MISSOULA, Mont. - For many cancer patients, the road back to recovery is difficult.
One free program is helping survivors regain muscle tone, balance and cardiovascular health. Experts with Fit To Fight tell NBC Montana that cancer treatments cause the body to lose a lot of critical muscle mass and that exercise afterward can lessen side effects and speed recovery.
Doctors diagnosed Bob Albee with a rare, aggressive form of lymphoma, called Burkitt's Lymphoma, two years ago. Albee invited us to one of his work outs. He says, "You can sit around and the chemotherapy has done its job, but you can catch it again or you can get other forms of disease. Your immune system is so compromised. So, my immune system has been boosted tremendously."
Bob tells NBC Montana intensive chemotherapy took a toll on his emotions. "I was very depressed when I had the cancer. You don't think there's much life left for you."
It also took a toll on his muscle mass.
"The effects of cancer treatments are often times more detrimental than the disease itself," adds Dena Saedi, the Coordinator for the Fit To Fight program.
Fit To Fight uses exercise to fight cancer, and Bob has taken part.
Saedi says, "Research has shown that to have some form of exercise while you are getting the treatment will make the effects less so."
More than 100 cancer patients have gained strength through Fit To Fight after physical therapists realized an important component of recovery was missing.
"We saw patients that weren't getting what they needed to get back to their fitness after oncology treatments," Says Samantha Schmidt of Alpine Physical Therapy.
Fit To Fight offers the expertise of physical therapy in a monitored group setting at the Peak Health and Wellness Center in Missoula. However, Schmidt adds that it should be used only to augment other prescribed therapy sessions, "It is not to replace individual, one on one physical therapy for someone who has specific needs."
Bob has been cancer free for two years and says, "This has made a huge difference."
The Fit To Fight program is free and has open slots available for its next 8 week session that starts in March. Participants receive medical supervision and monitoring throughout the session.
You can call Alpine Physical Therapy to sign up. The number is 251-2323.
You also can sign up and get more information at fittofightmt.org.