The “One Data Point” Problem

I have been mulling over the “one data point” dilemma lately. Here’s what I mean.

When I had cancer treatment, after my major surgery and as my chemotherapy began, I decided to do whatever exercise I could do, in the amounts that seemed beneficial to me. I have always considered exercise to be health-promoting, so there was, in my mind, no reason to stop exercising unless I was medically directed to. I was encouraged to exercise, so I did. I recovered well.

I was able to exercise, with walking, swimming, one long hike once, and some water-skiing. I was fatigued and slowed down, in later months, but I didn’t have to stop exercising during treatment, and I continued to exercise after treatment ended. I credited exercise with helping me cope, helping me eat better, helping me not feel overwhelmed by side effects. My medical team thought that my blood counts came back up, after infusions, very well, and they considered me to be robust throughout treatment and tolerating my chemo very well.

My cancer recovery was also excellent, in terms of my cancer. I have had no evidence of disease since the early part of my chemotherapy treatment. It’s been four years of good health, since then, although no one, not me, or any MD, would say I’m a free from a threat of recurrence. I do have very good odds, at this point, and that is a very good thing. It’s the best I can do.

But does my experience prove that exercise helps in cancer recovery? Not really. Not scientfically speaking. Scientifically speaking, my experience represents only one data point. How do we know that I didn’t just have the ideal surgery and chemo? What if my exercise was irrelevant? Does my experience prove that exercise helped me? How would we prove that? I am just one data point.

I wrote Active Against Cancer because of the convincing and well-accepted evidence that exercise is good for one’s cancer recovery in most cases. The current medical consensus is that exercise has many benefits to cancer patients for whom it is appropriate. That’s great news for cancer survivors who can help their own recovery with pleasurable exercise during and after treatment, in most instances.

I based the book largely on the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Roundtable of Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Patients from June 2010. Their expert panel reviewed 140 or so related medical studies and concluded that cancer patients should be encouraged to “avoid inactivity.” I flipped that around and said “be active:” same thing.

Read the website page entitled “Ten Reasons” to see more details about why exercise helps to fight cancer and improve your cancer recovery. The information is elaborated upon in Chapter One of my book.

My message to you, if you are a cancer survivor is pretty simple. Exercise can help your cancer recovery.

You know what mission you really are on: You are trying to save your life and recover your health. Exercise can help you do that. How much can being active help? Will it save your life? Well, no one can tell you that.

But is it worth adding exercise to your self-care as a cancer patient? Yes, it is.

You might just be “one data point” yourself, but so what? Your one life is the one that you want to protect. Do the best you can to make a complete recovery from cancer by following your doctors’ advice and by taking care of yourself in meaningful ways, including exercising appropriately.