Clinical research has established exercise as a safe and effective intervention to counteract many of the adverse physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment. Macquarie University Hospital patient Liz Ellis is a shining example of this approach.

In May this year, Liz Ellis had her 100th IV treatment. She’s also had 420 oral chemotherapy treatments for metastatic breast cancer, which has spread to her liver, lymph nodes and, recently, her kidney.

Throughout, she has focused on one thing to keep her going: exercise.

“I do four personal training sessions per week,” said Liz. “They include conditioning and cardiovascular, yoga with a personal trainer and strength building.

“I wanted to keep my body and mind sharp during treatment. I was very fit before I was diagnosed, so it was fairly easy for me to continue after surgery and during ongoing treatment.

“I focused on exercise to protect against the effects of the chemo and the cancer itself – to get oxygen around my body and into my cells. But the exercise is also about not putting my cancer first in my life.”

Liz’s approach is in line with the 2017 COSA (Clinical Oncology Society of Australia) Position Paper on Exercise in Cancer Care, which calls for, amongst other things, ‘exercise to be embedded as part of standard cancer care and to be viewed as an adjunct therapy that helps counteract the adverse effects if cancer and its treatment.’

For Liz, exercise has contributed to her wellbeing throughout treatment, and she believes this has been the key factor in helping her live with metastatic breast cancer for this long as well as allowing her to do the things she loves doing, like camping.

Liz and her husband Glen started Black Bear BBQ last year, which was featured recently on Channel 7 before the annual Meatstock festival. Liz was actively involved in the business while undergoing treatment. She and Glen have a seven-year-old son, so family life is busy, and Liz has kept actively engaged throughout her four-year journey.

“My message to others is that you don’t have to be in bed all the time,” said Liz. “Do that extra little bit, just to keep going. If you are wavering 50/50 whether to exercise or not, just do it. Start small if you have to, but do something every day.”

Professor Richard Kefford, Head of Cancer Medicine and Head of the Cancer Clinical Program at Macquarie University, is part of the team treating Liz.

“Liz has been an inspiration to our entire team, her family and her many Facebook friends,” said Professor Kefford. “There is no doubt that her consistent exercise commitment has made a massive contribution to her wellbeing and the minimisation of side effects from her incredibly prolonged chemotherapy program.

“All oncologists now vigorously promote exercise at all stages of cancer because the benefits are so clear and so diverse.”

Excerpt from COSA Position Statement on Exercise in Cancer Care

• Being physically active and exercising regularly is important for health, function, quality of life and, potentially, survival of people with cancer
• The majority if people with cancer do not meet exercise requirements.
• People with cancer should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain participation in:
o at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week; and
o two to three resistance exercise (for example, lifting weights) sessions
each week involving moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups.
• To maximise safety and therapeutic effect, exercise should be prescribed and delivered under the direction of an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with a focus on transitioning to ongoing self-managed exercise.