Published on August 13, 2015

Exercise is the best antidote to fatigue for cancer patientsExercise is the best antidote to fatigue for cancer patients

After the side effects from her chemo and radiation treatments began to subside, Laurinda Morway wanted to get away. So she went online and found the perfect option: a 10-day Massachusetts Audubon Society birdwatching trip to Costa Rica’s major ecological zones.

“I just wanted to go on a nice vacation,” Morway says. “I had heard a number of people say Costa Rica was a wonderful place to visit.”

Once in Costa Rica, though, Morway found the April trek much tougher than she expected, filled with uphill climbs and rocky descents that challenged every bit of her physical and mental stamina.

But the Falmouth, Mass., resident was in for a surprise. Not only did Morway finish the hike, she sailed through with vigor, determination and spirit.

“The surprise was how remarkably well I did,” she says. “On one of our most rigorous descents, coming down a slope, the guide said to me, ‘You were phenomenal.’ I had no idea how grueling it was going to be.”

The oldest hiker in the group, and fresh off a chemo regime that left her with fatigue and diminished muscle mass, Morway says the experience had a powerful effect on her life. “The trip was affirmation that the health problems were over and that I’m back to full health,” she says.

cancerwellnessstory photo

Kevin Lynch (center) and his Falmouth Hospital rehabilitation team: (left to right) Judy Critzer, Kristine Whaples, Beth Sharp, and Brianna Kuenzel.

A retired research administrator at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Morway credits her remarkable success to Living Fit for You!, a Cape Cod Healthcare Rehabilitation Services program at Falmouth Hospital. Small groups of patients are led through workouts that combine aerobic exercise, weight work and education on such topics as nutrition and the value of guided imagery, the use of mental visualization and relaxation to boost mood and well-being.

The program leader is Kristine Whaples, a registered clinical exercise physiologist and a cancer exercise trainer certified by the American Cancer Society.

Whaples looks at the whole spectrum of issues that cancer patients might face: weight, stress, sleep issues and scar management, among others. The groups also have an emotional component. “It’s working out to be a moving support group, as well,” Whaples says. “It can be very social.”

The patients attend Living Fit for You! twice a week, for six weeks, and many continue their workouts through the hospital’s cardio rehab program. Since the program began two years ago, more than 200 cancer patients have participated.

Many Cape Cod Healthcare doctors and medical clinicians refer their patients to the program. Morway was referred by her surgeon, Peter Hopewood, MD, at the beginning of her treatment. “He wanted me to start as soon as I was able,” she says. “He says exercise is the best antidote to fatigue.”

The classes have a rolling admission for patients who have experienced various types of cancer, whether they are in treatment or survivors who have finished their regime. Almost half her patients have had breast cancer, Whaples says.

“The program is open to any patient with a cancer history,” she says. “Some are right in the middle of treatment; others may have had cancer years ago but never felt like they got back to normal. This is where they can build up their endurance and strength in a hospital setting.”

Whaples is in awe of Morway. “She worked very hard to get to a comfortable level to do (the hike),” Whaples says. “She really shows the spirit of cancer survivorship.”

Morway had her chemo port removed in June and is reveling in summer activities and memories of her hike. “I would never have been able to do it without the program.” she says. “Staying fit is a long-term commitment. I’m looking forward now rather than back.”

Living Fit for You! is a six-week daytime program, although accommodations can be made for patients to attend at night or on a monthly basis. Telephone consultations are also available. For more information contact Kristine Whaples at 508-495-7685, or email her at: kwhaples@capecodhealth.org.