Healthier living for cancer patients: Embarking on The Road to Wellness

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woman stretching.JPGBy Matthew T. Ballo, M.D. 

"Dr. Ballo, I want to go on your Road to Wellness Program."

I love it when I hear this from patients, but there's one problem. It's not exactly a program. It's just the starting point for helping patients get and stay healthy.

What is The Road to Wellness?

The Road to Wellness was designed to help cancer patients and survivors live a healthier lifestyle. It introduces the concept of cancer survivorship to patients receiving active cancer treatment, while promoting wellness, reducing stress and fatigue, and preparing patients for life after cancer treatment. The Road to Wellness does all of this through education aimed at exercise, nutrition, stress management and smoking cessation.

The Road to Wellness was designed to be rolled out in the Regional Care Centers in the Houston suburbs, but the strategies it uses are available to patients at our Texas Medical Center Campus as well.

Enrollment begins during treatment, with appropriate candidates receiving counseling about the long-term benefits of lifestyle modifications in an effort to create well-equipped cancer survivors. Although we have exercise classes, dietary counseling and guided imagery classes, none of it is required and none of it is formally tracked.

So, what is The Road to Wellness? It's simply a framework for health care providers to engage patients in a discussion that isn't normally introduced during cancer treatment. And for patients, it is an opportunity to get help addressing barriers to lifestyle change.

Do your part as a survivor
That's it. No fad exercise plan or diet blueprint that must be followed. There are no habits or practices patients are required to adopt.

It's up to cancer patients and survivors to do their part in living a healthy lifestyle. It's up to them to make sure they make healthy dining choices. It's up to them to make sure they get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week.  

But let's not underestimate the importance of this framework. When a physician writes a prescription for exercise and hands it to the patient, the patient takes it more seriously. And when a patient has the opportunity to point out their barriers to healthy living and eating, health care providers have an opportunity to instruct.  

One day I hope there is a program with specific routines and meal plans. Maybe even an MD Anderson building where patients can go to exercise, eat, and engage in healthy living and learning. 

But for now I am happy to have the opportunity to engage patients in meaningful dialogue about something that is just as important as the cancer treatment we deliver. And if using the word "program" helps, then call me and we will talk about The Road to Wellness Program.  

Get started on the road to healthier living by using our new online Road to Wellness tool. Patients at our Texas Medical Center Campus can also get started by asking their oncologist for a referral to our Integrative Medicine Center; patients at our Regional Care Centers can start on The Road to Wellness by speaking with their doctors.

Matthew T. Ballo, M.D., is associate professor in Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Regional Care Center in the Bay Area.

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