By Hannah Hoag
Exercise Your Mind and Body
Physical fitness can improve the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors
By Hannah Hoag
In early 2000, less than two weeks after her last radiation treatment for stage II breast cancer, Lois Meddock joined the Pink Phoenix Dragon Boat Team in Portland, Ore., the first breast cancer survivors’ team in the U.S. Each narrow boat, ornately decorated with a Chinese dragon head and tail, is powered by about 20 women who paddle in synch to the beat of a drummer perched at the front of the boat. To Meddock, the team sounded like fun—the members enthusiastic. They also offered support.
After treatment, “I felt like I was cut loose, kind of floating,” she says. “I’d had all this advice and support from the radiation nurses, and then when you’re done it’s, ‘OK. See you.’ It’s kind of jarring.”
Now a seven-year veteran of the team—and its president—Meddock says the combination of competition and camaraderie has forged strong bonds among many of the team’s members.
“Dragon boating gives these women a chance to say, ‘What was this experience like for you?’ in a different setting than a support group,” says Meghan McDonough, a sport and exercise psychologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who recently studied a group of breast cancer survivors involved in dragon boating in Vancouver, British Columbia. “A lot of women talked about how it was a good way to get that kind of support, especially as they were getting further and further away from treatment,” she says.
Cancer patients and survivors shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of exercise. “It improves symptoms of fatigue, quality of life, sleep, self-image and mood, and reduces blood pressure,” says physiatrist Rebecca Smith, the director of the Cancer Rehab Program at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia.