabilitative Services Department created Lake County’s only certified Cancer-related Fatigue Program at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.

“As physical therapists, we help individuals with cancer resolve impairments and restore basic functions. However, often after achieving goals in therapy, they continue to experience fatigue and general weakness due to the nature of cancer and cancer treatments,” she says. “A personal trainer can work with patients to establish a consistent exercise routine. We have both a well-established cancer program and an amazing Health and Fitness Center here. Combining the two was a perfect fit.”

How the Program Works

The Cancer-related Fatigue Program begins with an initial evaluation by a physical therapist, followed by group classes that meet twice a week for eight weeks in the Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center. Guided by personal trainers certified in cancer exercise, a small group of patients (at various stages of cancer and cancer treatments, as well as various diagnoses) perform moderate levels of strength training, flexibility exercises and cardiovascular workouts. The workouts are safe and beneficial for individuals with cancer.

“We’re unique because we have oncology-trained therapists collaborating with staff who are all certified cancer exercise specialists. The patient’s trusted therapist is still in the picture and still getting feedback,” Haverhals says. “This relationship between our physical therapists and personal trainers creates a continuum of care that allows our patients to reach their maximum level of health.”

A Surprising Array of Benefits 

In August of 2009, The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of the largest study to date on exercise and cancer. The study found that weight lifting doesn’t make cancer symptoms worse, but actually reduces fatigue and chemotherapy’s toxic effects. Several other benefits have been documented, including:

  • Reduced cancer-related fatigue and weakness
  • Fewer lymphedema flare-ups
  • Protection against side effects of chemotherapy and radiation
  • Improved cancer survival rates
  • Improved mood, mobility, strength and overall quality of life

“For individuals with cancer, quality of life is a big concern,” says Haverhals. “This program meets that need. Patients have been surprised by the effects — and glad they came.”

For more information or to register, call Oncology Rehabilitation at 847.535.6520.

Learn more about Cancer (Oncology)