Last July, I found myself frantically clutching the rails of the Liberty Island Ferry readying myself to exit. The waters of New York Harbor heaved angrily. The ferry lurched and the steel exit platform upon which I was expected to step, intimidated me as it violently banged up and down. I was a tourist, a rookie; the situation was completely foreign to me, and I felt scared. As my turn approached, the crewman yelled sternly, “Do not hesitate!”
Seriously?! My world is being rocked, literally, and you want me to move?
My overwhelmed brain facing a sudden and tumultuous situation was happy to keep me right where I was. All I saw were white caps and the hungry 6-inch steel teeth slamming between me and the pier.
Responding to the firm instruction, I did as told. I took a step forward not at all sure my foot would land where it was supposed to. It did. I flushed with relief. Mr. White Uniform was right.
Back to work at the cancer center I chuckle to myself. Talking with my patients, I am in essence hollering, “Do not hesitate!” At cancer diagnosis, people are battered in a tumultuous sea. And my words to them?
Yes. I wear a white uniform, and I am right.
There exists a subtle underlying assumption that people with cancer are supposed to be miserable. Family members and healthcare providers alike, in well-meaning attempts to be supportive, inadvertently promote weakness, fragility and dependence by speaking urging words like “take it easy.”
Cancer is scary. Treatment can be brutal. Often people are miserable. Move? Me? Seriously?! But I’m missing a lung, my skin is burned, my colon was just rerouted. Of course you’re afraid to move! Perhaps no one on your care team is even encouraging you to move. So you’re stuck on the lurching ferry.
The misery of cancer treatment is not a good place to hang out. It’s time to move. Not only is it OK for you to exercise during cancer treatment, you should exercise during cancer treatment. Necessary post-operative restrictions have expiration dates and research clearly shows that exercise during chemotherapy and radiation is safe and reduces side effects such as fatigue, pain and weakness. Those facing a knee or shoulder surgery are ushered into rehabilitation. You should be, too. Talk with your doctor or nurse about a prescription for cancer rehabilitation. We will help you take that step.
Moving is living. Do not hesitate. Go take a walk. Your feet, and you, deserve to be on the solid ground of good health, even in the middle of cancer treatment.
Leslie J. Waltke is a physical therapist with a clinical mastery in oncology. She is a national expert, author, speaker and educator in cancer rehabilitation and is the Cancer Rehabilitation Coordinator for Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.