Exercising With Blood Cancer

Having been through blood cancer and experiencing six months of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy for another cancer, one of the many life lessons I have taken away from those life-changing experiences is the need for patients to be physically active in some way, shape or form.

Not easy to get moving

If you are actively going through chemo or some other form of treatment currently, I can probably guess the last thing on your mind is getting out and running on a treadmill or playing racquetball or even the latest up-and-coming sport of pickleball. Most likely your thoughts tend towards how much longer you can stay in bed and do you really need to get up today at all.

Having been there multiple times, I can fully appreciate that point of view. That said over time, I found that some form of activity, no matter how slight, really made a huge difference in how I felt psychologically as well as physically.

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Cancer plus age takes its toll

In addition to facing blood cancer and its many treatments, you may have noticed that we are all getting a bit older every day. And with advancing years, weakened muscles from inactivity or from medication the more likely we are to face an increased possibility of falling. Not long ago  I came across a statistic indicating people in the age bracket of 65 and older are more likely to fall than others.

And if you are not yet  65+ please understand that any number of related health conditions in addition to blood cancer and treatment can cause falling. For instance, suffering from stiffness or neuropathy involving your feet or your lower legs can change how you walk and can cause balance problems. 

Falls can be deadly

You may not be 65 but your body just may not be up to its former younger self. Falling is the number one cause of injury-related deaths in folks 65+ in the United States, typically resulting in broken bones or head injuries.

In May of 2022, my wife, who was not predisposed when it came to exercise, took just such a  nasty fall and broke the C2 bone in her spine. The fact she was not paralyzed for life was a miracle according to the emergency room MDs. After hours in emergency room care and being fitted with a neck brace, she apparently was exposed to some form of bacteria and within days developed a fatal form of pneumonia – passing just weeks later.

No matter how you look at it any kind of exercise that can promote stable muscle coordination and balance. I believe it is particularly important for patients recovering from cancer and its treatments.

Ways to improve your balance

One of the best forms of exercise I discovered several years ago was being introduced to  Tai Chi It is extremely effective in focusing on balance weight distribution and movement. Over the years I've gone back to Tai Chi several times recalling how effective it was and how easy it is for me as a cancer patient to do in moderation. The simple exercises can be performed slowly and do not require a lot of movement and you can learn the moves online if you are housebound.

Another simple and easy-to-do exercise is the one-leg stand. This really simple exercise involves standing on one leg for about 30 seconds and then switching to the other. If you are new to this, you might want to use the back of a chair or a tabletop to help you balance. Over time it can be quite effective particularly if you go back and forth between one leg and the other. This is an exercise I do when I first get out of bed in the morning. I  use the side of the bed to steady my balance.

If you want to step this up a bit, simply stand and step side to side as though you were playing a sport like tennis, and the good news is “you do not have to swing an imaginary “air tennis racket” in the process. That simple exercise alone can do wonders in helping you strengthen the major muscles along the side of your leg and those marvelous gluteus maximus muscles that form your comfortable bottom, which is great for sitting.

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