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Dish-washing certainly isn’t a cure for cancer, but it definitely played a role in Mike Levenhagen’s faster-than-normal recovery from cancer treatment at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara.

“I was always very active, very fit,” says the 64-year-old Santa Clara University professor. “But getting treated for a cancerous tumor on my neck really laid me low, and getting active again after a while was very helpful.”


Indeed, long known for diabetes prevention and cardiac health, physical activity and exercise are now being urged for cancer patients after their treatment as a way to decrease recurrence and increase survivorship. And exercise is the theme of this year’s Cancer Survivor’s Day program at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara June 24th.

“We already know that gentle exercise can help counteract physical and emotional setbacks and improve your quality of life,” says Dr. Minggui Pan of Kaiser Santa Clara’s Oncology Department.

Levenhagen agrees: Despite the sickness caused by cancer treatments, he took a daily walk. Then there were house chores. Later, he did some remodeling projects. And before long he returned to his gym.

“I did some light weight training, maybe 20 minutes a day,” says Levenhagen. “Then I rode my bike on some easy trails. It was hard, but I felt better.”

Pan says research is now showing exercise can reduce hormone levels that often promote cancer. And exercise can reduce chronic inflammation leading to cell damage that can cause cancer. Those are direct effects of regular physical activity.

The indirect effects include:

  • Strengthened muscles and maintained bone density
  • Improved balance
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased endurance, improved circulation
  • Decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes

All of these are important for cancer survivors, because with improvements in cancer treatment and care, survivorship has become a chronic condition. And while survivors can do little to control their environment and genetics, they can improve their diets and their physical activity.

Forty-nine-year-old Theresa Marie, a cancer survivor treated at Kaiser Permanente San Jose, was a long-time runner when she got her breast cancer diagnosis.

“Nothing prepares you for the news you have cancer,” says Marie. “But I believe my physical fitness provided me with the mental balance to go through therapy and beyond.”

Running daily again, Theresa Marie has been cancer-free nearly four years.

“This year’s cancer survivors day conference will be quite different from the past couple of years,” says Dr. Anita TC Lee, a radiation oncologist at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara. “Since the theme this year will be on exercise, not only will we be including the vast array of support information through out workshops, demonstration and educational booths, but there’ll be demonstrations of Zumba, Restorative Yoga, Reiki, Basic Stretching, and more.”

This is the KP Santa Clara Medical Center’s third annual Cancer Survivors Day. A committee of physicians and staff has been working for months to prepare for an estimated 500 participants.

Kaiser Permanente physician experts and fellow cancer survivors will be on hand to share stories and provide guidance in seminars on survivorship. There will be demonstrations and sampling of healthy foods, prepared by experts. The idea of a day set aside for survivorship is to give people a roadmap for their continuing recovery.

“Studies have shown that after treatment, 40 percent of cancer survivors return to unhealthy diets and lack of exercise,” says Pan.

Exercise can help improve your attitude, too, and that will be the Cancer Survivor’s Day keynote presentation by Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. David Sobel. Sobel will speak with gentle humor about “Healthy Pleasures”, a completely free, delicious and totally available “wonder drug” that can improve your life and your health.

Exercise is a big part of Sobel’s “wonder drug.”

For Marie, running, and now weight lifting, has helped her recovery. For Levenhagen, shortly after his treatment ended last year, “I felt a great sense of achievement exercising and being outdoors was wonderful after being cooped up.”

Levenhagen’s dedication to his recovery helped him return to work at Santa Clara University several months earlier than forecast by his cancer physicians at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara.

Third Annual Cancer Survivors Day
Sunday, June 24
11 a.m. – 3:45 p.m.
Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Offices
710 Lawrence Expressway
Register (space limited) online:


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