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Wellness program puts Via Christi at leading edge of cancer research

Daniel Fowler cancer exercise

Daniel Fowler is a firm believer in the power of exercise to help patients battling cancer and other diseases. His work helps put Via Christi on the leading edge of the latest in cancer care.

For more than two years, Fowler has helped patients through his work as a board-certified exercise physiologist and the leader of Via Christi’s Cancer Wellness Program. During that time, more than 700 inpatients have explored the benefits of exercise during and after treatment through the Via Christi Cancer Institute, located in Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. Within the last year, another 120 have participated as outpatients at the Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center.

Exercise oncology is a field that has evolved with evidence-based research on cancer treatment. The American Cancer Society reported there were nearly 14.5 million Americans living with a history of cancer in 2014. That number of cancer survivors is estimated to increase to 19 million by 2024.

“Those who stay with our program typically see their strength and balance improve,” Fowler says. “It allows them to do things in their lives for a continued period of time. Whether it’s a hobby, the ability to walk further or longer or spending time with kids and grandkids, everybody has their motivation.”

Via Christi’s Cancer Wellness Program was created to help patients stay active and maintain strength while undergoing treatment, which often leaves patients fatigued. One goal for Fowler and his team of two exercise specialists is to help patients become strong enough that they can return home after cancer treatment rather than having to enter a rehabilitation facility as part of their recovery.

“All too often, patients feel like they don’t have any control of their situation,” Fowler says. “Sometimes when they feel like it’s out of their hands, it can lead to depression or low motivation.

“We try to give them some tools like raising their activity level and helping them determine what they’ll eat. Those are well-studied benefits of treatment.”

Continuing research

Via Christi’s Cancer Wellness Program is similar to the exercise oncology care offered at one of the nation’s best known medical centers, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. At Sloan Kettering, researchers are now studying whether rigorous exercise can inhibit cancer.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, exercise scientist Dr. Lee Jones started an early-stage trial involving 72 women with stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of their bodies. 

The focus of the research by Dr. Jones’ team is to determine whether an exercise regimen can influence the biology of a tumor, and alter or slow its growth. The team’s hope is that successful research can lead to exercise becoming a standard of care in cancer treatment along with other means such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Fifty women have completed the trial, and results are expected later this year.

'All about patients'

Fowler welcomes the study to try to scientifically validate the benefits of exercise in battling cancer. “It’s nice to see expanded research in studying the benefits exercise can have in oncology,” he says.

No matter the outcome, Fowler says, the psychological benefits of exercise can help patients battling cancer. To make sure patients have the opportunity to experience those benefits, a strong, collaborative environment exists within Via Christi between doctors and exercise specialists.

“In the end, it’s all about patients,” Fowler says. “What can we do for them so they can have the best possible outcomes?”