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Embrace Wellness: Cancer patients undergoing treatment see benefits from exercise, nutrition education

Cheryl D’Amario spent part of last October, the month associated with breast cancer awareness, dealing with her own life-changing moments.

D’Amario underwent surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2019. The Manchester resident completed her rounds of chemotherapy before surgery took place, and radiation treatments followed. D’Amario said she rarely felt defeated, however, and credits some of that to her passion for exercise.

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“Working out kind of kept me grounded through the entire year,” said D’Amario, 58, who frequented Coppermine 4 Seasons’ complex in Hampstead to utilize its exercise equipment.

“Our bodies, for some of us, have been through a lot. … You just generally feel good about exercising, a positive feeling about yourself. It gives you the strength and the courage and the guidance you need to just keep moving in that same positive direction.”

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Embracing wellness
(Dylan Slagle)

D’Amario, 58, is also part of the Embrace Wellness program at Carroll Hospital’s Tevis Center for Wellness. It’s a 12-week class designed for people who want to adopt healthier lifestyles while going through cancer treatment.

Designed for cancer survivors who have completed active treatment, the program supports continued healing and helps participants enhance their health and well-being throughout survivorship, according to a Carroll Hospital news release. During the program, participants have access to a range of services including self-care activities, 12 weeks of nutrition education and wellness classes, a fitness assessment, and weekly exercise classes with NovaCare Rehabilitation, according to the release.

The program began in early September and runs through Nov. 24. There’s a $50 fee per person, and registration is required.

D’Amario, already an exercise veteran, said she sticks to a three-times-per week routine and fits in workouts when she’s not at her day job as blood bank supervisor at Carroll Hospital. She visits NovaCare’s Manchester site for Embrace Wellness sessions, and still hits Coppermine when she can.

“I feel great. I can honestly say that I didn’t have a negative feeling throughout the entire process,” D’Amario said. “I went in with a positive mind, and I came out with a positive mind. Maybe had one day that I may have [been], I would say, down physically. One day out of all the days that I had to go through this, is not bad.”

Cheryl D'Amario, a breast cancer survivor, exercises as part of her Embrace Wellness exercise class at Novacare in Manchester Wednesday October 7, 2020. Cheryl works at Carroll Hospital Center as the supervisor of the blood bank.
Cheryl D'Amario, a breast cancer survivor, exercises as part of her Embrace Wellness exercise class at Novacare in Manchester Wednesday October 7, 2020. Cheryl works at Carroll Hospital Center as the supervisor of the blood bank. (Dylan Slagle)

The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors strive to take part in regular physical activity, aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week, and try to include strength training at least twice a week. At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate, and ovarian cancer have suggested that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive, according to a 2014 article on American Cancer Society’s website.

Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness, and several quality of life factors in cancer survivors, according to the site.

D’Amario said she sees an improvement in several of those traits when going through her workout routines.

“What can you do to alleviate stress in your life?” she said. “Sometimes it’s in the form of exercise. Yoga, meditation, things like that.”

“I went in with a positive mind, and I came out with a positive mind. Maybe had one day that I may have [been], I would say, down physically. One day out of all the days that I had to go through this, is not bad.”


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Bridgette Bostic is the coordinator of the Embrace Wellness program, and she serves as community nutrition educator at Tevis Center. Bostic said a big part of the program is based on nutrition, and she tries to instill that in those who take the classes.

“Eating more of a plant-based diet really, reducing red meat and cutting out processed meat … those are the types of things that you don’t want to have,” Bostic said. “Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, making sure you’re having well balanced meals. More of a Mediterranean-style diet, [an] increase in fish and seafood as opposed to other animal proteins. It is kind of a switch in diet and that is really important.”

Bostic said it’s vital for patients to consult someone who is physical therapy-based when figuring out which exercises are right for them.

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“Research certainly shows that along with nutrition, physical activity is absolutely important, not only for just the general public health, but for cancer survivors,” she said.

Flexibility, resistance training, and aerobic exercise are all ways to cancer patients to maximize their long-term health. Combining that with proper nutrition is the goal of the Embrace Wellness program, and Bostic said it has been successful this year despite COVID-19 creating challenges.

Bostic said keeping patients engaged virtually can be difficult, but their desire to recover and stay healthy are driving forces.

Cheryl D'Amario, a breast cancer survivor, exercises as part of her Embrace Wellness exercise class at Novacare in Manchester Wednesday October 7, 2020. Cheryl works at Carroll Hospital Center as the supervisor of the blood bank.
Cheryl D'Amario, a breast cancer survivor, exercises as part of her Embrace Wellness exercise class at Novacare in Manchester Wednesday October 7, 2020. Cheryl works at Carroll Hospital Center as the supervisor of the blood bank. (Dylan Slagle)

That’s what keeps D’Amario going, she said.

“It’s been quite a journey. But it’s one that you stay positive with, and you focus on the positive things in your life,” she said. “If you have that kind of a mindset you feel like, ‘OK, this will be a good day.’ And you take every day for what it’s worth.”

NOTE: For more information on Embrace Wellness or to participate, contact Bridgette Bostic at 410-871-6646, or email bbostic@lifebridgehealth.org, or call Care Connect at 410-871-7000.

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