Nutrition and exercise key to preventing, dealing with and recovering from cancer

You cannot pick your genes or family medical history, two factors studies show may play a role in breast cancer risk, but the Center for Breast Health at the Carroll Hospital Center is giving women a chance to fight back against genetics through two simple lifestyle changes.

Along with genetics, a leading driver of breast cancer is increased body fat, said Melanie Berdyck, community nutrition educator at the Center for Breast Health.


"Carrying a higher body weight percentage means an increase in estrogen in the body," Berdyck said. "More estrogen increases the chances of estrogen-driven cancers."

The National Cancer Institute has linked high estrogen levels to the rapid formation of cells in the breast and cervix, increasing a woman's risk of developing either cancer.


Last July, the Center for Breast Health started offering free breast nutrition classes to women with risk factors, or who are battling cancer or in remission.

After women finished their cancer treatment plans, medical providers at the center wanted patients to take yoga, acupuncture or another complementary program to help them regain muscle mass and their physical tolerance levels, Berdyck said. The center wanted to make sure a nutrition component was added to give the patients "well-rounded clinical patient care," she said.

The class, offered on the first and third week of every month, is taught by Berdyck.

During each session, she invites attendees to share background and where they are in their battle with breast cancer.

"Most people are interested in sharing where they are," Berdyck said. "It helps me to give some catered advice and suggestions during the class."

To prevent breast cancer, Berdyck said people should watch their alcohol intake and avoid eating processed meats.

According to Berdyck, high alcohol consumption can increase breast, esophageal, colo-rectal and mouth cancer.

For a woman, one drink — a 12-ounce beer or 5-ounce glass of wine a day — is the limit, she said. For men, double the limit.

Berdyck said processed meats, such as bacon, sausage and grilled foods, carry nitrates and carcinogens. She said chicken and fish are better meat alternatives.

The best alternative, Berdyck said, is a plant-based diet, which helps to detoxify the body through phytonutrients.

"Extra fruits and veggies give you nutrients and keep your waistline stable," she said. "Most of us don't get enough."

While maintaining a smaller waistline is important for prevention, weight maintenance is most important to help someone going through cancer treatments.


Depending on how a person is tolerating chemotherapy or radiation, taste preferences may change.

"They find that their favorite foods don't taste the way they used to — they taste salty or have a metal taste," Berdyck said. "A lot of people don't have an appetite and get really tired."

It is important for people battling cancer to maintain their weight, even when they are not very hungry or foods do not taste the same, she said.

"Calorie needs go up when someone is going through chemo and is in a stressed state," Berdyck said. "The protein needs also go up compared to someone healthy and not going through treatment."

To combat weight loss, which can be detrimental to a cancer patient's treatment plan, Berdyck suggests patients snack every three to four hours or graze if eating a full meal is too much. She said they should go on an eating schedule and log their food intake.

Berdyck said it is also a good time for patients to try new foods to see how they adapt to new tastes.

If a patient does not want to eat meat, Berdyck said they should consider high-protein alternatives such as legumes, beans, lentils, tofu and nuts.

When patients have successfully completed treatment, she said they should try to return to a well-balanced diet. Many people in remission will discover they gained weight following the end of their treatment, Berdyck said.

"Sometimes there is fluid buildup, or they are tired and not as active as they were," Berdyck said. "They also could be eating more comfort food or are experiencing nausea or hormonal challenges like early menopause."

Exercise is important post treatment once patients get the OK from a doctor, Berdyck said.

She said it is important to keep their muscle mass up and start with small activities such as walking the dog.

Next month, the center will be offering a free cancer survivorship class that gives patients a free fitness evaluation and one-hour class focused on health, diet and exercise.

The center also refers patients in remission to the cancer exercise small group personal training for strength support and flexibility class at the Westminster YMCA.

The class is taught by fitness director Tina Antkowiak, a certified cancer exercise specialist, or trainer Kathy Distler.

Antkowiak decided to get her certification in cancer exercise after watching her sister battle through breast cancer.

"I watched her go through treatment, the highs and lows and the fears," Antkowiak said. "Her fatigue level was extreme and she had to quit work. I wanted to do more for her and others who have gone through this process to have a better quality of life and support system."

According to Antkowiak, it has been proven that exercise during and after treatment helps with mindset, health and allows your body to create natural endorphins and extra energy.

The 12-week class includes three 45-minute assessments and customized exercises.

The classes include lymphatic system exercises, range of motion exercises and strength training.

The lymphatic exercises help keep the lymph system flowing, Antkowiak said. People who have breast cancer may have had their lymph nodes in their armpit are removed, she said. During the class, the instructor is careful to keep the person from overworking their lymph nodes to because it cannot have a lot of stress to prevent swelling, she said.

During the range of motions exercises, the trainer will work with those in attendance to help them regain range of motion after having a mastectomy or reconstructive surgery, Antkowiack said. For breast cancer survivors, trainers focus on range of motion in the chest, back and shoulders, which often becomes limited, she said.

While the YMCA's cancer classes can be a more costly, Antkowiack said, the organization is looking to partner with other groups to help to cut the costs to provide the service to more survivors.

"If we can help someone get through such a terrible time in their life and come out feeling stronger and better about their quality of life, we like to do this for these individuals," she said.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

More information


What: Breast Health Nutrition


When: 6 to 7 p.m., first and third Wednesday every month

Where: First Floor Dixon Building, Carroll Hospital Center, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster

Cost: Free

Form more information visit http://www.carrollhospitalcenter.org/education-classes or call 410-871-7000.

What: Cancer Exercise Program

When: 3:30 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays for 12-week program

Where: Hill Family Center Y, 1719 Sykesville Road, Westminster

Cost: Once a week $276 for full 12-week program; $312 twice a week

A scholarship program is available to off-set the cost. For more information call 410-848-3600 or visit http://www.ymaryland.org.

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