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Exercise for breast cancer patients

Morris Hospital, Cancer Support Center offer specialized programs

Since April, Radiation Therapy Center of Morris Hospital has offered a free exercise class for people undergoing cancer treatment. Radiation oncologist Dr. Ommar Hla was inspired to offer the class after seeing the need in her breast cancer patients.
Since April, Radiation Therapy Center of Morris Hospital has offered a free exercise class for people undergoing cancer treatment. Radiation oncologist Dr. Ommar Hla was inspired to offer the class after seeing the need in her breast cancer patients.

Dr. Laura Ragauskaite, medical director of the Silver Cross Breast Center in New Lenox, said breast cancer patients can benefit from moderate exercise.

Of course, patients who've recently had surgery are advised to "be on light duty" and "no heavy lfiting" for four to six weeks, she said. Likewise, a patient who's just had chemotherapy treatments might feel too sick to exericise.

"But once they get stronger, they can go ahead and exercise," Ragauskaite said.

Being physically fit helps boost overall mood, even if the patients can't exercise to her customary level, she added.

In April, Morris Hospital started a free exercise program for patients who are undergoing (or who have completed) treatment for cancer, any cancer patient, not just those receiving treatment at Morris Hospital, according to a news release from Morris Hospital.

Morris Hospital radiation oncologist Dr. Ommar Hla had the idea of an exercise class for cancer patients while treating breast cancer patients, the release said.

Many could not lift their arms over their heads; others felt weak and off balance, which led to falls during the winter months, the release also said.

“Functionally, the body is limited during and after cancer treatment because you haven’t used it the same way you usually do,” Hla said in the release.

“I’ve always believed we can improve ourselves through physical activity and lifestyle changes and felt an exercise class at the Radiation Therapy Center could help our patients restore mobility, balance and strength in the upper and lower extremities.”

The Low Intensity Functional Training (LIFT) class is offered from 9 to 9:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at the Radiation Therapy Center, 1600 W. U.S. Route 6, Morris.

To register, call 815-705-7370.

Classes including stretching movements using elastic bands or light weights that attendees can perform while standing or sitting in a chair, the release said.

“Ultimately, I want my patients to be more mobile and function better than they did when they came here,” Dr. Hla said in the release. “Exercise will help make them more stable, strong and independent.”

But it's not just Hla who feels exercise has numerous benefits following surgical, chemotherapy or radiation cancer treatment.

In 2018, a blog post at Harvard Health Publishing referred referred to an analysis of 61 clinical trials of women with all stages of breast cancer. Women who participated in an exericse program during their treatment did better than the women who did not.

Not only did the women who exercised have more energy, fitness and strength, they had lower body mass index and waist circumference and even less anxiety and depression than the woman in the "regular care groups."

On its website, the Cancer Support Center, which has locations in Mokena and Homewood, have links to research about the benefits of exercise for cancer patients.

For a full list of exercise, nutrition and other programs for cancer patients and their loved ones, visit

Should I exercise?

Cathy Bryan, an American College of Sports Medicine-certified cancer and exercise personal trainer, offers a few tips at About, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000 by breast oncologist Dr. Marisa C. Weiss.

• Get the OK from your doctor.

• Visit a physical therapist for a structural evalulation.

• Learn about lymphedema and watch for symptoms.

• Find a certified personal traine who has worked with breast cancer survivors to help you start exercising and show you any precautions you may need to take.

• Use common sense and don't over do it. Rest when needed.

Where do I start?

About also has specific guidelines for exercising (and when not to exercise) following surgery and during radiation and chemotherapy and targeted treatments, as well as hormonal therapy.

The American Cancer Society's website at has exercises that can be done the week after surgery for breast cancer, along wtih general gudelines for ease and safety, such as wearing comfortable clothing and exercising after a shower when muscles are relaxed.

The website lists possible symptoms breast cancer patients may experience (such as tingling due to irritation of nerves) along with reassurance that symptoms should subside as strength returns.

In addition, the ACS briefly discusses exercises to strengthen the heart and lungs and when (and how) to begin or resume strength training.

The ACS did say breast cancer patients should stop exercising and consult their doctor if they:

• Get weaker, start losing balance or start falling

• Have pain that gets worse 

• Have new heaviness, aching, tightness or other strange sensations in arms or have unusual swelling or swelling gets worse

• Have headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, new numbness, or tingling in arms or chest

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