Life after treatment: Wellness program helps cancer survivors find their ‘new normal’

Tuesday 9 February, 2021

Adapting to life after treatment is always a challenging time for cancer survivors.

That’s why, with your help, Cancer Council’s Cancer Wellness and Exercise program helps cancer survivors live well by prioritising their wellbeing.

How the program helps

The Cancer Wellness and Exercise program aims to increase a patient’s ability to take charge of their own health and wellbeing.

It also gives cancer survivors the skills and education to know more about their own health, and demonstrates how exercise and implementing small lifestyle changes can improve quality of life.

The program was developed based on clinical research (such as data from the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia) that shows exercise is a safe and effective way to counteract many of the physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment.

The program also increases knowledge and understanding of survivorship; encourages survivors to participate in discussion in a safe and supportive environment; and increases a participant’s ability to transition from clinical care to supported self-management.

One participant said they were “grateful” to have access to the program.

“The program helped show me concrete things that I can do to help myself,” they said.

Another said it helped adapting to life after treatment.

“It was a great benefit to both my physical and mental wellbeing. It increased my fitness and positive outlook,” they said.

How the program works

The Cancer Wellness and Exercise program gives participating cancer patients access to eight weeks of group education and exercise led by trained facilitators who are also exercise psychologists, occupational therapists or physiotherapists.

Each participant takes part in one hour of group exercise and a one-hour group education session each week.

Cancer Wellness topics include:

  • Cancer survivorship
  • Exercise and fatigue
  • Healthy eating and nutrition
  • Emotions and wellness
  • Maintaining physical health
  • Your GP and your health
  • Finances and work
  • Relationships and intimacy
  • Local services
  • Foot health
  • Complementary therapies
  • Bone health

Sessions take place at hospitals, clinics and other health services across Victoria. Thanks to Cancer Council supporters, there are more than 200 trained Cancer Education Program facilitators ready to support cancer patients at 70 health services across Victoria.

These trained facilitators are health professionals who work in oncology, radiotherapy, occupational therapy, exercise physiology/physiotherapy, social work and allied health in both a clinical and community settings.

Cancer Council supporters are crucial in making sure the program is available to people affected by cancer.

Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 information and support like acts as a referral service for cancer patients and carers – any cancer patient interested in joining the program can call our nurses on 13 11 20 to be connected with their closest participating health service.

Plus, Cancer Council’s Education and Training team review and update the program bi-annually, provide resources as required to trained facilitators, and deliver any other support that the facilitators may need to run their program.

The history behind the program

The program started in 2016 as a pilot project funded by the Department of Health and Human Services with an aim to educate more cancer survivors about the benefits of exercise and wellness – particularly in regional and rural Victoria.

Pilot programs took place at five health services across the Grampians and Hume regions with education programs held through telehealth.

By the end of 2018, the pilot programs had helped 110 participants.

Data showed that one third of participants had increased their physical activity levels by 86%, while 48% had increased their intake of fruit and vegetables.

After the success of the pilot project, and with the help of generosity like yours, Cancer Council launched the official Cancer Wellness and Exercise program in January 2019.

In its first year, 40 programs were delivered at 13 acute and community health services across Victoria helping 350 participants.

Throughout 2020, due to COVID-19 and an increase in demand by participants, many facilitators used telehealth and other online resources to continue running exercise and education programs.

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in the Cancer Wellness and Exercise program, call our cancer nurses on 13 11 20 or email askanurse@cancervic.org.au.