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Exercise improves survival, health of breast cancer survivors

Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 3:53 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 2:02 AM
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Facing a recurrence of her breast cancer since March, Wanda Forster said the exercise class she goes to at Oxygen Fitness Studio is helping.

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Breast cancer survivor Janna Malchow (center) leads a free exercise class for other breast cancer survivors at Oxygen Fitness and Wellness Studio.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Breast cancer survivor Janna Malchow (center) leads a free exercise class for other breast cancer survivors at Oxygen Fitness and Wellness Studio.

“It just makes your muscles feel better and your joints feel better,” she said.

“Mentally, too,” Janna Malchow chimed in. Since the beginning of the month, Malchow has been leading a free, twice-weekly exercise class called Pink Ribbons at Oxygen for breast cancer patients and survivors. The class tries to take into account some physical limitations women might have, such as limited mobility or upper body strength after surgery, Malchow said. For those ladies, the spin class might be the best approach, she said.

“Spinning is a really good thing because you just use your legs,” said Malchow, who is a six-year survivor. Other times it might be light weights or exercise bands. The class itself is therapeutic, said Connie Crenshaw, a two-time breast cancer survivor.

“I think the social interaction plays a large part,” she said, looking at Malchow. “I’ve known you since the first of the month and I feel like I know you now.”

Many studies have pointed to the benefit of exercise with breast cancer survivors, with varying degrees of evidence. In a study published last year in Cancer Prevention Research, nearly 5,000 women in the Shanghai Cancer Registry were measured for exercise at intervals up for up to three years after a breast cancer diagnosis and then reassessed more than four years later. Researchers found that exercise greatly improved overall and disease-free survival, with higher levels of survival and less recurrence associated with greater levels of exercise. It is something Dr. Mark Keaton of Augusta Oncology Associates welcomes in his patients because it can help avoid significant weight gain that puts them at higher risk of the disease returning.

“I do encourage them to exercise because that kind of feeds into a whole pattern of preventing weight gain,” he said.

Certain medications, such as aromatase inhibitors that estrogen-positive breast cancer patients take to prevent a recurrence, can also cause joint pain or stiffness and exercise can help alleviate that, Keaton said. That’s the problem three-year survivor Debbi Warren faces from her drug, Femara, but regular trips to Oxygen is helping, she said.

“It has improved probably 60 percent since I started exercising,” Warren said.

Before her double mastectomy in April, Marcie Wilhelmi began working out intently at Oxygen to help her get through it.

“Instead of sitting around waiting to die, you can channel all your energy and thoughts into building yourself up so you can live,” she said. “That really made the big difference I think.”

Class for patients, survivors

Oxygen Fitness Studio, 375 Highland Ave., is hosting a twice-weekly free fitness class for breast cancer patients and survivors. The classes are 11 a.m. to noon Monday and Wednesday. Newcomers are welcome but instructor Janna Malchow said she would like them to come a little early for the first class to talk about any limitations to exercise, or to e-mail them to her first at janna@oxygenfitstudio.com.


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