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Boost your immune system with exercise

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by ASHLEY MILLER
for the Sequim Gazette
 
Cancer is a ruthless killer.

The disease chooses its victims without remorse or prejudice, silently destroying the body’s immune system and ability to fight off common colds, influenza and other infections.

 

Barb Paschal, an Olympic Medical Center volunteer, is proud to say that she’s a cancer survivor.

 

After her initial diagnosis, Paschal underwent two operations and extensive radiation. The treatment left her weak and exhausted.

 

Despite everything, doctors gave Paschal five years at best to live, saying that the cancer cells lingering and hiding in her body likely would metastasize to her brain. That was nine years ago.

 

Paschal credits her recovery largely in part to boosting her immune system with exercise.

 

While she was sick, friends, co-workers, family members and even doctors and nurses would tell her “Rest … Don’t worry about exercise… You will be tired … Save your energy ….”

 

As a physical therapist of 33 years at the time, Paschal knew better. She was, and remains, convinced that exercise can help boost the immune system and promote healing during cancer treatment.

 

“Exercise is so absolutely essential to a long life,” Paschal said. “Any small amount of exercise done consistently will be extremely beneficial to a cancer patient.”

 

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Paschal would jog five miles a day. By the end of her treatment, she was so exhausted that she only could walk about 25 percent as fast as she had at the beginning. Despite the urge to pull the covers over her head and remain in bed all day, she continued to walk at least 30 minutes twice a day.

 

“The fatigue with chemo and radiation is no small tiredness, it’s your body trying to heal from the internal damaging effects of the treatment while it attacks the cancer cells,” Paschal explained. “The whole body is dramatically affected with a fatigue that is overwhelming and takes a long time to rise out of it but exercise can help speed the process and help you heal faster.”
 
Cancer and exercise

Paschal, along with other experienced health care professionals, will lead a series of lectures encouraging cancer patients to exercise and educating them on how to do so properly this fall.

 

“The cancer exercise education class” will take place twice a month on the second and fourth Thursdays, upstairs in the Olympic Medical Center medical services building at 840 N. Fifth Ave., Sequim. Elevator access is available.

 

The first lecture is 11 a.m.-noon Thursday, Oct. 13. A question and answer session is included in the time frame.

Participants can expect to learn about different types of exercise, effects, benefits and more.

The invitation is extended to all people with a cancer diagnosis — recent or not — in Clallam and Jefferson counties, as well as their family and friends. The group meets on a drop-in basis and is free.

 

The second lecture is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 27.

 

“We are encouraging people to just start some type of program,” Paschal said. “People in our community are often surprised what a difference daily mild to moderate exercise can make. Just walking outside or on the treadmill or dancing inside your home, using an exercycle or joining a class at the senior center can boost the immune system.”
 
A valuable resource

The Thomas Family Cancer Center at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center’s Sequim campus opened in 2003. At that time, only radiation therapy was available to cancer patients in Sequim. Now, eight years later, OMCC offers a full range of cancer and blood disorder treatment.

 

With a strong Seattle Cancer Care Alliance affiliation, cancer patients on the North Olympic Peninsula have access to internationally accredited doctors and world-class care.

 

In 2010, the center saw more than 700 new patients in both medical oncology and radiation oncology and treated or saw more than 400 newly diagnosed cases of cancer.

 

“The community has been very supportive of the cancer center and patients are grateful that they are not spending several hours a day in travel to receive services,” said Susan Clements, OMCC patient navigator.

 

Clements serves as a patient “help line.” She addresses questions, concerns or worries that a patient or family member has about a diagnosis, care or the lifestyle changes that occur due to a cancer diagnosis. From grief counseling to financial assistance, Clements assists patients and their loved ones any way she can.

 

Currently, Clements is working to develop a referral for evidence-based integrative medication practices. The OMC Foundation has raised money through a grant to expand its quality service in the area of integrative medicine practices.

 

The plan, Clements said, is to offer patients mind-body therapy, aroma and music therapy, and make referrals for massage and acupuncture as needed.

 

Prior to joining OMCC a little over a year ago, Clements was a medical social worker at Harborview Medical Center for nine years. She has a master’s degree in social work and is a licensed independent certified social worker. With her experience, Clements has gained valuable insight.

 

“There are three things that patients can do to increase their health even with a cancer diagnosis that the physician cannot do for them: stop smoking, eat a healthy diet and exercise,” she said. “Research supports these three life practices as beneficial to live a longer and healthier life.”

 

For more information, call 582-2845.

 

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