Miles Strong

Miles Perret Cancer Services aims to improve patients’ outcomes with a new three-pronged wellness program.

Vic Kilchrist  in proper workout techniques based on their current level of health and fitness.

Photo by Robin May

Sequestered away in a nondescript white building on Kaliste Saloom lies a well-kept secret, known mainly to those battling cancer. Its name is Miles Perret Cancer Services.

Named after an 8-year-old boy who valiantly fought but ultimately succumbed to cancer, this non-profit organization is a boon for anyone looking for a little knowledge about cancer, a wig to try on, a person to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on.

For years, it has helped those in Acadiana stricken by cancer, as well as their families, because as Julie Kelley, director of public relations for Miles Perret, explains, cancer affects more than just those diagnosed with it.

“The reason that we serve families is because we know that when one person in the family is diagnosed, whether it’s a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, we know the entire family is impacted. So it’s designed to make sure everyone’s needs are being met, primarily, the person who has cancer, but secondarily, the entire family who is impacted by it,” Kelley says.

Now it’s unveiling the newest weapon in its arsenal: a wellness program dedicated to improving cancer victims’ lives through physical fitness and nutrition.

The new Wellness Center, the Miles Strong program and Cancer and Nutrition cooking class make up the core of the MPCS Wellness program. The Wellness Center provides a workout facility open to all cancer patients and survivors to feel comfortable while exercising, and the Cancer and Nutrition cooking class teaches patients and survivors alike how to eat better to go along with the treatment. But the jewel of the program is Miles Strong.

“What we know is through research, when you are in treatment, when you are at your worst, you are better off if you exercise,” Kelley says. “The program is 10 weeks, with the participants meeting twice a week in a four-person small group setting where they work on fatigue management and strength and flexibility training, while instructors educate them on various aspects of exercise and fitness.”

The workouts are tailored to specific individuals based on their level of fitness and how they are feeling that specific day. Carla Duhon, director of the MPCS Wellness Program, is constantly monitoring the participants’ oxygen level, pulse and blood pressure during the sessions, which could consist of just walking on a treadmill or the entire gamut of exercises depending on how they feel.

Since the participants come at various stages of physical health and fitness due to chemotherapy and radiation, Duhon designs a specific workout to meet their needs; no two routines are entirely the same.

“I got to see what they could do that I couldn’t do and what I could do that they couldn’t do,” says Barbara Mergist, a cancer survivor and veteran of the program. She says the maladies associated with radiation and chemotherapy made it hard for her to know when she would be able to participate in the session and to what extent would her body allow her.

Mergist had surgery on Oct. 4, 2008, for what they thought was Stage 3 ovarian cancer, but during surgery, doctors found that it had spread to her liver. She left surgery with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.

After the surgery, she could not sit up or brush her teeth without help and had her husband drive her to, and sometimes help her walk into, MPCS and into the Wellness Center.

Now, after working with the Miles Strong team, she is “free of the disease” and leading a healthy lifestyle.

“I wouldn’t have done this anywhere else by myself; I would have endangered my health because I would have been doing things I shouldn’t have done,” she says.

Three breast cancer patients and one thyroid cancer patient made up the first group, and after obtaining a doctor’s note allowing them to exercise, they went through a barrage of tests to determine their various fitness levels as well as completing two surveys, The Brief Fatigue Inventory and a Quality of Life Instrument.

Dr. Andrew Hatchett, a kinesiology professor at UL Lafayette who specializes in exercise and its relation to cancer, worked with the group, creating the education portion of the program.

While the Miles Strong program emphasizes better living through exercise and fitness, it also teaches participants about cooking and what foods to eat and stay away from during the treatments. They recommend a diet that is high in fiber, low in fat, interspersed with about 11 to 18 ounces of red meat and a plant-based diet, “eating as many colors as you can,” Duhon says.

One thing many people do not realize, Duhon says, is that during chemotherapy, oncologists are adamant that patients do not take certain supplements because of the antioxidants found in them. Those antioxidants protect the cells, even the cancer cells, and prevent the medicine from working.

The first group showed major improvement in cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance, abdominal endurance increased 20-50 percent, upper body endurance increased 30-80 percent, and balance, flexibility and range of motion also increased significantly.

One of the group’s future projects is to create Miles Strong programs in Vermilion, St. Martin and St. Landry parishes through a grant from the Komen Acadiana foundation.

“The goal is to create a place where cancer survivors at any stage can come and start to rebuild strength and their sense of self and eventually step back into a more real-world setting,” Kelley says.

To find out more about Miles Perret Cancer Services and the center’s annual Games of Acadiana (Aug. 15), call 984-1920.