Women at East Texas Medical Center’s annual Pink Ribbon Getaway received a lesson in the importance of diet and exercise as it relates to cancer.
Jean Teague, 72, of Whitehouse, understood very well the importance of activity following a diagnosis. The great-grandmother easily glided through a set of squats as instructed by ETMC’s fitness specialist Cassie Ebert.
But it wasn’t always the case for Mrs. Teague. Before her diagnosis nearly 21 years ago, she was inactive and overweight. Following the diagnosis, it still took some time to include exercise in her daily life.
“It clicked up here that I had to do something,” she said. “I probably didn’t kick in gear until about 10 years ago. (It was) seeing myself and not being able to keep up with my grandkids and my great-grandkids. We have to have (exercise). It’s a must, even if it’s a little bit.”
During the retreat, guests learned that obesity can increase the risk of cancer and reoccurrence by 9 percent for every five points that BMI is increased. BMI, or body mass index, is a calculation based on weight and height. A person whose BMI is 30 or higher is considered obese.
Greg Maschal, operations director at ETMC’s Olympic Center, highlighted the numerous benefits of exercise, with or without a chronic illness. They include burning fat, gaining muscle tissue and improving the cardiovascular system. After a cancer diagnosis, it helps reduce anxiety, lower the risk of recurrence and makes treatment more effective. He pointed out that there is no uncovered secret to good health and weight loss.
“Exercise is that magic pill,” Maschal said. “You just have to work a little harder for it.”
“Ten to 15 years ago it wasn’t uncommon to be told if you were diagnosed with cancer to be as inactive as possible, to rest,” Maschal said. “You don’t want to overexert yourself. But over the past 10-15 years, that’s definitely changed.”
Doctors and medical organizations today, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology, cite studies that suggest that a healthy diet and exercise influences cancer risk and prognosis.
In the past, there were safety and health concerns associated with lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in the arm or leg. Maschal noted that patients must consult with their physician before starting a new exercise routine. Warning signs that a person should not exercise during cancer treatment is extreme fatigue, anemia and ataxia, a lack of muscle coordination.
There are 13.5 million breast cancer survivors and studies show that number may increase to 18 million by 2022. Earlier detection, longer life expectancy and access to information are factors in the projections.
Joyce Coleman, 53, of Malakoff, is among those survivors. She also had an inactive lifestyle before her cancer diagnosis six years ago. She’s active now, walking and doing other exercises. It didn’t take much to convince her that she needed to get moving.
She also changed the way she eats, and how she generally views life.
“I started taking life seriously,” she said. “The little things they used to bother me, I don’t let bother me know. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it lets you know how precious life really is.”
She added, “As you get older you have to get wiser and you have to make better choices because what worked for you when you didn’t have cancer, it doesn’t work now when you have cancer.”