Wearing a pair of checkered pants and a quilted vest, Lorraine Thomas strolled into the Minot Family YMCA, without the cane that she normally walked with. She was feeling better, with much more energy and strength; it wasn’t the kind of feeling someone with cancer would normally feel. The fatigue was gone, and it was all thanks to Trinity Health’s Cancer Exercise Rehabilitation Program, which is geared toward patients currently fighting cancer – like Thomas – or for those who are in remission.
While exercising at the Minot Family YMCA, Thomas’ daughter-in-law, Sue Thomas, learned about the Cancer Exercise Rehabilitation Program. She passed on the information to Lorraine, who is currently fighting breast cancer after it “reared its ugly tail” fifteen years after being in remission following a “small” case of breast cancer. (Except now, the cancer is in her bones as well.) Thomas discussed it with Pam Holwegner, FNP-C, AOCNP, at the Trinity CancerCare Center, who agreed that it was a good idea.
In August, she enrolled in the program. At first, Thomas was apprehensive. She wasn’t sure what to expect. “I was willing to try it,” she said. “Anything that can help you go through this.”
For twelve weeks, participants in the program (which began in 2007) visit the Minot Family YMCA twice a week and exercise. While it doesn’t sound like a marvel concept, the exercise can do them good. Chemotherapy and radiation can take a lot of energy and make a person feel fatigued. “They are so tired, they can sleep for 12 hours, wake up, have breakfast, and then take a nap,” said Russell Gust, MS, CSCS, ACSM-CET, Exercise Physiology coordinator with Trinity Health. “By engaging in a regular exercise routine, you can prevent that overall feeling because it gives you energy.”
“This program combines to help both the body and the spirit,” Thomas added.
Twice a week, Thomas visited the YMCA and exercised through the program. “It’s relaxing; it’s not work,” she said. “It’s just like riding a bike.”
Gust noted how he saw just that in Thomas over the past twelve weeks. Her strength improved, as did her confidence in her mobility. “But her strength has improved since Day 1,” Gust said. “Her ability to walk farther has improved.”
Thomas has noticed this herself, as well. “It improves your disposition in everything,” she said.
And when she does leg exercises, “I can really tell,” she added, noting that the exercises affect her weak area. Thomas said she likes the back-extension exercises, and “once I get going, I like the leg press. My physical therapist has noticed my hips and legs are improved. The pain is gone.”
Gust has played an instrumental part in Thomas’ improvement. He helps guide the patients through their exercising journey to insure the patients are doing the exercises correctly. “He makes it fun,” she said.
“You keep them distracted and they don’t know they’re working,” he responded.
Thomas is due to finish the program at the end of October, at which time she will go south to escape the cold. There, she will check into an exercise program, although “it’s nothing like this. They don’t have a Russ, but I’ll figure it out.”
When she returns home, she will continue exercising. “It’s a reason to get going in the morning,” she said.
Thomas said that she receives such good care at the Trinity CancerCare Center and the Trinity Health Exercise Physiology program. They are friendly and approachable, she said. “You don’t feel depressed, but they lift your spirits and they make me feel uplifted.”
She added that she is thankful for her daughter-in-law who told her about the program in the first place. If someone were to ask her about the program, “I’d say go, in a minute… I would recommend it highly. Minot is fortunate enough to have this program.”
The program is free for patients, thanks to fundraising efforts through the Minot Y’s Men’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink Program and Trinity Health Foundation that keep patients from paying out-of-pocket. The Power of PINK Cake Auction, held October 10, helped to raise more than $10,000, which funded the YMCA memberships for the participants. Additionally, the Y’s Men’s TETWP raised an additional $38,361 for the program.
For more information on the Cancer Exercise Rehabilitation Program, contact Gust at 857-5626.