Cancer patients find spirit and strength at Inpower

Cancer patients frequently complain of overwhelming fatigue during treatment. For decades, the medical community recommended patients save their strength and rest during the course of treatment.

But when personal trainer Laura Rosencrantz watched her active grandfather Leonard Schnitzer grow weaker each day as he succumbed to lung cancer, she started to question that conventional wisdom. Researching exercise options for cancer patients, she couldn’t find much. She visited the WellFit exercise program for cancer patients in California and then studied at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Institute at the University of Northern Colorado.

Convinced that maintaining or increasing physical fitness through a customized cancer exercise program during cancer treatment could reduce the number and intensity of side effects, improve quality of life and help in overall recovery, Rosencrantz launched Inpower in 2005. Classes meet at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, which donates the space and use of fitness equipment, 4-5 pm Monday/Wednesday and 2-3 pm Tuesday/Thursday.

Rosencrantz was ahead of the curve. New research shows exercise can lower survivors’ risk of premature death, not only from cancer but from any cause and also actually decreases cancer fatigue. Dr. Rachel Ballard-Barbash, associate director for applied research at the National Cancer Institute, looked at 45 studies of physical activity among cancer patients.

In a May 16, 2012, article, the New York Times reported that Ballard-Barbash and her colleagues discovered that “virtually all of the studies, whatever their methodology, showed that regular physical activity ‘decreased the risk of cancer-related mortality and of all-cause mortality.’”

Rosencrantz says it’s amazing how much exercise helps cancer patients.

“Exercise helps with side effects of chemotherapy and significantly decreases anxiety and depression,” she says. “Seventy to 100 percent complain of cancer fatigue, which is literally debilitating. Exercise has been shown to greatly decrease that. People become stronger physically and emotionally so they are better able to withstand treatment.”

In addition to the cardiovascular exercise to increase stamina, she notes, “A lot of chemicals and steroids can cause muscle atrophy, so it’s really important to add strength training.”

Even for people with a terminal diagnosis, Inpower can improve the remainder of a patient’s life.

Rosencrantz recalls one man who came to Inpower because he wanted to be able to take his grandchildren skiing one more time before he died.

“We worked three months strengthening his legs,” she said. “He took his grandkids skiing and felt so good and had such a wonderful time that he and his wife went to Mexico for a week. He died a day after he got back. But (exercise) allowed him to live while he was dying.”

Rosencrantz has worked with about 450 cancer patients in Inpower.

Before enrolling in Inpower, each survivor completes a health questionnaire and needs a medical release from his or her oncologist. The medical release allows Rosencrantz to communicate with the patient’s medical team so they are aware the patient is exercising and so Rosencrantz can implement any restrictions/limitations the oncologist recommends when creating the patient’s individualized exercise program.

Rosencranz meets one-on-one for a consultation and assessment. After she creates an exercise program, the patient can then come to the MJCC during the Inpower classes and use the center’s fitness equipment under Rosencrantz’s guidance.

For more information on Inpower, visit www.inpowerfitness.com or call Rosencrantz at 503-915-0035.

Caption for bottom image: Inpower founder Laura Rosencrantz watches Leslie Weber balance as she lifts hand weights. A breast cancer survivor, Weber says Inpower has helped her both physically and mentally. She took medical leave from her job after her first surgery. “It was good to get out of the house and have a place to come and interact with other survivors,” she says. “It’s hard when you are feeling crappy, but I always felt physically better after coming.” Weber appreciates that Rosencrantz is constantly modifying her program, tailoring it to her medical condition. For instance, after her reconstructive surgery, Weber was unable to lift weights for two months, but she was able to do cardio and leg strengthening. “Laura is always gauging my condition and pushing me to try to move to the next level.”

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