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Active Together: a day in the life of a Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist

As evidence continues to emerge on the benefits of exercise for people with cancer, physical activity is becoming increasingly central to cancer treatment and rehabilitation.

Katie Pickering is part of the Active Together project, a pioneering programme delivered by Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) and funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research. The programme uses exercise to help people prepare for and recover from cancer treatment.

We spoke to her about what a typical day looks like as part of the Active Together team.

Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist Katie standing in exercise studio

“We want to support people with cancer at every stage of their treatment, from diagnosis right through to completing their treatment and beyond,” said Katie.

The Active Together programme provides patients with tailored guidance on exercise, nutritional advice, and psychological and emotional support before, during and after treatment. The programme supports people having cancer treatment across Sheffield.

“There is a lot of evidence emerging that physically and psychologically preparing for cancer treatment before it starts can help people withstand side effects.

“We also provide rehabilitation for people with cancer after their treatment has finished to help them recover and get their fitness back.”

Active Together team

Katie’s background is in ‘exercise physiology’, which involves developing physical exercise programmes to help people recover from or cope with illness. She specialises in cancer rehabilitation.

She helps design sessions for Active Together patients and delivers the exercise aspect of the programme.

“Every week starts off with a team briefing first thing on a Monday morning,” explained Katie.

“We go through the appointments for the week and work out what’s needed for each person. We consider whether it’s their first appointment or if they’ve been coming to us for a while, as well as whether they’re attending exercise sessions or visiting a dietitian. This means we can tailor the week to our patients.”

Once Katie and her team have a plan for the week, they begin to welcome people for tailored sessions.

Patient doing weight training with support from a Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist

“One of my exercise classes yesterday was the person’s first session. It involved carrying out a simple assessment with the individual to understand their current levels of activity and mobility, so that we can best put together a bespoke programme that suits their needs and abilities.

“Another was with someone who had been coming for about a month, and I was helping them get ready for surgery.”

The Active Together team also offers phone and email support to people throughout their cancer treatment, and Katie often makes phone calls to individuals to see how their treatment is going and if they’re happy with their physical exercise and diet plans.

Tailoring support to people’s needs is at the heart of the service. Katie explained what people can expect when they attend the programme.

“We want everyone who walks through the door to feel as comfortable as possible from the minute that they meet us.”

Active Together team

Following an initial appointment with the physiotherapists, the instructors will talk them through their individualised exercise plan.

The plan includes exercises that have been specifically chosen so they can be done without lots of space or equipment, meaning patients can continue to follow the plan at home, as well as during group classes and one-to-one sessions.

She continued:

“What I really love about being part of the Active Together programme is seeing the benefit of helping those who aren’t necessarily from a sports or active background. It gives them the confidence they need to try something that will benefit their health in the long term.

“We don’t just see physical improvements; we can also see an uplift in how they feel about themselves and their confidence.

“For me, it’s all about putting my skills and training towards direct support for people who have cancer in order to help them best prepare for, cope with and recover from treatment.”

Read more about Active Together

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