Cheryl Jarvis, 58, battled through a diagnosis of “bilateral ductal carcinoma In situ” (DCIS) breast cancer – invasive on one side. And then she underwent a double mastectomy, followed by extensive radiation therapy. Yet, there was another vital challenge ahead – losing excessive weight and getting fit to keep her strong during her survivorship.
A program offered by the team at oncology support services at Lynn Cancer Institute, which is part of Boca Raton Regional Hospital, aptly named Lite to Fight, has given her the ability to live an even healthier — and leaner — life after cancer treatment.
She began her healthy lifestyle journey over six months ago by enrolling in Lite to Fight. Mrs. Jarvis, a professor with the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, has lost nearly 50 pounds throughout her weight loss journey. She’s down to 152 pounds and a normal BMI (body mass index). The program offers strategic guidance on calorie intake, regular exercise, healthy meal balancing and behavior modification.
“Surviving cancer is a battle and it isn’t over just because you’re through active treatment,” says Mrs. Jarvis. “You have to keep fighting. This was one thing that I could control when everything else seemed out of control.”
‘She is So Dedicated’
Lite to Fight has enrolled 35 breast cancer survivors, and more than 85 percent have lost weight. Mrs. Jarvis lost about 15 pounds over the 10 weeks span of the program, which is ideal because too much weight loss in a short span of time can increase inflammation in the body explains Brandi Hyatt, Senior Oncology Clinical Dietitian, who leads the Lite to Fight team.
“She is so dedicated.” said Ms. Hyatt, referring to Cheryl Jarvis.
At the Lynn Cancer Institute, cancer support services form an integral part of overall cancer treatment, providing a range of support groups and wellness programs. Lite to Fight launched a year ago with the goal of helping overweight or obese breast cancer survivors achieve a healthy body weight and incorporate the oncology exercise recommendations into their survivorship routine.
“Lite to Fight is one example of how we can improve the lives of breast cancer survivors in battling weight issues that for many of them was a problem even before their cancer diagnoses,” explains Darci McNally, LCSW, director of oncology support services at Lynn Cancer Institute, which is part of Baptist Health.
For many breast cancer survivors like Mrs. Jarvis, weight management is a post-treatment issue which can be complicated with the usage of aromatase inhibitors (AI), medication that lowers estrogen levels in the body by blocking aromatase, an enzyme that converts other hormones into estrogen, and help prevent cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. Survivors that include AI’s into their regimen may experience side effects including a higher risk of bone fractures, osteoporosis, and a slowdown in metabolism that can result in weight gain.
Fighting Effects of Post-Treatment Meds
One day while in the waiting room of her radiation oncologist’s office, Mrs. Jarvis read a brochure about the “Lite to Fight” program for cancer survivors, and she did not hesitate to enroll.
“(Aromatase inhibitors) can cause a lot of joint problems and movement helps with that,” explains Mrs. Jarvis. “But then they also tend to cause osteoporosis. So, weight training and bone building is really important to try and stave off that osteoporosis. That’s been my other big motivation — to stay on top of the weight and the exercise to try and offset some of those side effects from the aromatase inhibitors so that I can manage to stay on them over the next 10 years.”
She would start brisk walking regularly, methodically keeping track of steps taken and calories consumed. Smartphone apps and daily journals help her keep track of her progress.
The “team approach” of oncology support services is a vital component of its success, says Mrs. Jarvis.
Ms. Hyatt, who oversees Lite to Fight, said the program uses a key tool, an indirect calorimeter, a hand-held device through which a patient breathes. It quickly measures your resting metabolic rate (RMR). The results help healthcare providers better estimate a patient’s caloric needs for effective medical nutritional therapy and weight management.
“That’s been a key tool in our program,” said Ms. Hyatt. “It helps us more accurately determine the resting metabolic rate of our patients. And therefore provide our patients with a closer daily calorie prediction for weight loss.”
The Lite to Fight program will resume early next year after a full evaluation of results and continued monitoring of enlisted patients.
“We were finding it really challenging to help breast cancer survivors with weight loss,” explains Ms. Hyatt. “Sometimes they come in already overweight and then the cancer treatment may contribute to weight gain.”
One-Stop Shop for Cancer Survivors
As it turned out, Mrs. Jarvis’ professorial and research background proved very handy in her Lite to Fight participation. “As a scientist, myself and a researcher, the fact that it was contributing to Brandi’s (Ms. Hyatt’s) research really motivated me to be very honest and track things perfectly and give her good data,” she said. “That really motivated me to stick with it … as another researcher that was important to me.”
Mrs. Jarvis speaks very highly of the team approach at oncology support services at Lynn Cancer Institute.
“The resources available and the team approach is outstanding,” she said. “That’s in contrast to what many women I see struggling online who are trying to put together all the components — a radiation oncologist over here and a surgeon over there — but they’re not talking to each other. They want to know what do about this or that, and who do I see? This program is a one-stop shop kind of system. It is really, really powerful.”