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Sticking to an exercise routine while helping a loved one through cancer treatment can be a challenge. That's especially true when you're spending a lot of time at the hospital or clinic.
But you don't have to train for a 5K or go to the gym to burn calories and enjoy the benefits of exercise. Many things you do while you're at MD Anderson count as exercise.
"Any time you're moving around counts," says Carol Harrison, senior exercise physiology technologist at MD Anderson.
How to achieve the
benefits of exercise
Just 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity can reduce your risk for cancer and other diseases. Exercise also can help lower stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression.
By Lindsey Garner
The room is quiet. Soft light streams through the shaded windows. A soothing voice breaks the silence and addresses the cancer patients and caregivers sitting on yoga mats.
"Focus on your breath. Inhale deeply and exhale," Smitha Mallaiah says. "Bring in positivity and let go of your tension."
Mallaiah, a mind-body intervention specialist at MD Anderson, leads our Yoga for Health class. This is one of several group classes offered for cancer patients and caregivers at our Integrative Medicine Center. The class teaches gentle stretching, breathing and meditation.
Our mind-body intervention specialists offer practices like yoga and meditation to complement cancer treatment and help improve quality of life for our patients and their families.
Mallaiah's goal is to help people taking her class relax and enjoy mindfulness. She says mindfulness is being in the present moment without judgment and realizing your potential for love and kindness.
Cancer affects patients in many ways, Mallaiah says. They're affected by the disease, treatments and side effects such as fatigue. And they're facing the stress of cancer and still needing to manage work and other aspects of life.
"Mind-body practices such as yoga give people the opportunity to be more accepting of their situation and face it and feel more in control," Mallaiah says. "It also provides great physical benefits."
What our mind-body intervention specialists do
Mallaiah, her mind-body intervention specialist colleagues, Rosalinda Engle and Amie Koronczok, along with Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., assistant professor in Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine, are trained in a variety of mind-body techniques. They work together to promote and model habits of health for our patients, caregivers and employees. Recently, they started a yoga class for pediatric patients in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
By Traci Newsom, social work counselor
As a cancer patient, it often can feel like you've lost control. You can't control your diagnosis, your test results or your cancer treatment side effects. You may even feel like you've loss control over your work, finances and the reactions you receive from loved ones.
When you feel that loss of control, it's important to focus on what you can control. Remind yourself that even when you can't control something, you have the power to decide how you will respond to the situation.
By Pamela J. Schlembach, M.D.
"I just want a good night's sleep, doctor." This is something I hear very frequently from my cancer patients on our weekly visits.
Insomnia is common in cancer patients as well as the general population. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a host of medical problems, including chronic fatigue, depression, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Insomnia can be caused by a number of medical conditions, medications, stress, lifestyle and diet. Before assuming all sleep issues are due to medical conditions alone, I frequently run through the following healthy sleep hygiene list with my patients. Many make some of these adjustments, and their sleeping problems vanish.
By Amanda Woodward
As a melanoma survivor, I know how important it is to find the right dermatologist. After all, I've spent my fair share of time doing just that. My husband is in the Army, and we move often. Each time, I have to find a new dermatologist. It is one of the most stressful parts of moving around for me. It takes a while to build mutual trust.
But I've been fortunate to find some really great dermatologists who listen to my concerns and whom I trust to find any abnormal moles that could lead to skin cancer recurrence.
Here's what I look for in dermatologists:
Are they listening to me?
Like really listening. I spotted the abnormal mole that led to my original melanoma diagnosis. It was just a gut feeling. No, I'm not a doctor, but I do know my body and expect my dermatologist to at least listen and acknowledge my questions and concerns. In the same breath, however, I need my dermatologist to hear me when I say I'm anxious. I would have them remove all of my skin if that were a possibility! So, I also need my dermatologist to reign me in and help me determine what really needs to be examined or removed.
By Eric Tidline, social work counselor
Coping with cancer isn't easy. So, how do you build the mental strength to cope with everything you're facing? Mindfulness is one thing that may help.
How mindfulness helps
Mindfulness allows us to step outside of our own minds and observe how we think about things. Over time, those who practice mindfulness learn to become less attached to their own thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. People begin to take actions based on the true nature of people and events, rather than how they wish or hope them to be.
By focusing on the details of our experiences, we are better able to understand what is happening in each moment. This new understanding will allow you to spot and avoid negative reactions. Mindfulness also better enables us to see the many ways we can positively respond to our situations. This helps us achieve inner peace and balance.
Studies show that patients who practice mindfulness begin to feel better despite their medical problems. Physical symptoms don't necessarily go away, but that's not the aim of mindfulness. Rather, the goal is to help you find a different perspective and a new way of coping with your illness.
What is mindfulness? And how do I do it?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on your thoughts, emotions and feelings in the present moment with acceptance and without judgement.
It is one simple coping technique that's been found to reduce stress, boost energy and improve well-being.
While it may sound complicated, mindfulness practices are simple. One easy way to stay mindful is to focus on your breath.
By Wendy Griffith, Social work counselor
Appointments. Side-effects. Medications. Side-effects from medications. More sickness. Lengthy tests. Hospitalizations. It can be a lot at any age, but for young adults (generally those ages of 18 to 39), it can be especially so at a time when it feels like life is just really getting started. How are you supposed to manage all of that, much less cope with it?
The answer is different for every person. But if there is one thing that can help young adults cope with cancer, it's social support. In fact, that's true for cancer patients of all ages.
What is social support?
Social support essentially refers to the feeling of comfort, care and connection that you get from others. "Others" could be immediate family, extended family, close friends, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and yes, even strangers. These individuals might help you by providing emotional support, physical support, financial assistance, laughter, motivation, distraction or a combination of all of the above. It all depends on what you need or want, and that can completely change from day to day.
Why social support is important
No matter what your exact situation is, being sick can get lonely.
Even patients with incredible support systems feel alone from time to time, or need a little extra boost from outside their network. We need different things, at different times, from all kinds of different people.
By Carol Bryce
Imagine if you could monitor your health between clinic visits and quickly share the details with your care team.
That's the premise of research that's being conducted here.
"We're looking at new ways of data collection that are grounded in real-world challenges," explains Susan Peterson, Ph.D., in Behavioral Science.
This may help address health issues and behaviors that change when you you're not at the hospital or your doctor's office. For example, patients with head and neck cancer usually don't develop swallowing difficulties while they're at their doctors' offices. And former smokers may not struggle with relapse while they're sitting in clinic waiting rooms.
So our researchers are looking at ways to use modern technology to monitor patients' vital signs, side effects, symptoms and treatment adherence between medical appointments.
Research that's based in reality
In their first study, the researchers tested the use of mobile sensors like fitness trackers and other portable devices that enable patients to monitor their health at home. The study was conducted by researchers from MD Anderson, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of California, San Diego.
Researchers created a system that used mobile applications to gather daily data from patients and send the information to their health care teams. The system, called CYCORE (CYberinfrastructure for COmparative effectiveness REsearch), enables patients to directly enter their personal health information into various devices.
"Using CYCORE, we've been able to gather behavioral, environmental and psychological data that's typically not collected in research trials," Peterson says.
No matter where you are in your cancer journey, you're likely curious about cancer prevention and treatment. Or, maybe you're trying to figure out how to manage an unexpected side effect or whether or not you can exercise during cancer treatment.
Whatever the case, you're sure to find wisdom, guidance and hope in the insight of our doctors and other experts, many of whom shared their expertise here on Cancerwise and in our Cancer Newsline podcast series in 2014.
Below, we've pulled together some of the most helpful insight and advice our doctors and other experts shared this past year. We hope you find something here that helps or inspires you in your cancer journey.
Immunotherapy: Unleashing the immune system to attack cancer
We're making great strides in immunotherapy, a new way of treating cancer that targets the immune system rather than the tumor itself. And, this innovative approach, developed by Jim Allison, Ph.D., professor in Immunology, will open doors for treating all types of cancer. Learn more in this podcast with Allison and Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology.
Understanding the new HPV vaccine
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaccine targeting nine types of HPV, including five that haven't been covered by other vaccines. And, for those who get the vaccine, that means even better protection against cervical cancer, oral cancers and other cancers linked to HPV, says Lois Ramondetta, M.D., in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. Find out what you should know about the new HPV vaccine.
By Lindsey Garner
No matter how you like to get your heart rate up and work up a sweat, exercising for at least 30 minutes every day can help lower your chances for many common cancers. If you're looking for ways to get your 1/2 hour in, check out how some of our busy employees stay active.
"I like to exercise with a triathlon coach to prepare for my long distance races. It helped me prepare to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles for IRONMAN Texas 70.3 and IRONMAN Florida 70.3. Now I'm training for my second IRONMAN Texas 140.6, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike course and a 26.2-mile run. Having a coach helps provide me with the discipline I need to improve my swimming, cycling and running. I get better results and my workouts are challenging." -- Corinna Perez, fitness center liaison
By Eric Tidline, Social Work Counselor
Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common issues patients face. Even among patients who have completed cancer treatment, fatigue is one of their foremost concerns.
Fatigue describes a physical and/or mental state of being tired and weak. Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are different, but they often exist together, which can make the experience even more frustrating.
However, it is often possible to curb cancer-related fatigue. Although it may sound counterintuitive, moderated exercise is the number one treatment for cancer-related fatigue.
For some, walking, weight lifting and cycling are great ways to exercise. But if you aren't ready or aren't able to participate in such activities, you might find progressive relaxation exercises helpful. Progressive relaxation is one type of exercise that is often gentle enough to meet most people's needs.
What is progressive muscle relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation is based on the idea that the body responds to anxious thoughts by tensing muscles, and the tense muscles add to the anxiety, creating a cycle of stress.
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- Gratitude bracelets: A new Thanksgiving tradition
- How caregivers can get exercise at MD Anderson
- How mind-body intervention specialists help our cancer patients
- How to cope with loss of control as a cancer patient
- How to cope with insomnia during cancer treatment
- A melanoma survivor's tips for finding a dermatologist
- How mindfulness can help cancer patients find happiness
- How young adult cancer patients can find social support
- Could home-based monitoring enhance your cancer care?
- Our experts' most helpful insight from 2014
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