Exercise program rekindles cancer patients’ friendship

Old friends Kathy Hatton and Ruth Macon were brought together again by shared cancer experiences and the Oncology Exercise Program at Miami Valley Hospital South.

The women worked together at Dayton Power and Light and were friends for several years. But their interaction waned when they began working in different areas of the company.

Hatton’s cancer journey began with an ovarian cancer diagnosis in January 2015, followed by surgery, treatments and a hospital social worker’s suggestion that she try the cancer exercise program.

“It helped me get back to myself both emotionally and physically. It was the exercise without a doubt,” Hatton said. “I saw I was improving and it really helped to be around the camaraderie of the group.”

She stayed with the cancer exercise program for 2½ years. During that time, Hatton heard about Macon’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in April 2016 and reached out to her.

“Dr. Barney had suggested it, but I am a shy person and thought I don’t want to go where I don’t know anybody,” Macon recalled. “So, when Kathy suggested it and said, ‘I go at this time,’ I thought, ‘I have a friend there. I am willing to give it a try.’”

She’s glad she did.

“For me, the caring staff and the ladies that were here when we both came were wonderful,” Macon said. “We could laugh, we told about our journey. On that treadmill, you talked and walked. It was a wonderful time.”

Macon stayed in the program about a year before moving on to exercise with her daughter.

The Oncology Exercise Program at Miami Valley Hospital South has met on Tuesdays and Thursdays for nearly five years. It is part of the integrative therapies program that provides resources to help patients as they travel on their journey, said Christine Broomhall, MS, RN, BSN, registered nurse and exercise physiologist in the Oncology Exercise Program.

Each patient referred to the program receives an initial assessment, during which a basic fitness test is done. The patient’s journey, barriers to exercise and any other health concerns also are discussed as part of the development of a customized exercise program.

Linda Barney, MD, a surgeon at Premier Health, said most of her patients could be eligible to use the exercise program as part of a longer-range program with breast cancer.

“It is a wonderful component of recovery from cancer,” she said.

Some patients participate in the exercise program at the same time they are receiving treatment, while others do it following therapy.

“The key is knowing when to introduce the program to patients as an option.” Dr. Barney said. “If it is too early, they may be too overwhelmed” with other daily tasks and can’t think about adding another.

The Oncology Exercise Program class setting is a plus. “It is the recovery with others on a journey with you. It is a comfortable, safe environment to recover with people who are knowledgeable about the types of exercise needed,” Dr. Barney said.

The patients exercise in the program for six weeks in one-hour sessions. The goal is to combine aerobic exercise, strength and conditioning and balance along with nutrition information, Broomhall said. More than 200 people have been assessed for the program. The exercise program offers sessions for women, a prostate-specific male class, and two classes with both men and women.

Those participating in the program become like family, Macon and Hatton said. When Hatton missed an exercise session, they called to see if she was OK, she said. “What exercise program really does that?” she asked.

“It is great to hear patients’ experiences. The support is mutual,” said Cara Dalton, MS, exercise physiologist.

“This is a space where we can celebrate the triumphs but also rally in really tough moments. Cara and I see the support every day. It is unwavering,” Broomhall said.

Macon and Hatton said the program was key in their journeys. “This was not just physical. It was emotional, psychological. It really, really helped,” Macon said.

“I appreciate them very much because they really did nurse me back to health,” Hatton said.

Premier Health is a certified member of MD Anderson Cancer Network, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center. To learn more about this affiliation and local cancer services, visit premierhealth.com/cancer. To learn more about the Oncology Exercise Program, call (937) 438-5483.

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