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Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What can YOU do to make a positive impact on your overall MPN care? Researchers Dr. Jennifer Huberty and Ryan Eckert review the latest research on how movement and diet can benefit people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

Ryan Eckert currently works at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Ryan is the Research Coordinator for the MPN QoL Study Group and assists in research related to complementary health approaches in myeloproliferative neoplasms and other hematological disorders. More about Ryan here: mpnqol.com/research-team.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Ryan:

So, as far as the benefits of exercise for MPN patients, there’s many, and so, I guess starting with cancers as a whole, there’s a lot more research that’s been done in recent decades that looks at the effects of various forms of exercise and physical activity on other cancers. They just tend – researchers tend to do a lot more of that work in breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, et cetera.

And so, the research in exercise for MPN patients is actually really new, and nobody outside of Dr. Huberty in conjunction with Dr. Mesa and a few other researchers have done any research related to exercise specifically in MPN patients. Our yoga studies that we’ve done have been the first venture down that route for MPN patients. But, what we do know in general is that exercise has obviously systemic effects across the whole body.

So, you’re gonna get health benefits just in general from exercise, but as far as for MPN patients specifically, some of the things that we’ve seen with our yoga studies, which is obviously a form of physical activity, is that we’ve seen sleep improve in MPN patients, so we’ve seen a reduction in sleep disturbances or disruptions in their sleep, a quicker time to fall asleep, and then, less waking up throughout the night – so, just better sleep in general.

We’ve seen some reductions in fatigue that have been reported by MPN patients who have gone through our yoga studies, and then, we’ve also seen a few other reductions in some other symptoms, such as anxiety and reduced depressive symptoms, a little bit of reduced pain is another one we’ve seen. So, just in general, we’ve seen some of those effects on MPN patients through some of our yoga studies.

Dr. Huberty:

So, in terms of adding to what Ryan just said, I would just say that exercise – maybe yoga or walking – is good for your body. It’s good for your health. It’s a recommendation that we get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. The more that MPN patients can be achieving that goal towards 150 minutes – yoga counting at that – the better off they’re gonna be, and it doesn’t have to be going for a run.

It can simply be going for a walk around the block. It can be standing at your desk when you’re working instead of sitting all the time. That’s not necessarily activity per se, but it is moving your body and less sedentary. So, I think just focusing on the more that patients can move their body every day, the better off they’re gonna be.

Dr. Huberty:                

So, yeah, the role of diet in MPN patients – so, this is the beauty about the quality of life study group, because we have all these wonderful investigators that are part of the team, and we do have Dr. Robyn Scherber, who’s at Mays with Dr. Ruben Mesa. She’s doing some work with keto diet right now, so it’s very new, so I don’t know if you’re familiar with the keto diet, but it’s very high-fat and very low-carbohydrate, extremely low levels of carbohydrates. I wouldn’t tell any patient to go start doing those things unless they’ve talked to their physician for sure, but we do know that based on how you eat does certain things to your body.

So, MPNs have high inflammatory markers, and so, we wanna decrease inflammation; we probably wanna eat foods that are going to be anti-inflammatory. So, berries, let’s say, is a good example of fruits that are anti-inflammatory, almonds are anti-inflammatory, and I’m not a dietitian by any means, it’s just that things that I know to be true for my own diet because everybody should be thinking about having an anti-inflammatory diet.

Processed foods are not healthy. They are higher-inflammatory. Breakfast foods, eating out, and the foods that you get when you eat out a lot are going to be more inflammatory than not. So, just those small things – lots of vegetables. Vegetables are very good. Lots of greens. But, there is research going on – again, just like exercise and yoga, it’s in its infancy because MPN has been an under-studied population for years, and we’re trying to power through and make that difference.

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Jennifer Huberty explains how mindfulness, such as meditation and yoga, can have an impact on your overall health and well-being.

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Dr. Huberty:    

If someone is wondering if they’re meditating correctly or not, or if two minutes of meditation is enough, if you turn to the science and the literature in terms of how much meditation you need, nobody knows. For every study that says five minutes, there’s a study that says 20 minutes, there’s a study that says an hour. I think it’s really important that the individual gets in touch with “what works for me.”

I think the most important thing is that if you’re sitting for meditation and you choose to sit for meditation, just simply listening to your breath – when you realize you’re off, thinking about what I’m making for dinner tonight or what’s gonna happen over the Thanksgiving holidays with my family, then you just say, “Oh, thinking,” and then you come back to, “Okay, where’s my breath? I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out. I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out.” So, it’s just being able to do that and not say, “Oh my God, I’m not doing this right, this isn’t working for me.” There is none of that. It’s supposed to be nonjudgment in the present moment.

“Oh, the present moment – I’m thinking. Now, in the present moment, I’m gonna go back to my breath.” So, it’s really understanding that, and I think it’s also important for people to understand that you don’t have to be seated in meditation. You can be standing in meditation, you can be laying in meditation, you can be kneeling in meditation. I think with MPN patients, not all sitting positions recommended in meditation might be comfortable. If you need a pillow under your tail, put a pillow under your tail. There’s no rulebook to say how you need to sit in meditation. I think that’s important.

And, there’s also other ways to be mindful. Coloring can be mindful. Walking and exploring the leaves and the landscape can be mindful. So, I think in our studies, yes, we’re encouraging meditation, using an app, but that’s to give people structure, education, and a background about what is meditation, but then, there is room for expansion to other things.

It’s pretty much the same thing with yoga. You’re quieting your mind; you’re focusing on your breath. There’s no rulebook that says you have to move a certain pace. You’re supposed to move with your breath, so if your breath is slow, your pace is slow. The other thing is that there is no right way to do a pose.

So, again, patients wanna know, “Am I doing this pose right?” Well, I can tell you that if you feel good in the pose, nothing is hurting you, your shoulder doesn’t feel like it’s doing something it shouldn’t, your head doesn’t feel like it’s in the wrong direction, and you’re watching the video and looking at what the instructor’s doing, you’re probably doing the pose just fine.

I think we get stuck on “Is this correct or not?” What we wanna be careful of is safety. You don’t wanna be standing on your head and wondering if you’re doing it correctly. You wanna have a basis, and that’s what we do in our programming, is it’s very basic, very foundational poses that you can learn the practice of meditating in the poses.

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Health-related anxiety and worry can be overwhelming. Dr. Jennifer Huberty provides advice for using complementary approaches to cope with the emotional impact of a chronic cancer, like myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Dr. Jennifer Huberty: 

With anxiety and worry – it’s like we get in this state of mind that we can’t seem to get out of, and then, thoughts just keep piling in and piling in and adding to more anxiousness and more anxiousness, and so, the key is quieting the mind, and the best way to do that is to focus on your breath, and again, just coming back to the moment, coming back to the moment. You can do body scans where you’re just thinking about where your body is in space, going from the tips of your toes all the way to the top of your head.

I recommend guided meditation for MPN patients, especially because it is difficult. The anxiety and worry is real. The fears are real. This is a – it’s a traumatic event to be diagnosed with any cancer, and the brain is a powerful thing in terms of getting in our way of healing and feeling better, and so, knowing that it’s powerful, we can quiet our mind so that our body can learn to let go. And, I will say that spending that time doing that with the anxiety and worry, there will be physiological symptoms that change – so, heart rate goes down, blood pressure goes down, sweaty palms decrease, stomachaches – those kinds of things will tend to go away as anxiety and worry goes down.

And, the other important thing I would say is a tip for managing is to be self-compassionate. So, that’s a big part of meditation and yoga philosophy, is self-compassion. And so….being okay with being anxious and being okay with being worried, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s completely normal.

And so, learning to be compassionate in ways that you would be compassionate to a sibling, or a parent, or a best friend – use those same compassionate thoughts and feelings toward yourself.

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Can yoga and meditation help improve life with an MPN? Researchers Dr. Jennifer Huberty and Ryan Eckert share what they’ve learned in their research in complementary medicine and how you can get involved.

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

Ryan Eckert currently works at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Ryan is the Research Coordinator for the MPN QoL Study Group and assists in research related to complementary health approaches in myeloproliferative neoplasms and other hematological disorders. More about Ryan here: mpnqol.com/research-team.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety


Transcript:

Dr. Huberty:

My name is Jennifer Huberty. I’m an associate professor at Arizona State University in the college of health solutions, and I’m preliminarily a researcher.

I do teach a course a year, but I do research, mostly using complementary approaches delivered digitally, and I focus on cancer patients and also middle-aged pregnancy age lifespan, if you will, of women. So, women’s health and cancer.

Ryan:

My name is Ryan Eckert, and I’m a research coordinator with the Mays Cancer Center, which is at University of Texas Health in San Antonio.

So, in regards to what I’m excited about with the research that we have ongoing, I’m excited about the potential to help improve MPNs’ just quality of life and their well-being in general.

It’s a pretty under-studied area, especially as it relates to MPNs specifically, so there’s been a lot of work over the past couple decades as it relates to pharmacologic and more medicine-derived approaches with MPN patients, and we’re just now kind of realizing that there’s a little bit of a gap in some of the research that we’ve been doing, and there’s some unmet symptom burden needs and quality of life needs among MPN patients, and me, my background is more so in exercise science, and so, I’m all about the complementary approaches and the physical activity-based approaches.

And so, it’s pretty exciting for me to see the field of just cancer research in general, but also the research as it relates to MPN, start to evolve more towards the complementary and alternative approach route as it relates to mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other physical activity interventions.

Dr. Huberty:

In relation to what I’m excited about with MPN research, I could say ditto to exactly what Ryan just said because he said it very well, and I feel strongly the same, and my background is in exercise physiology, and I’ve been working – helping women and cancer patients adopt physical activity behaviors. But, yoga is a physical activity behavior, but it has this really cool mindfulness component.

And, meditation has this mindfulness component where it’s exciting to see that we can be educating and providing MPN patients with a way to manage their symptoms themselves and rely a little bit less on their physicians in terms of “I’m feeling really anxious. What can I do?” If you’re feeling anxious, we’re giving them the tools that they can use to work on the anxiety themselves.

So, quieting their mind, allowing them to understand that it’s okay to feel anxious, and there’s nothing wrong with them, and if they’re having fears, that that’s normal, and that inviting those feelings and emotions in and just quieting their minds through yoga or meditation is so powerful. And so, I’m really excited about the fact that we’re giving them a tool that’s not just “Here’s a pamphlet, here’s what you should do,” we’re actually providing them an opportunity to practice it, to do it safely in their homes, and we’re also giving them a resource that’s consumer-based.

So, all of our interventions – the yoga and the meditation that we’ve been working on – have been with partners. So, our yoga partner is Udaya.com then, Calm.com, which is the meditation app. And so, these are things that we might provide for patients for free during the study, but when the eight-week or 12-week study is over, typically, any patient, any participant wouldn’t have access to the intervention anymore, but here we are with a consumer-based product that’s available to them.

So, we’ve taught them how to use it, we’ve made them comfortable, we’ve helped them to see that they can see improvements in the way that they feel, and then they have the ability to continue to use this as needed. Symptoms are gonna change over time – less anxious, more anxious, less fatigue, more fatigue, those kinds of things – and this helps them with the ups and downs of symptoms. So, I’m super excited about offering something to the patients that can be a lifelong friend, if you will.

Ryan:

So the MPN quality of life study group is a little bit of an acronym for the myeloproliferative neoplasm quality of life study group, and so, Dr. Mesa has obviously been working in this field of MPN research for decades now, and he had what he used to call the MPN quality of life international study group, and that was basically just a variety of different researchers from the U.S., and also abroad internationally.

Based in the U.S., we have a range of different physicians and researchers across four or five different institutions, and we all tend to focus on very similar research involving MPNs or other blood-related cancers. And so, the MPN quality of life study group is essentially just a collection of those – I think it’s somewhere between 10 and 12 different physicians and researchers that do similar research.

So, in order for patients to find out more about the MPN quality of life study group, they can – so, we do have a website that we just created a little less than a year ago, and it’s just www.mpnqol.com, and if they go there, we just have some information related to what our mission as a group is. We also have a tab on that website that explains all the different researchers and positions that make up the group.

So, if you were interested in, say, a particular researcher or physician, there’s links in there to go to their professional websites, and then, there’s also links within the tab of that website that covers some of the ongoing studies that we have. So, patients can go there, click on that link, and fill out an eligibility survey for a study that they might be interested in, and then, the project coordinator or research assistant will be in touch with them related to their eligibility

Facing Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Notes from a Survivor

In the spring of 2016, I was looking forward to a final year of teaching sociology before a retirement promising new adventures.  I felt great and had no reason to think I had any health problems.  When my doctor suggested some routine blood work, I readily complied.  When the results showed abnormally low white blood cell counts and he recommended a hematologist, I readily complied. When the hematologist ordered a bone marrow biopsy, I still readily complied.  When the results came in, my life changed forever.

The biopsy revealed that I had acute myeloid leukemia. Since this disease can kill within months, they recommended immediate treatment. The next day I checked into a hospital and started chemotherapy.  I received the standard treatment for this disease for the preceding 40 years: a “7 + 3” cocktail of cytarabine and idarubicin.  I spent five and a half weeks in the hospital dealing with various infections brought on by immunosuppression and patiently waiting for my blood counts to recover. As they did, I received the best possible news. The chemotherapy had achieved a temporary remission that bought me time to explore my options for longer term treatment.

As I awaited the molecular and cytogenic data on my cancer, I was told to expect two possibilities.  If there was a relatively low risk of relapse, I might get by with additional chemotherapy. If there was a high risk of relapse, a stem cell transplant was in order. When the results placed me in an intermediate risk category, I had a tough choice to make. After researching my options, getting second opinions, gathering advice, and reading my doctor’s cues, I settled on the transplant.  My logic was that if I opted for more chemo and it didn’t work out, I would deeply regret not having the transplant.  If I had the transplant and it didn’t work out, at least I would feel as if I gave it my best shot and it just wasn’t meant to be. Despite the 15-20% mortality rate from the transplant itself, I was at peace with my decision to proceed.

My benefactors were two anonymous sets of parents who had donated their newborn infants’ umbilical cords to a transplant bank.  Once we found two good matches, the cords were shipped to my transplant hospital, the cord blood was extracted, and it was transfused into my bloodstream. These stem cells just “knew” where to go to engraft in my bone marrow and begin producing a healthy new immune system.  For the second time, I received the best possible news. Three weeks after transplant, one of my donor’s cells were 99% engrafted. With that result, I returned home for a prolonged recovery.

For the next few weeks, I faced daily clinic visits, blood tests, transfusions of platelets and red blood cells, growth factor injections, and lingering effects of my conditioning chemotherapy and radiation as well as the engraftment process itself. As the weeks turned into months, my recovery proceeded apace.  It eventually became clear that I could claim the best possible news for the third time, as my new cells and old body got along with each other and there was no evidence of graft-vs.-host disease.  Looking back over the entire process, my oncologist summarized it by saying “this is as good as it gets.”

Many people wanted to give me credit for surviving this disease. While it is tempting to claim such credit, I remain agnostic about whether anything I did had a material effect on my positive outcome. I think my survival was largely a matter of luck, chance, and random variation across AML patients. Nonetheless, there were several practices I engaged in throughout my treatment that deserve mention. At the very least, they brought me peace during a difficult time. And at the most, they may indeed have contributed to a positive outcome for which I am eternally grateful.

The first set of practices that sustained me was mindfulness, meditation and yoga.  To the greatest extent possible, these practices helped me let go of ruminations about the past or fears about the future and focus on the present moment.  Focusing on my breathing kept me centered as – like my breaths – each moment flowed into the next.  Maintaining a non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of each passing moment kept my psyche on an even keel.

Rather than extended periods of formal meditation, I simply sought a mindful awareness of each moment, hour, day and week.  I also went through a daily yoga routine even while receiving chemotherapy. Doing so helped me retain my identity as I weathered the toxic treatment and its inevitable side-effects.  In the evenings, I used a technique called a body scan to relax and prepare me for a peaceful sleep. The cumulative effect of these practices was a calm acceptance of circumstances I could not change alongside a serene hope that all would work out for the best.

A second practice involved being a proactive patient.  Perhaps it was my training as a social scientist that allowed me to bring an analytical curiosity to my disease and the treatments my doctors were deploying. I asked lots of questions during their all too brief visits, and they patiently responded to all my queries.

On several occasions, my proactive stance made a positive contribution to my treatment.  When I developed a nasty, full body rash, it took a collaborative conversation between me, my oncologist, and infectious disease doctors to isolate the one drug among so many that was the culprit. I identified it, they switched it out, and the rash abated. On another occasion, I was able to identify two drugs that were causing an unpleasant interaction effect.  I suggested changing the dosing schedule, they concurred, and the problem resolved.  The sense of efficacy I received from this proactive stance also helped me retain a positive mood and hopeful stance during my prolonged treatment.

A third practice involved maintaining a regimen of physical activity.  During my first, five-week hospital stay, I felt compelled to move and get out of my room for both physical and social reasons.  I developed a routine of walking the halls three times a day, trailing my IV pole behind me.  They tell me I was walking roughly 5 miles a day, and every excursion felt like it was keeping my disease at bay and connecting me with all the nurses and staff members I would encounter as I made my rounds.

When I moved to my transplant hospital, I was confined to my room but requested a treadmill that met the physical need for activity even as I sacrificed the social benefits of roaming the halls.  But throughout both hospital stays and later at home, I maintained stretching activities, exercise workouts, physical therapy routines, and yoga to keep my body as active and engaged as my circumstances would allow. These activities also gave me a welcome sense of efficacy and control.

A fourth practice involved maintaining my sense of humor.  I have always appreciated a wide variety of humor, ranging from bad jokes, puns and double entendre to witty anecdotes and stories to philosophical musings.  Cancer is anything buy funny, which is precisely why humor has the power to break through the somber mood and fatalistic worldview that so often accompanies the disease.  Using humor became another way of keeping the cancer at bay.  It was a way of saying you may make me sick and eventually kill me, but I’m still going to enjoy a good laugh and a bad joke along the way.

Alongside these practices I could control, there were also beneficial circumstances beyond my control that worked in my favor.  These included the privilege of being a well-educated white male that led to my being treated respectfully and taken seriously by all my health care providers.  In addition, my doctors and nurses consistently combined skill and expertise with compassion and empathy in ways I will never forget or could ever repay. And finally, my privileged status and excellent care played out against a backdrop of strong social support from a dense network of family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

A final practice that integrated everything else was writing my story as it unfolded. Upon my first hospitalization, I began sending emails to an ever-expanding group of recipients documenting and reflecting upon my disease, treatment and recovery.  Narrating my story for others required me to make sense of it for myself.  The ostensible goal of keeping others informed became a powerful therapeutic prod for my own understanding of what was going on around me and to me.  While my doctors’ ministrations cured my body, my writing preserved my sense of self and a coherent identity.

I eventually sent over 60 lengthy reports to a group of roughly 50 recipients over a 16-month period.  This writing would eventually serve three purposes.  It was a sense-making procedure for me. It was a communication vehicle with my correspondents. And finally, I realized it could be a resource for others in the broader cancer community. With that insight, I did some additional writing about lessons learned and identity transformations and published the resulting account.

As I mentioned at the start, I will never know if any of these practices or circumstances made a material contribution to my survival.  But they maintained my sanity and preserved my identity during the most challenging experience of my life. Regardless of the eventual endings of our journeys, sustaining and nurturing ourselves along the way is a worthy goal in itself.