December 13, 2018
Over the course of my almost two years of cancer fighting, I have had countless beautiful people offer their support. Emotional, social, physical, spiritual – whatever my need, it has always been more than met. This commitment to me has meant everything to me. Healed me. Empowered me.
Many people have also offered financial support to Tim and I. So many people. Cancer fighting is expensive. This support was enormously helpful to us in our early months as we navigated payment for every screen and test under the sun in our attempts to uncover alternative treatment angles. We knew Medicare would look after my chemo, but I was facing stage IV, inoperable, terminal cancer: we needed other options. The financial support that we were offered early in my diagnosis opened these doors for us – the generosity and kindness of others put me on a path that I may not have otherwise been on.
When it came time to pursue a pricey cancer treatment, Tim and I made the very deliberate decision to self-fund. We are incredibly fortunate to earn a household salary that allows us to do so. Sure, we have had to make lifestyle changes. But with cancer – everything changes. This was our opportunity to tighten the reigns, focus our efforts, throw everything into my health, and run like the wind towards our happy ending. But equally – we wanted any dollar donated to a cancer cause to achieve the maximum benefit possible. Assist the most people possible. And even still, countless angels have offered to financially support us. To ease our burden and enable our opportunities.
My opportunities. And how precious they are. Bowel cancer has taught me to steal even the slightest, most ordinary of opportunity – they are always a privilege, in whatever size or scale. But I have also come to appreciate monumental opportunities. The ones that challenge you to elevate. To do something new, and now.
Right now. Because the game has changed. My opportunities are, once again, unbelievably, alive. Seemingly, boundless. At least for as long as I care to project.
I have hinted for a few days at the good news I have had to share, post lung surgery, and here it is...
We are rapidly approaching the two-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis - the same two years I was told I likely had left to live - and have learnt that the nodule of cancer that we removed from my lung two weeks ago didn’t reveal one cancer cell at all. Not even one. I have had the best possible response to treatment that anyone could hope for: a complete response. I never even considered this to be possible. It is absolutely astounding.
I am not finished with treatment. I am not finished with surgery. I am certainly not finished with cancer. But I am incredibly fortunate, so impossibly lucky, and need to pay it forward. What an opportunity.
So at this junction of my cancer fight, when I am celebrating the best of possible outcomes, I am finally ready to articulate how you can financially support me, and indeed what this support will mean to me, and cancer patients across the country.
Connecting exercise & cancer
My immune system has been at the core of my cancer fight. It was one of the first things that my oncologist asked me to think about; and ever since, has functioned as the healthy roots steadying our cancer treatment decision tree. And crucially for me, it is the part of ‘me’, of my cancer treatment, that I was put in charge of. Using sleep, sure, a balanced diet, yep, but more importantly, far more critically: using exercise.
The science around exercise is compelling. The role that exercise has to play in cancer treatment is indisputable. If exercise were a drug, we would be taking it. To prevent cancer. To treat cancer. To recover from cancer.
There are a couple of angles to this. The research demonstrates people who exercise regularly have a lower relative risk of dying from cancer and a lower relative risk of a cancer recurrence. Cancer patients who exercise also experience fewer and less severe treatment-related side effects.
So let’s make sure we are on the same page here. Fewer side effects means more treatment, for longer. More opportunity to eradicate the cancer. More opportunity to survive. More opportunity to pump the body with cancer-killing chemotherapy. More opportunity to bounce back from invasive surgeries - and head back in for more. And increasingly, we are learning about the opportunity to improve an immune system to fight cancer more effectively, using immunotherapy. An exercised immune system is a powerful one, because exercise also delivers improvements in mental health, strength and muscle function, energy levels, state of mind, bone strength and heart and lung health. A couple of reasons to exercise, then.
But. (There is always a but).
There are a couple of road bumps to exercise. First, we cannot take an exercise pill. We must do exercise. And exercise is hard work. What’s more, exercise as a medicine must be dispensed in a certain dose in order to achieve the desired effect. There is little long-term benefit in a quarter dose of chemotherapy, just as a ‘short walk to the corner’ is unlikely to deliver the exceptional benefits exercise has to offer. Finally, and most importantly, exercise has to be personalised to an individual’s set of circumstances. My body, with its bung knee and resected bowel/liver/lungs and ongoing treatment side effects. My body, capable of smashing out an 8km run nevertheless, because my medical team personalise my exercise medicine.
Connecting patient & medicine
I found exercise as a cancer patient because I had a doctor who insisted on it and a support network who enabled it. But not every cancer patient in Australia is so lucky. Evolutions in cancer treatment don’t just happen. Doctors can be conservative. Familiar treatments are safe and easy and come at a lower risk, just as the unknown is new and scary and is something to be convinced of, over time. Health funds are slowly coming to the table. Hospitals are quietly contemplating how to rearrange their floor plans to accommodate a gym. Medicare will take years.
But cancer patients need exercise now. The evidence is clear: withholding exercise from cancer patients is harmful. Exercise must be accessible, achievable and sustainable. Lives are on the line here.
Enter EX-MED Cancer. EX-MED Cancer is a solution. More accurately, EX-MED Cancer is an enormous opportunity.
EX-MED Cancer is a best practice exercise medicine program for people with cancer. It is safe, effective, and designed specifically for cancer patients. It is supported by the Victorian state government and has been developed in partnership with Austin Health, Western Health, Peter Mac and others. It involves a personalised exercise program that is delivered in one-on-one and group sessions, by experienced exercise physiologists in local fitness centres. World-leading, game-changing stuff.
Connecting Nicole and EX-MED Cancer
I found EX-MED Cancer because I am persistently eager (read prying, stubborn, ruthless) when it comes to my cancer treatment. I wanted to know the science so pestered and emailed and questioned until I had it. But what I found was so much more than an undeniable body of global research. I found a pilot program rolling out exercise medicine to cancer patients across Melbourne. A single space to refer cancer patients, where they are escorted through the process of a personalised exercise prescription, which is in turn dispensed at a site convenient to them. Where they are monitored and supported, and their care team kept updated of their progress.
A coordinated care pathway between cancer specialists that advocates for the needs of the individual, delivering best practice exercise. This is the gold standard in what is an emerging era of personalised medicine: treatment for the person, not a patient. It is all happening here, in Australia, in Melbourne, and the results have been outstanding.
EX-MED Cancer was launched this year, the same year that the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia released a position statement calling for exercise to be considered a standard component of cancer care. By all cancer practitioners. Put simply – if you are going to be prescribed chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy, or any other treatment for cancer in Australia, you should also be receiving an exercise prescription. From each and every medical professional. Because this is what the science says. This is best practice. And this is what patients deserve.
I have spoken a few times about my commitment to my post-diagnosis life. How much it means to me, to exist here. I will never go back to my ‘normal’ life, nor do I have any desire to. I have a new focus and revised priorities and overhauled relationships. Every part of Nicole is different in the after to what it was in the before. Meaning the only sensible thing I could picture doing with my newly gifted future is to enable a future for others.
EX-MED Cancer is this future. It is what I want to do next, now, with the opportunity that I have been afforded. EX-MED Cancer’s mission is for every Australian with cancer to be prescribed exercise as part of their cancer treatment. I cannot think of a worthier cause, a more important mission, and a more meaningful career step, than this one, for me.
The opportunity: Connecting EX-MED Cancer to those who need it most
I have officially joined EX-MED Cancer as Chief Operations Officer, and it is time to get to work. EX-MED Cancer was born out of a trial and a small amount of seed funding, which will soon come to an end. But the provision of this service, its enormously impactful medicine, and the life changing benefits to patients, must continue.
We want to grow EX-MED Cancer. We need to. To achieve this, we need a home. A place to work, coordinate exercise referrals, support patients, liaise with health professionals and research exercise medicine. We know that to achieve the degree of growth Australia's cancer community requires of us, we are going to need grants and donors and philanthropic partnerships. But before we can get there, we also need rent and IT and marketing and insurance. We need a home, and need your help to build it.
Every 4 minutes someone in Australia is diagnosed with cancer. Each of those Australians deserves exercise. We now have an opportunity. Each of us. All of us.
And so to every beautiful soul who has offered support to me – I ask this:
Please support EX-MED Cancer.
You will continue to heal and empower me with your remarkable, radiant support. But you will also support the future of Australian cancer treatment. The provision of best practice exercise medicine. And the 1 in 2 Australians who will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.
Exercise is a treatment that will benefit every single one of these patients. Every single one of these people.
What an opportunity.
You can donate to EX-MED Cancer here.
You can read more about EX-MED Cancer here.
Thank you. Again and Again.