Physical Activity During Childhood Cancer, Does It Have to End?

The crack of a baseball bat hitting a ball on a warm summer day, the smell of fresh-cut grass on a soccer field as your son or daughter runs down the turf trying to score the winning goal, these are the dreams and hopes of many parents for their child. But for parents of children battling cancer, physical activities either are on hold for an extended period, or never happen for their child. The hope and prayer of every parent after a life-or-death cancer diagnosis is that their child will survive and will have the opportunity to run, laugh, and play as they did before their cancer diagnosis.

Here to Serve Founder Katie Quintas shares, “my son had to stop all contact sports when he was diagnosed with Stage IV at age 16. At that time, he was on a regional water polo team, and his high school’s varsity golf team. He could not play water polo because it is a contact sport and requires a lot of stamina, but was able to continue to play golf, just not on his high school’s team because he could not walk the course. Many golf courses allowed him to play for free and gave him a cart because of his diagnosis.”

This is National Health Education Week and The American Cancer Society recommends that children and adolescents take part in 60 minutes of modest to strong physical activity (running, sports play, etc.) at least five days per week to build a healthy lifestyle. But for children who are in cancer treatment, that is not always possible. Once you become a cancer survivor, living healthily carries even more significance. For some young cancer survivors, health issues due to cancer or the after-effects of treatment can add to the importance of being physically active. Katie Quintas shares, “my son is very conscious of his health, working out 6 days a week. He has a gym membership and eats healthier than many trainers. He knows that his life expectancy has been compromised by his treatments, but he does everything he can to improve the quality and quantity of his life. He did not start his workout regimen until almost three years after treatments ended. It took him that long to rebuild his immune system and stamina.”

A study conducted by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and presented at the 2018 Cancer
Survivorship Symposium determined that it is crucial for young cancer survivors to be physically active; research has shown that childhood cancer survivors are at an increased risk of obesity and other health issues.

The positive benefits of regular activity and exercise can include the following:

  •  Stimulates the healing of tissues and organs from damage done during treatment
  • Increases the body’s strength and flexibility
  • Reduces risk for illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure
  • Promotes strong and healthy bones
  • Improves mental health
  • Provides children with meaningful social interactions

As with any regular activity and exercise, it is vital to first speak with your child’s doctor before starting any exercise program. Each child recovers from cancer differently, so check with your doctor to determine if modifications are necessary before beginning any physical activities.

And just as baseball, basketball, or volleyball teams start a new season slowly, practicing each day to build teamwork and strength, it’s essential to start any new activities off gradually and build up endurance. Doing so can prevent physical injuries and mental fatigue. Be aware of your child’s physical and emotional well-being, as they may become frustrated that they cannot perform the same way they did before their diagnosis. Often, with time, your child will be back on the field, hearing your cheers from the sidelines again, as you build new memories together.

If you know a child who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, give their parents a much-needed resource to help them through the journey, Here to Serve. They are here to provide tangible help with home activities, resources, guidance and advice for parents on a journey they never imagined they would have to take with their child. Please click here to contact Here to Serve, or click here to find out more.

By Chris Smith

Chris Vega was an athlete and runner before he was diagnosed with cancer.  He always intended to continue running. His last and most important race was won at the gates of heaven.