The Art and Science of Fitness | A fitness enthusiast who bravely fought cancer

Cancer can be a scary thing to endure. The diagnosis is often accompanied – and this is understandable – by the fear of death. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. With advances in medicine and oncology, cancer no longer has to scare us as much as before.

And to prove my point, I’d like to take you through the journey of someone I know who was recently diagnosed with cancer and what they did when they found out.

While running, I often encountered Rohit Pathak, who always seemed like a fit and natural runner. But he hasn’t always been. In 2016, he weighed 110 kg, he decided to take up cycling with the Delhi Cyclists, and two years later he was introduced to running by Adidas Runners. By 2021 he had dropped to 75kg and ran the Berlin Marathon. Without knowing the details of his transformation, we only exchanged pleasantries.

Last Sunday, however, I found out that in April 2022, when he had just turned 40, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare type of cancer. And just a week ago he reached the finish line of the Mumbai Marathon, the full 42.195 km. I believe the story of this amazing man needed to be told to the world.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects the lymphatic system. We all know that arteries and veins carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body and then back. In addition to arteries and veins, there are nerves and lymphatic channels. While arteries are like the pipes that bring clean water into our home, veins are the pipes that drain impure water away. Likewise, the nerves are like electric wires laid throughout the house and the lymphatic system as a whole is like a defense alarm system that detects any intrusion of harmful elements. However, once there is a breach, even the smallest nuisance would allow for all sorts of trouble. This is what happens when our body’s defense mechanism is broken down. Our immune system goes into overdrive at the sight of the slightest infection.

This is what Rohit faced. He has run over 4,500km in 2020 and 2021 combined, while training for two full marathons. And then he met Dr. Lt Col Manish Chaudhary at Batra Cancer Research. Rohit recalls, “I think meeting Dr. Chaudhary was a blessing in disguise, he patiently explained to us what this cancer was, the line of treatment, pros, cons, do’s and don’ts. . My only request from Dr. Chaudhaury was if I could continue with my physical workouts like running, biking, and strength training. I was allowed brisk walks and strength training at home. The fact that Dr. Chaudhary was a former army officer and a runner himself helped immensely, so he appreciated the physical and physiological benefits of being active. After meeting him, I don’t think we ever faced fear, chaos or confusion throughout the treatment. We immediately decided that he would be my primary care physician, there was no hesitation here.

Rohit running the marathon.
Rohit running the marathon.

Contrary to popular belief, Rohit’s enthusiasm and Dr. Chaudhary’s advice are not misplaced. Dr Darren Player, scientist and scholar at University College London (UCL) and exercise professional, with whom I co-authored MoveMint Medicine and The Ultra – sofa at 5, 11 and 22 km in 100 days shares what is being done globally, based on evidence and research. “Lymphoma Action (UK) promotes physical activity and suggests several benefits including treatment preparedness, reduced treatment side effects, reduced risk of infection and reduced risk of blood clots among others . A meta-analysis of studies (one of the highest levels of evidence) published in the Cochrane database demonstrated that aerobic exercise may improve fatigue and depression in conditions such as lymphoma.”

He added: “Given that fatigue is one of the most debilitating systems for these patients (due to disease and treatment), this would suggest that all patients should engage in some form of aerobic exercise. Exercise programs combining aerobic exercise with strength or resistance exercises have also shown physical and psychological benefits (Fischetti and colleagues in 2019).Resistance exercises should not be underestimated to support patients with lymphoma, as the increased muscle mass and strength will reduce fatigue and contribute to a whole host of other bodily benefits.

Rohit went on to tell me what his journey was like, “The next course of action was a series of tests and a PET scan. After that, the line of treatment consisted of four chemotherapy sessions every 14 days and about 10 radiation therapy sessions after that. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel anything for the first few days after the chemo and thought it wasn’t too difficult. That changed after my second chemo. I started feeling like I was hit by a truck, with weakness, pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and no sense of taste. And moreover, all this happened in the days that followed. But luckily that ended soon too. The first week of July we started with 10 radiation sessions, which was a breeze. Finally, I received a green signal from the oncologist and radiologist that I was cancer free. »

He said: “The beginning of August is the opening of registration for the Tata Mumbai Marathon and I have registered in the Full Marathon category, giving me just over 20 weeks to get myself back in shape to complete the marathon. without my 5 hour timing goal. . The walks turned into short jogs, and soon enough I was running. By the time I got to the finish of the Mumbai Marathon, I had done it in four hours and five minutes. Besides Dr. Chaudhary, my oncologist, I have immense gratitude to Dr. Irfan Bashir (my radiologist), Dr. Sudip Raina (my oncologist-surgeon) from Batra Cancer Research, Dr. Chandan Chawla (my sports physiotherapist) and Dr. Paridhi Ojha (my physiotherapist). I sincerely believe that having the right team of doctors is essential. In my case, it was a blessing because each of them knew my background in endurance sports and how important it was for me to regain my fitness. My Adidas Runners family, my wife Shaifali and my 6 year old son were the main reason I made it to the finish line.

Rohit finishing the marathon.
Rohit finishing the marathon.

Dr. Darren Player, however, warns us. “Of course, there are risks associated with exercise for people with lymphoma and they should always consult their specialist before undertaking any exercise. For example, chemotherapy can cause conditions such as thrombocytopenia, which can put patients at increased risk of bruising and bleeding.The treatment can also cause anemia, which can make the patient more tired when exercising due to reduced oxygen carrying capacity Scientific evidence also suggests that supervised exercise for lymphoma patients provides the greatest benefits, potentially because they can be appropriately monitored and challenged.

The take home message, according to Dr. Player, that resonates with me is: “However, for most people with lymphoma, it is simply necessary to try and maintain physical activity levels throughout their treatment. Managing side effects and listening to your body (and mind) to moderate the amount and type of exercise that can be done is something only a patient can do.

Keep smiling and smiling.

Dr. Rajat Chauhan is the author of The Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way to Manage Back, Neck and Knee Pain; MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Optimal Health and The Ultra: Couch at 5, 11 and 22 km in 100 days

He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

Opinions expressed are personal

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