‘Exercise is such a dirty word’: Virginia patient, coach on lung cancer – WTOP News

Frank McKenna was in incredible shape in 2016, after more than 25 years as a personal trainer in Virginia Beach, Va., after he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to his bones. Now she’s helping other cancer patients enjoy the benefits of movement through their diagnosis.

Frank McKenna was in incredible shape in 2016, with more than 25 years as a personal trainer, including at his Beach Better Bodies studio in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had extended to the bones

As a non-smoker, McKenna was one of a growing number of otherwise healthy young people diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Frank McKenna and other patients, doctors and advocates stand on Capitol Hill during the American Lung Association’s “Lung Strength Advocacy Day” on March 20, 2024. (Courtesy of Frank McKenna)

“It was a shock to be diagnosed, not only with cancer, but with lung cancer,” McKenna told WTOP. McKenna and other patients, doctors and advocates are on Capitol Hill for the American Lung Association’s “Lung Strength Advocacy Day” on Wednesday.

His initial treatment of a chemotherapy pill and radiation didn’t work within months, his cancer was spreading. However, biomarker testing found McKenna had a specific cancer mutation that could be treated with a targeted one-pill-a-day therapy.

During her first treatment, between the cancer itself and the side effects, McKenna’s exercise regimen came to a halt.

“I wasn’t working out, because I didn’t have the energy,” McKenna said. “But in my mind I knew I needed to get back into some kind of physical activity.”

Within days of starting targeted therapy, McKenna was back in the gym.

“I just do some movement,” McKenna said. “Exercise is often such a dirty word, especially when you’re not feeling well.”

When she started to feel better, McKenna said, she thought, “I need to use my education as a personal trainer, and I need to use my unfortunate education with cancer, to help other people move in their lives.”

As an example: “When you’re putting something in the microwave, while you’re heating up your coffee, why don’t you do a couple of bench press-ups. Why don’t you do a couple of lunges while you’re standing there in the kitchen?”

Now, McKenna, who has added certification as a cancer exercise specialist to her personal trainer resume, runs six-week programs that combine fitness, yoga and wellness in what she calls “the mental part of treating the cancer”.

Cancer patients face more than just physical challenges: “How do I get up and do these things? How do I manage the stress of scans, medicines and treatments and how do I go about my daily life? What are some things I can do to help myself mentally, while I’m helping myself, physically.”

While some cancer patients train and run marathons during treatment, McKenna said the benefits of movement are much more achievable and seen quickly.

“Just to be able to get up and enjoy your life, and to be able to come down to the ground if you need to, with your grandkids or walk in the park with your loved ones,” McKenna said. “Just get out there and get active.”

The benefits of exercise for both cancer patients and those without cancer are part of a domino effect.

“Mental fitness and physical fitness are so intertwined,” McKenna said. “When you’re both working on the same page, together, it can have huge benefits for people going through a cancer diagnosis.”

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