Real-life experience translated into a research interest for Fedricker Barber, RN, ANP, AOCNP, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. About 10 years ago, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was treated with 6 months of antiandrogen hormone therapy. During that relatively short course of treatment, he gained a lot of weight and was very tired. Barber was concerned, because he was a man in his late 40s, and she knew that lack of exercise and weight gain were associated with the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, a second primary cancer, and cancer recurrence. So she sprang into action, so to speak.
“This is my passion, being an advocate of physical activity for cancer patients. When I saw what was happening to my husband, I decided to become part of the solution. I helped him by buying exercise videos and doing the exercises with him,” she explained. “I emphasized to him that exercise would improve his immune system, reduce his fatigue, and prevent muscle wasting.”
The effort bore fruit. She found that her participation encouraged him to exercise, and soon he was losing weight and gaining energy.
This experience led to her “passion,” incorporating caregivers and spouses of cancer patients into an exercise plan in her practice. “I give all patients an education sheet on physical activity, even if they are advanced cancer patients. Exercise helps fatigue, mood, function, and sleep. Some patients think that if they have fatigue they should stay in bed, but the opposite is true. If you exercise, the fatigue is reduced,” she explained.
Exercise has been found to prevent the recurrence of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, ovaries, esophagus, and breast. It also helps reduce some of the late effects of cancer treatment, such as poor wound healing, bowel urgency, and outlet obstruction, and it helps build up immune function, she continued.
At the 38th Annual Congress of the Oncology Nursing Society, Barber presented a poster on the relationships between adult cancer survivors’ and caregivers’ social support, self-efficacy for physical activity, and quality of life (QOL), as well as actual physical activity behavior. The sample included 101 cancer survivors and caregivers with a median age of 62 years. Physical QOL was significantly higher in caregivers than in cancer survivors at baseline, but after 1 month of caregivers exercising with their patients, no differences in this parameter were observed between the two groups. Social support from caregivers or friends in performing physical activity was found to improve participation in physical activity.
“We found that cancer survivors and their caregivers rely on social support to encourage and motivate them to participate in physical activity. These findings suggest that priority should be given to strategies that encourage physical activity for both cancer survivors and their caregivers,” she said.
Barber F. Effects of social support on physical activity participation in adult cancer survivors and their caregivers. Poster presented at: 38th Annual Congress of the Oncology Nursing Society; April 25-28, 2013; Washington, DC.