A Few Things to Remember when Creating a Cancer Recovery Exercise Program?

– What are some things fitness professionals need to remember when training a client who is recovering from cancer?

The most important thing to remember is that all the usual rules still apply. You can take a new client and progress them the same way that you can a client who has cancer and, in many instances, the adaptation of the cancer patient will be identical, and possibly even better, depending on their emotional and psychological involvement. Many of my cancer patients push themselves harder, show up more frequently, and are much more dedicated to their fitness program because they feel the immediate need of fitness much more so than the average person walking into the club or studio. Many feel they have a “second chance” to do it right and live their lives differently, and they are not going to let negativity or complacency stand in their way.

On that note, the fitness professional should also be aware of the side effects of treatment and some of the common complications from common surgeries, especially as they relate to the major joints and muscles. I have one client who had aggressive breast cancer that required a mastectomy as well as the removal of the pectoral muscle, the resectioning of the latissimus muscle (it was split to make half a lat, and the other half was turned into a functional pectoral). On top of this, she had multiple skin grafts, surgeries, etc., so suffice it to say that her shoulder mobility and strength were pretty limited when she I worked with her for the first time. She couldn’t raise her arm over her head. After two months of dedication and suffering, she was able to move her arm through a complete range of motion, and even banged out a body weight chin up. Oh, and I forgot to mention, she’s 32, and a single mom with 2 young kids. Quite simply, she did not hve time, had massive obstacles, and every reason in the world to give up, but she stuck it out and amazed herself with each workout. Now, whenever I have a client who complains about how hard they have it, I tell them her story. They never complain after that.

– Some would say that fitness professionals should not be training clients that are recovering from cancer. What do you think about that?

I think that’s completely wrong. More than 30% of the population will develop cancer in their lifetime, so not working with this population is insane. Obviously, the individual has to work with their medical professionals and receive clearance prior to working out but, in all honesty, the medical profession is moving more towards exercise as a method of increasing the effects of treatments and the quality of life of the individual while they go through this incredibly difficult time in their lives. I’ve worked with over 50 clients who had cancer, not including the hundred or so I worked with while in a university research facility that looked at the effects of exercise on various stages of different cancers, and in 10 cases, they actually were diagnosed with cancer while they were training with me. Sure, there’s a grey zone which lacks information about cancer for excerise, but that’s where a product like this comes in and fills the gap. Once the trainer has the knowledge of how to work with a client, and what to look for in case of emergency, there’s probably less risk to working with a cancer patient than with someone who has diabetes or a rotator cuff tear

Rick Kaselj, MS