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Can Do, Can't Do

Has the perception of living with cancer treatments changed, and has it changed for the better?

Changing views on exercise and cancer

Historically both healthcare professionals and the families of people diagnosed with cancer may have wrapped up the patient in cotton wool and told them to go and lie on a sofa and rest and recuperate. The thought of anyone actually exercising while on treatments like chemotherapy was met with ridicule!

I for one do think that perceptions have thankfully changed. It’s now becoming the norm for cancer patients to be encouraged to exercise, and I have friends who’ve run a marathon and competed in a triathlon while on chemotherapy. It didn’t kill them and, more importantly, it made them feel significantly better about living a good and active life while living with cancer.

More prehab programs

We are now seeing more and more cancer prehabilitation programs being setup around the world to prepare people for the physiological and psychological challenges of cancer treatment.

The clinical lead of a prehab program that I’m a patient representative of says whenever he talks about prehab that we no longer need to prove the prehab/rehab benefits to cancer patients; people believe in them. I also love the fact that a prehab program aims to help people transition to a lifelong habit of physical activity. What a wonderful achievement that is.

Evidence emerges all the time about the value of exercise for those living with and beyond cancer. A small study published in November 2022 suggested that aerobic exercise may elicit a tumor suppressive response in men with advanced prostate cancer.1

Exercise can look different for each of us

Now, your idea of exercise and mine will inevitably differ. My preference is to run, but your's might be to walk, cycle, swim, or do chair-based exercises when you can’t do any more.

When I set myself running challenges, post my Stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis, I think people thought I was mad. They maybe even implied that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do that. Now that to me was a bit of a red rag to a bull! I believe that the barriers stopping us from doing things are the ones that we set ourselves or others set for us. So why not just push back those boundaries?

I have a friend who has stage 4 prostate cancer who has completed the Marathon Des Sables, a multi-day event running across the Sahara, as well as doing ultra-marathons through jungles and pulling a sled across the Arctic! That was his form of pushing back those artificial barriers and showing how well we can live with cancer if we can.

I was a little less adventurous but have completed the London Marathon plus a 100km, two-day, ultra-marathon. Last year I ran at least 5km every single day for 365 days.

Refusing to be told we can't do something

I’d like to close by challenging people not to accept being told “You can’t possibly do that,” and responding with, “If I put my mind to it, I can do amazing things.” Push back those artificial barriers and go out and do the very best you can. It may not be a marathon; it may just be doing a short daily walk. But get out and do it and you may feel better and, who knows, it may help you!

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