This piece was written by Trekstock – the only charity that helps young adults with cancer in the UK to thrive with, through and beyond a cancer diagnosis.
Trekstock exists to support young adults in their 20s and 30s living with cancer to get moving again when cancer has stopped them in their tracks.
On World Cancer Day [February 4th], 34 young adults in their 20s and 30s will hear the words “you have cancer”. At a time in their life that is meant to be full of excitement, possibility, and ticking off the ‘life list’, theirs will be replaced with countless hospital appointments and treatments, as well as dealing with the endless list of effects on both body and mind.
When diagnosed with cancer at this age many enter a system that does not reflect their needs. For some they are no longer eligible for Teenage and Young Adult services which stop at 25, instead entering adult cancer services whose usual demographic is over 70. Many tell us that they are often the youngest person on their ward by decades which makes it hard to meet others who understand what they are going through. They face the challenge of navigating mainstream cancer services that don’t cater for their age group.
That’s where Trekstock comes in – we offer tailored age-appropriate support that meets the needs of young adults living with cancer, right where they’re at. From resources on topics that matter to them, a chance to meet other young adults who ‘get it’ to supporting them to get active again, we’ve got it covered. We design our programmes with our community so we can ensure they are relevant and help them feel like a young adult, first and foremost, who still wants to have fun, meet people and get active as opposed to being defined by their cancer. We aim to empower them and equip them with the tools to help them live well with, through and beyond cancer.
“Trekstock makes young adults feel part of something, at a time when we can feel most isolated”
When many of the Trekstock community are having to cope with cancer alongside lockdowns, shielding and fears of catching coronavirus, we believe more than ever that getting support to be active is so important for our community. However, I am sure you know from your own exercise journey that it’s not that easy. Even when armed with the right information, there are so many barriers that get in our way. That’s why, here at Trekstock, we are focusing all our energy on giving our community tools to help them get active and stay active.
So why is getting active so important for young adults with cancer?
If exercise was a pill, every oncologist would be prescribing itThe Australian Oncology Society
We all know just how important exercise is for our mind, body and spirit – even more so right now. But what about for people living with cancer?
A Macmillan Cancer Report from 2012, written by Professor Anna Campbell, Doctor in Clinical Exercise Science, stated that good evidence exists to support the promotion of physical activity throughout the cancer care pathway. Whilst our own study in 2019, conducted by Dr Gemma Pugh, found that those from our community who took part in our exercise programme had:
- Reduced cancer-related fatigue
- Improved quality of life
- Improved mental health and wellbeing
- Improved overall physical wellbeing and activity levels
Many people find the debilitating fatigue they experience is their greatest barrier to getting active and staying with it. Yet the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, USA, recommends exercise as the most important way to manage cancer-related fatigue.
Exercise is considered to have so many benefits to the quality of life of young adults with cancer. Yet many young adults tell us their cancer teams don’t bring it up and therefore they feel confused about whether they should or shouldn’t be doing so.
That’s why, in this difficult time, we’re making sure that bringing young adults together to get physically active is at the heart of all Trekstock offers. We are committed to reaching every young adult diagnosed and living with cancer with the message that we’re here to support them with taking that first active step back into exercise – safely and at a pace that is right for them.
So how are we supporting them to get active?
We know that one size does not fit all so we offer a selection of physical activity programmes to meet the different needs of the community and covering both moderate as well as gentler exercise.
Since 2016, we’ve been running our 8-week RENEW programme which has evolved from one-to-ones to group sessions, moving online at the beginning of the pandemic. Developed by a Level 4 Cancer Rehabilitation specialist, the programme meets two of the greatest needs of our community: social and physical activity support. Each session builds on the one before and can be adjusted for any level of fitness or limitations. The classes include resistance training and cardio workouts to build strength, stamina, and confidence, whilst also offering a safe space for a small group of participants to exercise with others who understand the struggles they face.
The programme works to address the many barriers people face, from lack of motivation and fear of hurting themselves, to coping with debilitating cancer related fatigue. It provides support from experts and motivation from others who understand what they are going through. Many of those who take part are, or have gone through, gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or other treatments that have taken a massive toll on their body and their mental health. Some are still in treatment or only 6 months post finishing treatment, whilst others are facing treatment for life.
“I just wanted to say a huge thank you to all for the RENEW programme and to tell you all how it has absolutely transformed my life. My confidence has improved massively and I am doing things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a year ago and I am so proud of myself.”
The results speak for themselves – some young adults start the programme without having attempted any strenuous exercise at all, not being able to run for a bus or unable to get out of bed, and finish it being able to take part in exercise more than three times a week, taking on challenges and making positive changes to their lives.
The programme gives the participants a renewed belief in their body and its capabilities, boosts strength and stamina, increases energy levels and improves mental health and quality of life. It equips them with the tools they need to continue to exercise safely, long after the programme ends. By bringing young adults together to exercise, we create a community that motivates each other to rebuild their bodies and minds at a pace that is right for them.
To help them stay active after completing the programme we offer fortnightly group RENEW top-up sessions and our Pilates cancer exercise specialist is on hand to give people a gentler approach to getting moving and strengthening their body.
To read more about our programmes, go to www.trekstock.com/getmoving
All of our programmes are free. If you would like to change the game by supporting Trekstock to get young adults with cancer moving, please head to our website to donate.
Reg Charity No.1132421