“The chemo it’s the climb to Everest, then you go down a little bit and you stay there, in Nepal”. This is how the participants in the ‘Exercise and Cancer’ project, which seeks to improve the quality of life and survival of cancer patients in Spain, describe their experience Everything begins, they explain, with a diagnosis that turns a life upside down: “You have cancer“. From there, “everything, from diagnosis to treatment, is a roller coaster of emotions,” they confess. “You live in completely unknown situations, in which you have never seen yourself.”
“The physical exercise generates a series of changes in the body that act as long-term treatment for the secondary effects of cancer, of treatments, and for other diseases that may appear”, explains Soraya Casla, doctor in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences. After directing the first oncology exercise unit in Madrid and collaborating on various projects in hospitals, the specialist has directed the ‘Exercise and Cancer’ project at the Tiger Running Club in Madrid since last March.
The practice of physical activity has multiple benefits, explains Casla. “First, prevents the appearance of cancer; second, improves health of the patients who suffer from it and who are receiving the treatments; and third, it helps live better and increase survival of people who have had cancer and have undergone treatment,” he asserts. Spain is “10 years behind” compared to countries like the United States, he regrets, but “it is increasingly assimilated that physical exercise can be a more for the cancer patient.
Exercise is asingle and comprehensive therapy“, he continues, which provides improvements “in the stability of DNA, in the immune system and in the entire environment at the metabolic level.” The first line of defense against cancer is prevention, but these benefits extend after diagnosis and counteract side effects of the disease “People who do physical exercise, especially in some types of tumors, are less likely to develop a tumor again,” says Casla.
Exercise and Cancer
cancer is also a chronic disease, specifies the director of the project. Therefore, oncological physical exercise will be aimed at preventing the appearance of long-term sequelae cardiovascular diseases, as well as the alterations produced by oncological treatments, “especially at the end”. This can be addressed from the first moment, Casla claims, with a first contact in the physical exercise units in hospital centers.
“The important is start from the time of diagnosis”, he insists, underlining the importance of involving health professionals as prescribers of physical activity. “Patients have a lot of trust in their doctors and oncology nurses. If they tell them they have to exercise, even if they don’t like it, the chances are much higher that they’ll start and stick with it. I always tell them: at least tell him“.
However, awareness of the need to improve our physical activity must go beyond the hospital setting, he values. “The great epidemics of the 21st century are based on the sedentary lifestyle. We spend eight, nine, ten hours sitting, plus the time we spend sleeping. He is the great promoter of non-communicable diseases: cardiovascular, metabolic, diabetes, obesity, cancer … “he reflects.” We must be aware that, with or without diseasephysical exercise is a pill for every day“.
“More research for more life”
Mónica Castellanos, a specialist in physical exercise oncology, is another of the participants in the project and the person in charge of one of the research projects. It focuses on the effect of exercise habits, as well as confinement, in young-adult cancer patients, before and after diagnosis. “You always have to know first how is the patient and plan from there the intensity with which they should work and the type of exercise they need to do”, he explains.
Casla and Castellanos collaborate on comprehensive programs such as ‘Women in Motion’, which measures the effects of four months of exercise on patients compared to other sedentary ones. “What we are seeing is that women who do physical exercise oncology with the program further improve your body composition and cardiovascular fitness. Also their state of mind, which, let’s not forget, is a very important foundation when it comes to staying active,” explains Casla.
The first step is an initial assessment where the level of physical condition of each patient and their history is studied: the stage of the disease in which they are, the type of treatments, surgeries, etc… A series of of exercise groups, face-to-face and online, with individualized and personalized attention. The reception has been very positive, celebrates Casla. “In four months we already had more than 100 patients within our program.
Many of them have come recommended by their own oncologists. This is the case of Gema, who suffered from hormonal breast cancer and is currently undergoing preventive treatment with hormonal therapy. Or Begoña, a patient with stage four metastatic breast cancer, who met Casla a few years ago in a talk at the Gregorio Marañón Hospital. When she found out about the project on Instagram, she decided to sign up: “I thought it was what i needed“.
“You miss who you were”
In a group conversation, the participants highlight the feeling of community that the project creates. “Here we understand each other,” says Begoña, who explains how cancer transforms identity. “You miss who you were. But you come here and talk naturally about pills, analgesia, ‘shot’, hair loss… You feel that you are not the only one. And if you come with a bad day and you shed a tear because of a bad thought, they make you run, they give you two hugs and you’ve gone”. The girls laugh: “Exactly, a healthy dessert that is 10 squats or 3 slopes”.
The accompaniment of the two specialists transforms the exercise into “a safe space“, they stand out. “You can ask them any type of question”, celebrates Gema. “They support you and encourage you to do things that you yourself do not think you are going to achieve. It is what motivates the most: you tell yourself, If they think I can, I will.”. One of those challenges that have been set is a route up the Pedriza in the Community of Madrid, which will publicize the program and raise awareness about cancer.
Another goal is set for next year: the participation in the London Half Marathon. Begoña will do it walking, since the metastasis that she suffers prevents her from making an impact, but others will start running. An adventure that some describe as “the height of daring” and “bordering on madness”, but which will mean the definitive boost of energy for them and for the whole family that is part of the project.