Supporting Cancer Rehabilitation through Running the Vermont City Marathon

uvmmedicine blogger Nicole Leonard '19
uvmmedicine blogger Nicole Leonard ’19

Physical activity has always been a huge part of my life, and it is actually one of the things that motivated me to pursue medical school. I want to give people who are currently unable the chance to be active so that they can enjoy the outdoors, see the world, and lead themselves to a healthier life. Now as a member of the UVM College of Medicine running team, I’ve found a group that helps me stay active while also helping others increase their physical fitness and overall well-being.

Even though I generally enjoy it, motivating myself to go run can be difficult. I have found that having a group or even one other person to run with and be accountable to makes it infinitely easier for me to get out there and do it. This is one reason I joined the running team; I wanted to be able to motivate myself and others to maintain our physical fitness despite the demands of medical school. And then there’s the cause. Each year the running team chooses a program associated with the UVM Medical Center to support. We ask family and friends to sponsor students to run the full Vermont City Marathon, held in Burlington May 29, or part of it as a member of a relay team. As the team has been doing for the past several years, we decided this year to fundraise for Steps to Wellness, an oncology rehabilitation program from the UVM Cancer Center, because it is something unique to the University of Vermont and it revolves around the idea of exercise being essential to overall health and recovery from disease. By working together towards a goal of running in the marathon and fundraising for a cause we could all get behind, we’re promoting health both in medical students and the patient population we serve.

Dr. Kim Dittus and Dr. Patti O’Brien founded Steps to Wellness about five years ago. With the cardiac rehabilitation program model as its inspiration, it enrolls cancer patients who are either finished with or going through treatment. The patients are evaluated to determine if exercise is safe for them, then they see a physical therapist to pinpoint any specific limitations. Once evaluated, they start a 12-week structured exercise program monitored by trainers. The exercises include aerobic and resistance training to ensure a well-rounded approach to regaining and maintaining strength and fitness. This program is free for all participants for the 12 weeks of supervised exercise, despite the lack of insurance coverage for oncology rehabilitation (Maybe someday, like cardiac rehabilitation, it will be covered!). Patients find great success after completing Steps to Wellness, and this is what motivates us to work hard in fundraising so that patients can continue to have the same experience in the future.

We recently had some patients who went through the program host a panel discussion at the College of Medicine, and everyone expressed how thankful they were that they were able to return to being active. I was able to connect with Dr. Dittus and am planning on doing a summer research project with the goal of reducing barriers to other institutions starting a similar program. One of my goals as a future physician is to educate patients about the importance of exercise, and support them so that they are able to live the healthy, active lifestyle that I find so much joy in. Steps to Wellness is a program that does just that; it helps patients regain their strength and fitness after cancer or cancer therapy, and I can’t wait for the race on May 29th to support such an important cause.

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