Exercise is Key

Rising Above Cancer-Related Fatigue

Photography by Jon Keeling


Have you ever felt so tired that you couldn’t even muster the energy to pull up your socks? That’s one description of chronic cancer-related fatigue, a tiredness so profound it is often one of the most troubling cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment. A decrease in muscle mass, a loss of strength, an increase in pain and lack of sleep are some of the indicators of cancer-related fatigue, a condition that can go on for weeks, months, a year or longer even after you finish treatment.

Thanks to The Christ Hospital Cancer Center and Physical Therapy Department, however, area cancer patients have discovered a secret weapon for conquering the sheer exhaustion: Exercise. It might seem counterintuitive: “If I’m that worn out,” you might ask, “how am I to find the wherewithal to move even one muscle?” 

Truth is, says physical therapist Jo Terry, with cancer-related fatigue, the less you do, the less you feel like doing. Research shows, however, that regular light-to-moderate exercise helps reduce cancer-related fatigue. Such findings are the basis of The Christ Hospital’s Shaping Outcomes through Activity and Rehab (SOAR) program, which is open to all individuals, not just Christ Hospital cancer patients. The benefits of the program, according to Terry, include improved strength, cardiovascular function and body image; increased tolerance for daily living activities; overall enhanced quality of life; and decreased anxiety and depression.

“It’s your doctor’s and nurse’s job to cure your cancer,” she says. “My job is to help make you feel like yourself again.”

SOAR participants work with physical therapists to devise a customized fitness program. The first step is a free screening to assess strength, stamina and fatigue level. Once you qualify for the program, you receive a complete evaluation to establish your exact needs. Your customized – and supervised – fitness program at one of The Christ Hospital’s locations can involve aerobic exercise, strength training and balance activities and a home exercise program. 

Donna Cliff, 70, who is currently in the SOAR maintenance program, was undergoing chemotherapy two years ago and experiencing extreme fatigue, as well as having balance and neuropathy issues. Her doctor prescribed physical therapy with Terry. Slowly but surely, with Terry’s supervision and guidance, Cliff began adding brief sessions of safe and supervised exercise to her days. The improvement in Cliff’s energy and stamina inspired Terry to establish the SOAR program. Today, Cliff is fatigue-free and her neuropathy has lessened. 

“It’s incredible,” says Cliff. “It didn’t happen overnight, and I still have to be careful going up and down steps.” But the SOAR program has greatly improved her post-cancer quality of life. You have to pace yourself, she adds, and you must never give up. 

“Everyone’s cancer journey is different,” Terry says. “With the SOAR program, it’s been such a blessing for me to help give cancer patients the boost they need to fight the war being waged in their bodies.” 



The Christ Hospital Joint & Spine Center is located at 2139 Auburn Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information on SOAR, call 859.781.2800 or visit www.thechristhospital.com/SOAR.