Athletic training and fitness can help overcome the side effects of cancer treatment, agreed the all-star panelists at discussion last night in Menlo Park, California, but they’re no substitute for early detection and an active involvement in your cancer treatment.
The panel discussion, sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, featured three famous athletes whose lives have been changed by cancer: Armstrong himself, a three-time Tour de France winner and testicular cancer survivor; major league baseball star Eric Davis, who has had colorectal cancer; and former US Tennis Association coach and player Tom Gullikson, whose twin brother Tim died of brain cancer in 1996. The panel was moderated by award-winning author Robert Lipsyte, himself a veteran of testicular cancer.
All three panelists have now formed foundations intended to raise money for research and to support cancer patients and caregivers.
The evening stressed the panelists’ common identity as cancer survivors and caregivers rather than their athletic fame. Armstrong, whose cancer was diagnosed at a late stage, confessed to “being in denial” about his symptoms for some time before finally seeing his doctor. Even today he would not look forward to going to the doctor if his symptoms returned, he said. Fear of hearing bad news, Armstrong said, is a common reaction, but not productive. “The bad news is, the longer you put that [diagnosis] off, the worse it becomes.”
All three emphasized the patients’ need to take back control of their lives and of their treatment. “Get a second opinion,” advised Davis, who actively researched what chemotheraphy does and what its effects are on the body. Armstrong researched institutes and the treatments they recommended. Then, he said, “I looked at cancer like a bike race” and prepared for battling it in that way.
Tim Gullikson, according to his brother Tom, “woke up every morning and said, ‘I can have a good attitude or a bad attitude,’ and he chose the good attitude.” Gullikson, who was Tim’s caregiver, also said that he “agreed with him [Tim] more than usual” during Tim’s treatment, because “athletes like control, and he’d lost control.”
The cultural taboos that surround diseases like colorectal cancer and testicular cancer, particularly among men, still can block diagnosis of the diseases. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and yet if it is caught early over 90% of those diagnosed will be cancer free 5 years later. But men in particular are reluctant to have exams “down there.” Armstrong and Davis, as survivors of these diseases, see it as part of their mission, and that of their foundations, to increase public knowledge.
Caregiving, Gullikson and Lipsyte both said, is critical to the well-being of the cancer patient but takes a toll on the caregiver. Gullikson developed high blood pressure during Tim’s illness and was temporarily put on medication. “Take good care of yourself,” he advised.
For those acting as caregivers to cancer patients, Gullikson advises that they “be there for the person,” that they be “positive and upbeat” when interacting with the patient, and that they “treat them [the patient] normally.” Finally, they must choose their moment carefully for “talking about the ‘what if’ factor [terminal illness].”
Lipsyte concurred. Speaking as both a cancer survivor himself and as the caregiver for his wife during her ultimately terminal breast cancer, he said, “We’ve all had the sensation of seeing people drop away [and disappear] because they’re afraid.”
Article By: Glynna Prentice, Medical Writer