Paul Goebel, a 49-year old physical therapist who lives just outside of Seattle, Washington, was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the lungs on January 16, 2012. A father of three daughters, who never smoked cigarettes and had been an active competitor in triathlons and adventure races for more than 15 years – Goebel believed his time pounding the pavement had come to an end. Fluid buildup in his lungs led to rapid deterioration in his ability to breathe normally. Initially, doctors weren’t sure he would still be living 6 months after his diagnosis.
Not being one to just sit around, Goebel needed something – “anything but cancer” – to focus his attention on. A few months after learning about his condition, he signed up to participate in the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon as a part of the American Cancer Society DetermiNation team, an endurance race training program that helps participants raise money to fight back against cancer.
“Being fit and challenging my body is part of what I do professionally as a physical therapist. For me, it goes beyond just exercise… it’s a belief structure. Whether I had to run, jog, walk, or hobble, I had an event that I could look forward to, and I was determined to complete it,” Goebel says.
It turns out, he’s not alone. Several cancer survivors competing in the 2012 Olympics in London say they focused their attention on upcoming athletic events in order to help them through treatment. Eric Shanteau, a U.S. swimmer who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008, recently told NBC that continuing to train helped him psychologically. “It was kind of like an escape. It was a place that I could go and think about something else other than cancer,” he explained to the reporter. Two other cancer survivors, Petr Koukal, a Czech badminton player and Matt Emmons, a U.S. shooter, have also shared stories on the impact of training following their cancer diagnoses.
EXERCISING WITH CANCER
Although there is no widely-accepted research to prove that a patient’s positive attitude or will power improves recovery, new ACS Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors (released April 2012) find evidence suggesting exercise is not only safe and feasible during cancer treatment, but that it can also improve physical functioning, fatigue, multiple aspects of quality of life, and may even increase the rate of completion of chemotherapy. Even more, remaining physically active after cancer diagnosis is associated with a reduced risk of cancer recurrence and improved overall mortality among multiple cancer survivor groups.
To put this in perspective, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society offers these comments.
“For cancer patients, fatigue, side effects of treatments and emotional issues take a significant toll. People undergoing cancer treatment are not only overwhelmed with a potentially life threatening illness, they also have to fight through the effects of the treatment. So it’s no surprise that many patients can’t engage in physical activity, and they shouldn’t be blamed for the way they feel.”
“There is no single or simple answer for every patient to stay active. Discuss your exercise activities and level of exercise with your oncology team to make certain it is safe and appropriate for you. But the key message is to stay as active as you can during and after treatment. Exercise has many positive impacts on our bodies, improving the way our organs function, the way we feel and helping us stay as mobile as possible.”
Goebel, for one, is taking that message to heart. On June 23, he finished the Seattle marathon, the first race since his lung cancer diagnosis. He says he ran at a much slower pace than he’s used to (an 8:30 pace, instead of 6:30), and has already signed up for an Olympic distance run in Hood River, Oregon in September, and a half-marathon through the Leavenworth Mountains in Washington in October.
“I still have some shortness of breath, and I can’t train quite as aggressively. For several months it was uncomfortable, and there were many days when I would rather have not tried. But being able to still challenge my body physically was of huge mental benefit. It’s rewarding to be able to say ‘I can still do that!’ I do what I can…and I can’t let go of hope.”
Learn more about the DetermiNation program and find a team that is training in a city near you by visiting determination.acsevents.org.