April 22nd, 2024

College program helps cancer patients be fit for life

By Lethbridge Herald on March 21, 2024.

Mike McCague and Joanne Sorensen are among those who have benefited from the Alberta Cancer Exercise program. Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman

Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – apulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The Lethbridge College’s Be Fit For Life Centre is offering people who are living with, recovering from or in post-recovery from cancer an opportunity to exercise through the Alberta Cancer Exercise program. 

The ACE program is run in partnership with a research program at the University of Calgary for participants to attend twice a week for 12 weeks and learn from ACE instructors who have received cancer-specific education and training. 

Projects coordinator at the be fit for Life Centre, Diane Gallagher said Thursday the program was started to promote inclusion of exercise base activity in the cancer care continuum.  

“They’re doing this study to gather information, to show the benefits that people gain from participating either before, during or at the end of their cancer treatment. It’s been going on probably about seven to eight years now,” said Gallagher. 

She said they have been running the program at the college since 2018. 

“We do a pre-test at the beginning and then we test the same things again at the end of the program and the clients always really enjoy seeing that gain over 12 weeks,” said Gallagher. 

“Whether it’s they can balance longer on one foot, whether they are able to do more laps in their six minute walk, or they can do more sit to stand to show that they gain some leg strength.”

Gallagher shared that the original funding for the research was a five-year study, but the researchers are so passionate about keeping the research on, the program going and available that they have found other funders. 

“They see such a value in continuing, not just from a research perspective but when you see the benefit with the individuals you’re working with, you just want to keep it going,” said Gallagher. 

She said the program is open to any adults 18 years old and up and sometimes they have participants in their 30s and 40s. In the session ending next week most participants are seniors. 

“Most of the time we have around a dozen participants in each program and right now we kind of mix some new folks coming into the study with returning members, so we call them our maintenance members and it’s kind of a nice mix when you have the veterans working with the new people,” said Gallagher. 

She said many participants return after their first 12 weeks, with many returning for multiple sessions with no desire to stop any time soon. 

Such is the case of Mike McCague, who has been taking part of the program since 2021. 

McCague said he was diagnosed with a form of cancer, lymphoma, in 2021 and went through radiation and chemotherapy which took care of the cancer part, but he had a fair bit of lung damage from the chemotherapy and now experiences breathing problems while exercising. 

“I’ve been coming here since late in 2021 every Tuesday and Thursday and it really works well for me. We do our exercises in like one minute, that’s how long we do any one exercise for and we do balance and cardio and strength,” said McCague. 

He explained that the initial 12-week session was paid by ACE and then after that participants pay out of pocket. 

“I’ve noticed good improvement. One of the tests is how far we can walk in a certain amount of time, I’ve had an improvement in that, flexibility was one that I had quite a bit of improvement in as well. We sit on the floor and do a test and the first time I could hardly bend and now I can pretty much hit my toes,” said McCague. 

He said his balance also improved and he is very happy because at his age it is important to have good balance. 

McCague added that thanks to the program he was also able to get connected with a support group called the Go Getters, which is a cancer support group for patients, survivors and caregivers and that has really been a big help for him, especially for the mental part of the disease.

He said having a community of support is what keeps him coming back to the ACE program. 

“We’re finished next Thursday and then the following Tuesday we start the next session for the spring and then we don’t have a session during the summer, but in September we’ll start again. I’m planning on continuing until they kick me out,” said McCague. 

Another participant that has come back after the original 12-week sessions is Joanne Sorensen. She said she has been taking part of the program for almost a year an half and she has seen improvement in her wellbeing in many areas. 

Sorensen shared that she became aware of the program while going through two back-to-back stem cell treatments in Calgary and she looked forward to being able to take part of the program as she was very active before her cancer diagnosis.

“I had a physical job, I worked out at the gym three to five times a week and you go from that to nothing, you hardly can get off the couch to tend to yourself let alone exercise, so when I was finally strong enough to at least come to the ACE program, it was really nice because it was geared for people going through treatment,” said Sorensen. 

She explained the program had concessions and the instructor is excellent at adapting the program to the needs of the participants. 

“Some days you don’t quite have as much in the tank as other days and (the program) it helps you get through some of your side effects from your treatment and it’s also part of a study so anytime that you’re aiding cancer study I think it’s a bonus, a win-win for me because I get to be here working out and they get information,” said Sorensen. 

She said taking part in the program has helped her be able to do things she was not able to do before. It has given her strength to go back to doing her normal things again. 

“I could come and from here I would go and then go grocery shopping, where before there was no way, so it helps in all aspects of your life. It just kind of picked up the pieces and help you to move forward with doing things again,” said Sorensen.

She said she could easily go back to the gym now, but she feels better taking part in the program and surround herself with the encouragement of Gallagher and her fellow participants. 

The new session for the ACE program starts on April 2 and those interested are asked to contact the Be Fit For Life Centre at the College, or go online to the Alberta Cancer Exercise Program and get in touch with the research team in Calgary who will also get you in touch the College. 

“If we end up with more people than we normally have, we will find a way to expand the class, whether it means adding another time or something like that, but we certainly don’t want to turn people away,” said Gallagher.

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