Person on indoor stationary exercise bike with swirls of movement around feet

How Exercise Helped During Chemotherapy

I’ve been an athlete my whole life. When I found out that my oncologist encouraged light exercise while I was going through all 6 chemotherapy treatments I was ALL IN.

I turned to my wife on the way out of the office and said “now is the time to buy me that Apple Watch!”.

Walking was best for me

The oncology RN and pharmacist both informed me that walking was the best form of exercise while going through chemotherapy as the blood gets pumped throughout the body. As the blood pumps, it forces the kidneys and liver to process the chemicals instead of letting them sit in your tissues. My medical team also informed me that chemotherapy is more effective if you lightly exercise.

Chemo routine

On the day of my chemo infusion (carboplatin and paclitaxel), I was usually out of my chair after my 90 minute Benadryl nap. I constantly drank water while the infusion was going because chemotherapy really dehydrates me. So, that means a trip to the bathroom every 60-90 minutes and that meant a 3 minute walk around the unit with my IV pole.

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The next 3 days after chemotherapy I was “high” on steroids and my heart was working hard (feedback from my Apple Watch—my wife is so good to me:)) so my pace and duration on an outside walk was very slow and not long. From my journal notes, I usually walked for about 15 minutes and the pace was like assisting an elderly woman who is using a walker:).

Within 1 week after my chemo infusion, I would be able to walk farther and a little faster. I never pushed too hard or let myself get out of breath (I was also on a blood thinner as my ovarian cancer presented with blood clots throughout both lung cavities).

Biggest chemo side effect

By 2 weeks post-infusion, I was able to do a comfortable walking pace of 20 minutes per mile. Afterward, I would come home and put my legs up in a recliner and I also iced my feet.

Iced my feet?

The biggest side effect I got from chemo was very hot feet and also the top of my head (I’d also wrap a soft ice compression packet on the top of my head to cool it). Sometimes my legs and hands were tingly as well. The worst discomfort usually peaked between day 4-7 post-chemo infusion.

Walking was my mental and physical therapy

Then after 8 or 9 days post-chemo it was like the sun appeared and my symptoms drastically disappeared...until the next infusion. My oncologist assured me I did very well while I was being treated because I continually hydrated and walked.

Walking also helped get me out of the house so I could clear my head. I was diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer during the early stage of COVID 19 so I was “sheltering in place”. Walking was my mental and physical therapy while I was going through chemotherapy.

Getting back on the bike

Two weeks after my 6th and final chemo treatment the weather had turned cold, so I started going in the basement to ride my bicycle trainer. The arc of riding a bicycle really helped “flush” my legs out. I didn’t need to ride very fast to start feeling my legs loosen up.

I recovered so well that I signed up to do a 560 mile bike ride across New York State in July. I used to do bicycle touring when I was in my 20’s.

This ride will be a celebration that I survived ovarian and endometrial cancer. I also hope it inspires other cancer survivors that they can exercise while going through treatment.

What exercises have you found work for you while on treatment? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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