‘Rowing helped me recover’: liver cancer survivor thanks rowing for helping her regain strength after treatment

Exercise as a cancer survivor

  • Stephanie Panetello was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2019. She turned to rowing to regain strength after chemotherapy, her husband’s liver transplant and acute kidney failure.
  • Liver cancer begins in the liver – an organ located below the diaphragm and above the stomach. The most common form of the disease is hepatocellular carcinoma, but there are other types of liver cancer as well.
  • Studies have shown that maintaining an active lifestyle can be helpful for cancer prevention, for patients undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, and for survivors recovering from treatment.

Like many survivors, Stephanie Panetello’s cancer treatment weakened her. But, thankfully, the tough cancer warrior regained her strength by trying something new: rowing.

Panetello was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2019. But since his family had no history of the disease prior to his diagnosis, the news came as a shock.

“I had no underlying health issues so to say I was surprised would be an understatement,” she wrote in an essay for Initiated.

For treatment, Panetello first had to undergo several sets of long chemotherapy sessions.

“My first cycle of treatment was to lie on my back for five consecutive days,” she wrote. “I had a stent placed that directed the chemo through my main hepatic artery to my liver. I have done this four times. I left the hospital every month limping, weak and tired. But I was able to recover a little between each treatment.

After her four rounds of chemotherapy, Panetello was told she needed a liver transplant to reduce her risk of recurrence. Fortunately, her husband turned out to be the perfect match and gave her 69% of his liver on June 23, 2020. But even after that, she needed more systemic chemotherapy in the form of infusions and chemotherapy pills.

“My body didn’t do very well with all of this,” she wrote. “I had extreme side effects which led to acute kidney failure.”

Today she is much better, and her doctor even said he believed she was healed. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t struggled to get her body back to normal again, and, in her quest to regain strength, she fell on the oar in March.

“Rowing has helped me recover from the ravages cancer has taken on my body,” she wrote. “Rowing not only strengthens my body, but also gives me achievable goals to mark my progress. I often leave the studio, amazed at how far I have come in a year. I have already completed a half marathon and am aiming for a full marathon in February.

Pantello has never been more addicted to any type of exercise, and she is determined to stick with it. And every time she considers quitting, she goes back to her hospital stay.

“I think of the times I was lying on my back in the hospital fighting for my life, and I push those thoughts away – grateful that I am alive and that I can row and move my body without disease or pain,” he said. she wrote. “I would never wish cancer on anyone, but the way it has enriched my life and made me a stronger person is immeasurable.”

Understanding liver cancer

Liver cancer begins in the liver – an organ located below the diaphragm and above the stomach. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 42,230 new cases (29,890 in men and 12,340 in women) of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer will be diagnosed by the end of 2021. The form the most common of the disease is hepatocellular carcinoma, but there are other types of liver cancer as well.

Several risk factors can increase a person’s risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), including, but not limited to the following:

  • Kind (Hepatocellular carcinoma is much more common in men than in women)
  • Race / ethnicity (In the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of liver cancer, followed by Hispanics / Latinos, American Indian / Alaska Native, African Americans and whites)
  • Chronic viral hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis (a disease in which liver cells are damaged and are replaced by scar tissue)
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Cancer survivor Joel Naftelberg learned to dance over his troubles

Blood tests, ultrasounds, CT scans (x-ray images), MRIs (medical imaging), and angiograms are usually used to confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer. A liver biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is taken and analyzed for cancer cells, may also be done.

Often times a liver transplant is considered the best plan when the patient is eligible. For cases of recurrent liver cancer and cancer that has spread throughout the body, your doctor may consider targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy as the next step.

Exercise for cancer survivors

Everyone wants to feel better after cancer treatment, but finding ways to do it can be a challenge. It can be painting, running, hiking, dancing, writing, or any number of things. For Panetello, rowing was the answer, but she’s not the only one who found happiness on the water.

Dance her way to recovery – How zumba helped cancer survivor Vera Trifunovich cope

Similar to Panetello, Heather Maloney was struggling after cancer treatment. The breast cancer survivor underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy which left her quite depressed. But then she discovered dragon boat, a sport that has become extremely popular among cancer survivors and drew thousands of people from around the world to a recent festival in Italy. Now she’s a member of the Empire Dragons, a New York-based breast cancer survivor dragon boat team.

How do you feel better after cancer? For Heather Maloney – it was the dragon boat

“It’s very exciting,” Heather says. “For people who have suffered such a beating, everyone has gone through a very difficult time in their treatment. And then go on, and hit him hard, on a dragon boat… that’s a lot of fun.

According to the National Cancer Institute, physical activity is beneficial for cancer survivors. NCI cited the results of a report from the 2018 American College of Sports Medicine International Multidisciplinary Roundtable on Physical Activity and Cancer Prevention and Control as saying that exercise is generally good for survivors. cancer. The roundtable also found:

  • There is strong evidence that moderate-intensity aerobic training and / or resistance exercise during and after cancer treatment can reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms and fatigue and improve quality of life and physical function related to cancer. health.
  • Strong evidence that exercise training is safe in people who have or may develop lymphedema from breast cancer.
  • Some evidence that exercise is beneficial for bone health and quality of sleep.
  • Insufficient evidence that physical activity can help prevent chemotherapy-induced cardiotoxicity or peripheral neuropathy or improve cognitive function, falls, nausea, pain, sexual function or tolerance to treatment.

Still, it’s important to note that other experts like Dr. Sairah Ahmed, associate professor in the Division of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, say that being in good shape during your battle with cancer cancer is very beneficial. In fact, studies suggest that physical activity can be a potent antidote for side effects of cancer treatment like ‘chemo-brain’ and, according to Dr Ahmed, the more physically fit you are during treatment for it. cancer, the less side effects you will have. and the sooner you will return to your normal quality of life.

“When it comes to cancer, patients often feel like they have no control over some part of their life, and that’s not true,” Ahmed told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “Diet, exercise and stress control are extremely important when you are in cancer therapy, as well as after you are finished treating your cancer and trying to get on with the rest of your life. “

Dr Ken Miller says healthy eating and a regular workout routine are important

And Dr. Ken Miller, director of ambulatory oncology at the University of Maryland’s Greenebaum Cancer Center, recommends these four things cancer survivors should do to try to avoid another cancer diagnosis:

  • Exercise at least two hours a week – walking counts
  • Eat a low fat diet
  • Eat a colorful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables – doctors recommend two to three cups a day
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Learn more about SurvivorNet’s rigorous medical review process.


Abigail Seaberg, a recent graduate of the University of Richmond, is a Denver-based journalist. Read more


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