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Cancer patients fight fatigue with exercise

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - It's one step at a time for Howard Griffin, Sr. He used to be physically active, but hardships intervened.

"2005 to 2012 was probably the most difficult time of my life," Howard said.

Howard was the caretaker for his wife Evelyn when she was diagnosed with MS. Then, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Howard had surgery but needed radiation a few years later. In that time, Evelyn passed away. Howard was in a tough spot physically and emotionally.

"I kind of let myself go because when I was exercising things were good but emotionally I wasn't handling things," Griffin said.

The staff at Wilmot Cancer Institute said it's not uncommon for patients to become overwhelmed and give up on things that are beneficial - like exercise.

Howard qualified for a clinical trial that included an intervention called EXCAP, short for "exercise for cancer patients". It was run by Karen Mustian, Ph.D., M.P.H. at Wilmot Cancer Institute. The goal was to address the side effects of cancer treatment, especially fatigue, through a home-based exercise program.

"Alleviating that fatigue is very important," Dr. Mustian said. "EXCAP does that. It also helps with the depression, with the anxiety, we've actually have been able to show that it can improve physical function and increase your strength. It can improve your heart and lung function."

Participants for current studies get resistance bands and a smart fitness tracker. They mostly work out at home and come into the PEAK Lab on the URMC campus for fitness testing.

"Exercise is able to act just like an anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical only without using a pharmaceutical product to do that," Dr. Mustian explained.

Helping patients feel better during and after treatment can help them get through it all with fewer side effects and back to living the lives they want.

"You can be just as explicit in the way you prescribe exercise to achieve very particular outcomes as you can in the way you prescribe chemotherapy," Mustian said.

She compares it to the fine-tuned science that is used to give elite athletes an edge.

Howard would just like to continue being a city school teacher and enjoy time with family. He does need a new kidney soon. Using what he learned in the EXCAP program, he has become a better transplant candidate.

"My blood pressure is down, my weight is down, my numbers are good and I am just in a good place," Howard said, smiling with pride.

This is just one of the clinical trials that have been going on at Wilmot Cancer Institute. Some of the trials are funded by donations.

You'll have a chance to support this work during Wilmot Cancer Research Day Wednesday on 13WHAM News and Fox Rochester. Learn more and make donations here.

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