April 15, 2012
12-110

Jessica Pope
Communications Specialist

VSU Exercise Physiology Students Studying Exercise and Cancer Care

VALDOSTA -- Dr. Tom V. Darling has been at Valdosta State University for roughly two years and already he has created a unique research apprenticeship program for students pursuing a degree in exercise physiology and interested in cancer research.

Four students -- John P. Willner, Amanda K. Boone, Samantha J. Murphy, and Joshua D. Gervacio -- were selected by Darling based on their grade point average, writing ability, research knowledge, and professionalism to participate in the program. The team’s initial goal is to assess basic exercise knowledge, exercise participation for cancer, and awareness of available services among cancer survivors and caregivers.

Darling, an assistant professor in VSU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, said his team plans to survey 250 cancer survivors and 250 caregivers during upcoming Relay for Life meetings, functions, and events. Using a six-level Likert scale, with ratings ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” cancer survivors and caregivers will respond to 10 statements regarding exercise and cancer. To date, the research team has collected 122 cancer survivor surveys and 63 caregiver surveys.

According to a summary of research conducted by Darling and his team, “Exercise reduces cancer-related side effects and improves quality of life. Exercise can be added to routine cancer care as part of cancer prevention, treatment, and remission. Little is known whether cancer survivors and caregivers in Valdosta … are aware of the importance of exercise, its role in cancer care, and the availability of medical and community services.”

The primary goal of the study is “to enhance overall care and quality of life for cancer survivors through education, increasing awareness, and referral to services.” Ultimately, Darling and his team hope to establish a medical and community cancer exercise program and envision incorporating exercise into routine cancer care, similar to the role of exercise in cardiac rehabilitation.

Darling said that, in collaboration with Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, he hopes to make exercise a part of a cancer patient’s treatment plan and establish a fitness program for cancer survivors and caregivers in Valdosta. He said the fitness program could incorporate the research and internship experience, with students leading the training sessions and students collecting research data. He also has future plans of working with South Georgia Medical Center.

“We are very excited,” he added. “This is groundbreaking for our department with students getting involved in research.”

One of those students, Murphy, a junior, hopes to work with cancer survivors and caregivers one day, much like exercise physiology graduates work with cardiology patients. She said that a good friend of hers was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24, one week before Darling announced his research study. Murphy said that her friend exercised before and continues to exercise during her treatments, while also maintaining a healthy diet, and, as a result, has experienced fewer side effects of chemotherapy and has not had to have blood transfusions due to low blood counts.

“I cannot wait to see the results we come up in the Valdosta area,” she said.

Darling holds a bachelor’s degree from Phillips University in Enid, Okla., a master’s degree and a post-graduate certificate from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in Monroe, La., and a doctor of philosophy degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. He also received specialized training as a research assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y.

RELAY FOR LIFE

Valdosta State University’s 2012 Relay for Life was held April 13-14.

Lowndes County’s 2012 Relay for Life will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 27, at the Valdosta Middle School track.

According to the American Red Cross, Relay for Life represents hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated.

Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature event. Each year, it brings more than 3.5 million people from 4,900 communities across the country together to celebrate the lives of all those who have battled cancer, remember loved ones, and fight back against a disease that takes too much.

Relay for Life is a fun-filled, overnight event that empowers everyone to help fight cancer by raising money and awareness to support the American Cancer Society’s lifesaving mission. Teams of men, women, and even children camp out, grill out, and take turns walking.

For more information about the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s cancer survivor and caregiver exercise study, please contact Dr. Tom V. Darling, assistant professor, at (229) 293-6165 or tvdarling@valdosta.edu