New gym geared toward cancer patients - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New gym geared toward cancer patients

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At first glance it looks pretty much like any other gym, but the folks working out here have had significant health issues.  
"I had a mammogram in December of last year, then got the dreaded call -- diagnosed in January and surgery in February," said Leisa Halligan, a breast cancer survivor.

"I was diagnosed with multiple myaloma January 30th of last year," said Bill Wessel, a muliple myeloma survivor.

And while physical rehab has long been part of recovery for heart patients and orthopedic patients -- not so for cancer patients. "Because cancer patients have very complex disease they have very different prognoses, so oncology rehab has not been the program nationally that it needs to be," said Dr. Patricia O'Brien with Fletcher Allen Healthcare. "Probably about 70 percent of oncology patients who need PT referrals don't get them."

That is why three years ago doctors at the Vermont Cancer Center, Fletcher Allen Health Care and UVM's College of Medicine created Steps to Wellness with grant money. A 12 week medically supervised program that addresses the needs of cancer survivors. It includes nutrition classes and workouts. Data is being collected on participants to document their progress.
"We now have well over 200 individuals that are part of the database. It is hard to say anything about specific cancers, but in general we know that individuals compared to when they started the program have an increase in their strength we are always surprised how weak individuals with cancer are when they start the program -- particularly breast cancer survivors," said FAHC's Dr. Kim Dittus.

Participants are tested before they begin this rehab program to get baseline data. They are shown individual exercises and how to use the equipment, are medically supervised during their twice weekly workouts, then are tested after the 12 weeks are up to collect more data. There is also subjective feed back from participants.

"What I found -- surprisingly -- is when I come to workout I sometimes don't feel very great. I get over here but I don't feel that great. While I am exercising something happens because I feel better virtually every time I finish this daily program," said  Jim Krausharr, a lymphoma survivor.

"I lost 15 pounds, so that in combination changing my diet in combination with exercise --  I really feel it has been overall a great as far as not only my physical size but also creating motivation for a more healthy lifestyle in general," Leisa Halligan said.

"You have to make up your mind and say, yes I can do this and I can get out of the rut that I am in. But once you are in it, it is just like an elevator going up -- you feel better all the time. But you do have to stick with it and come twice a week and do some work at home," Bill Wessel said.

Barbara Mayhew says she at first ignored her doctor's suggestion that she participate in Steps to Wellness, but now she credits this program with helping her lose more than 60 pounds. "I finally took her up on it and it was the best decision I made, plus I graduated out of the study part of the program but I am choosing to come back every week and that was nice to have the invitation to come back even after I finished the study," she said.

It is a tight knit group, which has been one of the other benefits -- many friendships have been formed. "The group of people I have met here are just great -- I have made friends," said Judy Haynes, a myeloma survivor.  "I thought there would be more of them here today," she added.

After the 12 weeks are up patients have the choice of continuing their workouts at the gym or through another supervised program.  Doctors hope to use the data they have collected to do a formal study in the future on the benefits of oncology  rehabilitation.

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