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The Walk of Life: Cancer and Physical Activity

  • 6/25/2014 11:11:00 AM
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The Walk of Life: Cancer and Physical Activity

John Seawright, B.S.

For men, the probability of developing cancer at some point in life is equivalent to flipping a coin; 1 in 2; for women, it’s slightly better at 1 in 3. Take a coin out of your drawer and think of your father. Now, flip the coin. Let’s do it again. This time, think of your brother, your son, or yourself. At some juncture in your life, the phrase “I’m going to refer you to Oncology,” is likely to cross your road. Robert Frost had something to say about roads, and although the cancer road is well traveled, when trudging along that onerous path, perseverance can make all the difference.

Your first step will be a brave one. You will walk toward Oncology conjuring the worst prognoses you can imagine; you will face death for the first time. When you reach your destination, you will be greeted by kind eyes burdened by years of bearing bad news, a heart whose hope is genuine, but callused through its profession, and a tongue spitting words you will spend months researching. Ultimately, you will develop a treatment plan. It will most likely involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or some combination of these treatments.

Two of the most common forms of treatment, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, both present challenges to your body. Chemotherapy is the process of “poisoning” cancer cells with drugs to kill/shrink tumor cells. However, noncancerous cells all over your body are also susceptible to being poisoned. Radiation therapy uses focused high-energy particles or waves targeted to the cancerous tissue. Due to the mechanics of how energy is deposited as the radiation passes through a body, normal, healthy tissue around the tumor will also be irradiated. Side effects of both therapies include a loss of appetite and extreme fatigue. See the American Cancer Society reference below for additional information. The next step is a difficult one. The treatment will leave you exhausted and reluctant to eat, but you’re not defeated. At this point, it’s just endurance. In fact, recent research indicates that endurance exercise equivalent to a brisk walk 3x a week and/or an 8-12 repetition/60-70% one rep maximum resistance exercise training program limits the reduction in peak VO2 (reducing fatigue) during cancer treatment. Resistance exercise also curtailed the patient rated decrease in muscular strength and quality of life.

From here, the next step is up to you.

When you hear the phrase, “I’m going to refer you to Oncology,” get up and start walking. If you are up for it, throw in a few squats. Just persevere. Step by step. Endlessly. Relentlessly. It need not be on the road less traveled, any road will do. Look to your left and look to your right, for you are not alone. You are Man and you are persevering. To understand perseverance is to understand the meaning of life. One foot in front of the other. That is life; As it was. As it is. As it always will be.

Further Readings:


  1. Segal RJ, Reid RD, Courneya KS, et al. Randomized controlled trial of resistance or aerobic exercise in men receiving radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology.2009;27(3):344-351.
  2. Doyle C, Kushi LH, Byers T, et al. Nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment: an American Cancer Society guide for informed choices. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians. 2006;56(6):323-353.
  3. American Cancer Society. (2014). "American Cancer Society." Retrieved 04/10/14, 2014, from



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