Cancer treatments can take a punishing toll on the body. Patients can lose endurance, muscular strength and flexibility as a result of their treatment plan. And an increase in the number of doctor appointments can be disruptive to their lifestyle.

Dan Barnobi, 62, was diagnosed with renal cancer at 57. “Just the word ‘cancer’ causes stress, strain and depression,” Barnobi said. He then went on to have surgery to remove one of his kidneys, participated in a clinical trial, endured three different types of chemotherapy and a round of immunotherapy.

It left him feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained.

‘Bonded to each other’

To regain some of his strength, Barnobi attended the Cancer Wellness exercise program (formerly called “Strides to Strength”), a personalized therapy program at Novant Health Cancer Rehab and Wellness in Charlotte, North Carolina, designed to combat the side effects of treatment. Services include exercise therapy, yoga and nutrition.

Barnobi attended the three-month program initially. But he got so much from the experience that he’s still attending classes nearly five years after his diagnosis.

“Exercise has been shown to be an excellent way to combat cancer-related fatigue for those who are in treatment or who are still suffering from side effects,” said Natalie Fulton, clinical exercise physiologist, Novant Health Cancer Wellness. “Regular exercise can help maintain and restore endurance, strength and flexibility as long as it is prescribed properly.”

The program is tailored to patients based on their fitness, goals and what stage of treatment they are in.

“When I think about my journey, this program is one of the top three or four reasons I’m still here today,” Barnobi said. “My doctor and medications have helped me, but having an exercise regimen helped my body recover from a significant surgery and deal with the impact of chemotherapy.”

In addition to the physical support, there’s an emotional component to the program as well.

“You come into this program and you meet people whose stories are similar to yours,” Barnobi said. “The support you get is incredible. Every time I went in for treatment, there were people telling me that things were going to be fine and to keep on going. Those who had been there before could offer suggestions about what to do.”

Janie Eriksen, registered nurse, Novant Health Cancer Rehab and Wellness, said the relationships patients build with each other can make a lasting difference in their recovery.

“These individuals who come into our program are bonded to each other over something they may never discuss with others,” Eriksen said. “When they’re in the midst of treatment, it’s a mental boost to see people around them who were in their shoes at one point. It’s a reminder that it won’t be like this forever.”

Exercise and education

Julie Clark, 63, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2017. After surgery, her radiation oncologist referred her to the Cancer Wellness exercise program to help her stay strong in the face of side effects from her treatment.

“Our goal is to preserve as much of the current fitness state as possible or minimize the losses from side effects,” Fulton said.

Clark worked hard during her radiation treatments to offset some of the side effects and fatigue.

“I would go to my radiation appointment and then go straight to the wellness center,” Clark said. “I saw that exercise helped my side effects, but also reestablished a routine and motivated me.”

Clark also took advantage of the nutrition services, as well as yoga.

“There was a great education component,” she said. “Before this program, I didn’t understand the difference between exercise and being active. I discovered I need to do more than just get 10,000 steps a day.”

Clark said the program also helped lift her spirits.

“It was comforting to know that my classmates understood what I was experiencing – even if it was unspoken,” Clark said. “And knowing my exercise was being monitored by a nurse provided some security. I knew the nurses could watch and guide me to make sure I was exercising in a safe way.”

The Cancer Wellness exercise program is a 3-month program offered three times a week at several locations in the Charlotte area. For more information call 704-384-6953 and select option 2 or 3.

Community and team member donors helped make this program possible through Novant Health foundations. Click here to connect with your local foundation team to learn more, or make a gift to help save and improve more lives today.