DALLAS -- In 1997 the American Cancer Society published a study that made a clear connection between regular exercise and improved recovery rates in cancer patients undergoing high doses of chemotherapy.
"To reduce fatigue, this group of patients should be counseled to increase physical activity rather than rest after treatment," the study said.
A local physical therapist supports that idea.
"It's hard to get people to believe that, because for so many years the standard prescription was to go home and rest, but what we have found is that when people are active and exercise regularly, cancer is far less likely to reoccur," Nancy Baldwin, a certified Cancer Exercise Specialist, said.
Baldwin was a physical therapist for years, and became a personal trainer after her children were born. When her father was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in 1998, Baldwin desperately wanted something tangible she could do to help.
"All I knew was physical therapy and training, so I started researching exercise programs for people with cancer, and there was nothing out there ... eventually I found this curriculum (the Medical Health Fitness Group) and I contacted the guy who created it and asked if I could just use it for my own benefit," Baldwin said.
During that first year Baldwin created a program tailored for her father's needs. She was able to help him with balance, strength training and the bone density loss associated with many cancer treatments.
She was also able to spend precious time with her father helping him do something positive and proactive. When he was diagnosed, Baldwin's father was given 6 months to live. He held out for five and a half years.
"When he passed, I had all this information built up and started to wonder, what can I do now," Baldwin said.
"There are a lot of occupational therapy programs out there for recovering cardiac patients, but there is really nothing for cancer patients ... that's why I try to keep this class kind of limited to patients who have been diagnosed with cancer."
Baldwin has developed a partnership with Oregon Health and Science University and Salem Hospital. She heavily promotes her program, RISE, with the nurses and oncologists serving patients.
"I really want to make sure this class is open and available to anyone who wants to take it, regardless of whether or not they can pay. I will never turn someone away - it's too important," Baldwin said.
Her RISE program is offered through the Courthouse health club in Keizer, but her students don't have to be members of the gym to participate.
"However, I encourage them to join so that after the program ends they can continue the healthy habits they've developed coming here. It is my hope that this will just become a regular part of their routine," Baldwin said.
"That's also why I choose to hold the class here. I could have located it at the hospital, but I wanted this to be as normal as possible for people," she said.
"You know, cancer treatment is mostly outpatient, and that means people with cancer are out there living their lives; taking the kids to school; going to work; shopping for groceries. I want this to be just one more thing they do during their day," she said.
Baldwin also makes a point of pairing compatible people up in her class. She does this for two reasons: to make the class more enjoyable, but also to help her students build a support structure. A community.
"It becomes a sort of support group for them where my presence is really secondary to the other people in the class, which is exactly how I want it," Baldwin said.
To also help promote community, Baldwin sponsors Relay for Life teams. This year, in addition to the team she sponsors in Salem, she is sponsoring Hunter's Huntsmen in the Polk County Relay for Life May 18-19 at Dallas High School.
Baldwin said that tons of teams approach her every year, but she chose Hunter's Huntsmen because 5-year-old Hunter Mills's mom, Yvonne Mills, is so completely dedicated and tenacious.
"She just kept asking. Hunter comes here for the kids' fitness program, so I've seen him around, but I'm really proud to sponsor his team because his mom is just quite a woman," Baldwin said.