Heart Health After Cancer

In February, we celebrated American Heart Month and as part of our core values, we’re happy to raise awareness not only about heart health, but how issues with your heart can affect life after cancer treatment.

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the hearthealthUnited States? Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can be incredibly important when you’re faced with difficult traumas like treatment for cancer. According to a new report from the American Heart Association, certain cancer treatments may take a toll on the heart, but there are certain precautions you can take to protect your heart before treatment. “From the start, women [and men] should have their cardiovascular health evaluated,” Dr. Richard Steingart, chief of cardiology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said. “Then, they and their doctors should try to get any heart disease risk factors under the best control possible.” It’s incredibly important to talk with your health care team if you’re concerned about how treatment may affect your heart.

“When it comes to chemotherapy, any effects on the heart typically show up in the short term and can be detected during treatment,” said Steingart. The report also suggested that in some cases, women might need a break from their cancer treatment to see whether any heart effects reverse. If they don’t then the treatment plan may need to be changed.

It’s important not only to focus on your heart health during treatment, but after as well. Side effects from treatment can arise long after treatment has been completed.  You should talk with your oncology team and your primary care team to ensure that you are receiving appropriate health screenings moving forward.

On March 13, Triage Cancer is hosting a free webinar on Cancer Survivorship Care Plans & Late Effects. Cancer Survivorship Care Plans can be valuable tools to understand the cancer treatment you have received and how it impacts your ongoing follow up care after cancer treatment is completed. The webinar discusses the elements of an effective care plan, shares ways to access plans, explains long-term and late-term side effects that some cancer survivors may experience, and provides information on screening options related to those side effects.

You can also take steps towards living a heart-healthy lifestyle by joining the American Heart Association’s national movement in support of healthier communities and healthier lives. https://www.yourethecure.org.

You can watch these Triage Cancer webinars on nutrition and exercise.

Putting plans into action for caring for your heart after treatment is essential to your health.

Triage Cancer Speaker Spotlight: Meet Julie Landford

Some of us are still battling the after effects of the holidays and we know that dealing with nutrition and cancer can be especially challenging.  So we thought it would be a perfect time to sit down with our resident nutrition expert, Julie Landford, to get her advice.

Julie LandfordDuring treatment, Julie stresses the importance of managing any treatment-related side effects that affect nutrition, as well as to be sure to maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is different for every cancer patient: for some it could mean making sure they are getting enough calories and not losing weight, and for others it could mean making sure not to gain weight. The main focus in treatment is to make sure individualized nutrition needs are met, and that any nutrition-related side effects are being managed. After treatment, the goal may shift slightly to following the nutritional recommendations for health promotion and a cancer fighting diet.

Of course, Julie didn’t forget about caregivers. In fact, she emphasized the importance of finding appropriate boundaries when caring for someone, especially when it comes to food and preparing their meals. The main challenge for caregivers when they see their patient is not feeling well or not eating on a regular basis is to not feel like it is their job to get them to eat. This can be especially hard if the caregiver is a spouse or loved one, because people equate food with love, and it is hard not to force someone to eat. She recommends creating a less stressful dynamic around food and eating, and that it is okay to offer food or remind the patient that it has been awhile since they ate, but that is where their job should stop when it comes to food and nutrition.

Julie works in a community cancer support agency that offers all types of support to cancer patients and survivors. One of Julie’s goals is to engage all of the staff in helping clients to identify how they can improve their well-being. To that end, every client that comes into the center, regardless of what they come in for, is asked to fill out a questionnaire. Based on that questionnaire, the staff helps the client set simple, achievable goals that can help them improve their well-being.  Staff will then follow up with the client periodically. This project is expanding the ways they are able to help their clients during and after treatment, and to help them take control of their well-being.

Julie enjoys sharing information about nutrition and cancer, and being a member of Triage Cancer’s Speakers Bureau helps her do just that.  She believes it is important to present the information at a practical level, and at a level where anyone can participate. The Speakers Bureau also allows Julie to connect with people and groups that would otherwise not have found her.  Julie is a dog lover first and foremost, but has also recently adopted a cat.   Want to know more about Julie? Read her complete bio.

Triage Cancer Speaker Spotlight: Meet Dr. Kate Wolin

wolinkWhen we asked her about the main areas of focus when talking about exercise and cancer she broke it down into three main points.  First, there are psychological advantages of physical exercise. Exercise has a range of benefits that can help cancer survivors manage symptoms and side effects, as well as improve function and quality of life.

But Dr. Wolin isn’t suggesting that we all have to become marathon runners, but rather to “start low and slow and progress up,” especially for those that have not been active in some time. Therefore, Dr. Wolin recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day; a brisk walk is enough at first to gain the benefits of physical exercise.  And finally, don’t forget about strength training.  Even moderate resistance training has huge benefits.  If you have access to a personal trainer or fitness specialist, ask them for help in developing a program and proper form.  Many gyms and community cancer centers offer exercise programs that are free of charge for those coping with cancer.

Dr. Wolin doesn’t just rely on other’s research to develop her ideas.  She is currently working on a study that looks at colon cancer patients that have completed treatment and analyzes the methods and benefits of a home-based strength-training program called Thera-Band resistance training. She is also developing a web-based program that helps cancer survivors with their health/exercise questions and needs. Dr. Wolin advocates using technology more in order to reach those who do not live near gym centers or who cannot afford to go to fitness classes. The Internet gives everyone the opportunity to have the tools and programs available to them.

Reaching out to a larger audience and to those who are unable to get the information they need is very important to Dr. Wolin. She is honored to be a member of Triage Cancer’s Speakers Bureau because it allows researchers like her the opportunity to get out into the community and share their findings with survivors, their families, and as many people as possible. She holds that a lot of the research out there is written in journals that require a subscription, is not always accessible in language or format, and is written for an audience that already knows the material. The Speaker’s Bureau makes this important knowledge accessible to everyone and it helps the public see that cancer treatment and survivorship goes beyond drugs, surgery, and the care that goes on in the doctor’s office; there are lots of other elements to caring for the whole patient.

Dr. Wolin is looking forward to speaking in Philadelphia this year at The Society for Behavioral Medicine Meeting. She hopes to encourage other researchers to get engaged in social media and use this as a way to communicate with the public. There is a very active and growing cancer community online, and she wants to get her academic peers involved and engaged in this community to be able to reach out to as many people as possible and share their research.

You can read Dr. Wolin’s full biography here and follow her on Twitter.