I’ve got cancer and you want me to exercise??!


Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN

When I talk to people going through cancer treatments, almost all mention the fatigue they experience. They may have fatigue due to the cancer itself, the treatments or it may be a result of unmanaged pain or other side effects. The nurse in me always wants to provide them with some tips to cope with these side effects – but when I go down the exercise path, I almost always get a roll of the eyes and a chuckle. It’s a hard sell, I know. But people undergoing cancer treatment can – and should – exercise! It can provide relief from fatigue, pain, weight gain, insomnia and a whole host of issues people commonly experience.

Now, I’m not talking about running a marathon, or even a 5K. Start where you are – a walk around the house, if that is all you can muster. Do that every day for a week, then up the ante and walk to the end of the block and back. Whatever you do, just get started!

I stumbled across an interview with Dr. Kathryn Schmitz that addresses exactly when and how to exercise when you have cancer – I hope it gives you some tips and motivation to get off that couch!

“Of the thousands of cancer survivors Dr. Kathryn Schmitz talks to, low- grade pain and fatigue are the most common barriers to their exercising.

“But these are actually reasons to do it; physical activity usually lessens pain, makes you stronger, and at least gives you more control. It’s also associated with better survival rates,” says Dr. Schmitz, the lead investigator in the PAL trials, showing exercise benefits cancer patients with lymphedema—people who’d heard, stay out of the gym and off the track.

But when do you need to back off? And when do you press on the accelerator?”

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