NEW YORKKeeping fit and eating right is no easy task for the millions of Americans who are overweight and out of shape. For cancer patients, it requires specialized know-how as well as determination, according to experts who gave advice during a Cancer Care, Inc. teleconference on ways to battle fatigue.
Eileen Donovan, PT, MEd, manager of rehabilitation services, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Marilyn Joyce, MA, RD, president of 5 Minutes to Health, Los Angeles, addressed exercise and nutrition, respectively, during the hour-long program.
Ms. Donovan urged patients to consult their physicians before starting an exercise program. If they have difficulty with basic activities such as bathing or have a specific heart, nerve, or muscle problem, she suggested that they also seek recommendations from a rehabilitation professional, such as an occupational or physical therapist.
"If you have disease in your bone, your doctor may want you to avoid certain activities," she said. "If you have loss of feeling or stress in your leg, you should see a rehabilitation professional and make sure that you can exercise without hurting yourself."
Cancer patients also need to assess what they want to do and why they are having difficulty, she said. For example, if a patient can’t carry groceries, the cause could be weak muscles or lack of stamina or both. Another common problem, shoulder tightness after surgery, usually requires exercises to restore flexibility rather than strength. If getting up from a low chair or commode is the goal, however, weakened leg muscles need to be strengthened.
Whatever the exercise regimen, Ms. Donovan recommended starting slowly and increasing the duration or the intensity of the activity over time, but not both at once.
A patient might figure out how far she can walk comfortably for 10 minutes at baseline, for example. After a week, she might try to walk farther in 10 minutes, or walk at the same speed for 11 or 12 minutes. Similarly, a patient might practice getting up from a chair that poses no difficulty, such as a dining room chair, several times a day for a week and then progress to chairs that are slightly lower.