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Exercise helps cancer patient get back on track
Diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 30, Nathan Wibbeler never imagined that he’d need chemotherapy seven times. He’s feeling better and regaining strength with the help of Edward’s Back on Track program for cancer patients. Here’s his story.

“Physically fit” and “athletic” are words that Naperville resident Nathan Wibbeler uses to describe himself before he had seven rounds of chemotherapy over the course of seven years. His cancer treatments made it difficult to enjoy simple things like playing baseball and going for a bike ride with his three kids.

Diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 30, Wibbeler thought he would be fine after having his right kidney removed. But a year later, the cancer metastasized to his lung and four lymphnodes. Facing stage four cancer, he had no other choice but to start chemotherapy.

In the first four weeks of chemotherapy, Wibbeler lost 60 pounds. He became weak and irritable and couldn’t eat or sleep because he was so nauseous.

“Imagine the worst flu ever and multiply that 25 times…then, you might come close to how sick I felt. I told my physicians this drug was going to kill me,” says Wibbeler, an automotive car repair estimator.

He decided to stop chemotherapy and went about a year with a clean bill of health. But another tumor was discovered in the center of his chest between his trachea and aorta. Because the tumor was wrapped around his vocal cords, surgeons told him it was inoperable and he’d lose his voice. Wibbeler participated in a clinical trial at a downtown medical center, and after three months, the cancer was stabilized and he never lost his voice.

He decided to return to the Edward Cancer Center to be closer to home. Under the treatment of medical oncologist Joseph Kash, MD, he started another regimen of chemotherapy and oral medication that was effective in treating the cancer. But, the side effects of the new medication left Wibbeler depressed and anxious. He also developed open sores on his feet and blisters on his hands.

Several months later, Wibbeler went off the medication and was cancer free until June 2009 when more cancerous growths were spotted in his left lung.

“I thought here we go again, but I continued to fight. This is what I have to do to get the job done,” says Wibbeler.

Since December 2010, Wibbeler has had a regimen of three chemotherapies and oral medication. He receives two of the three chemos intravenously through a port that was surgically implanted.

Now at 37, Wibbeler is adding something new to his routine – exercise. He recently started participating in Back on Track, an exercise class designed for cancer patients. After just a few sessions, Wibbeler already notices a difference.

“Exercise is helping me return to a normal way of life. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have energy again to keep up with my kids, but I’m regaining strength and I feel so good,” Wibbeler says.

Held at the Edward Health & Fitness Centers, Back on Track is designed to help cancer patients build aerobic capacity, muscular strength and flexibility. Led by a personal trainer, each session helps patients return to their psychological and physical form, maintain endurance and improve their overall level of daily functioning. Every session is different and geared toward the individual needs of the person and the type of cancer. A breast cancer patient would have modified arm exercises, for example.

Wibbeler begins his workout session with 20 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, biking or using the elliptical machine. Next, he completes 20 minutes of circuit or muscular training to increase his strength and endurance. He finishes his workout with flexibility stretches to relax and lengthen his muscles.

Cancer treatment causes fatigue and decreases a person’s energy level, so exercise is beneficial because it releases endorphins that help you feel better, says Alison Kettler, a fitness specialist at Edward Health & Fitness.

“With any exercise, the endorphins bring you up and give you the ‘high’ you only get from working out. Exercise improves your body image, this is really important for cancer patients,” Kettler says.

Another benefit is the social aspect of exercise.

“Everyone in this class bonds well with each other. Talking and sharing stories with people who have had similar situations is as important as the physical activity,” Kettler says.

This class gets patients back into exercise and many people go on to become regular members at Edward Health & Fitness Centers, according to Kettler.

Wibbeler enjoys the class, especially the support and encouragement he receives in the Edward environment.

“I’ve had the chance meet new people, and everyone seems to care about you. If I miss a week, someone checks in with me to see how I’m doing. Throughout this whole thing, I’ve had excellent care and so much support. My parents, my friends, and my brother have been great,” Wibbeler says.


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