Keeping Fit and Active as a Colorectal Cancer Survivor

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Being active helps your body in so many ways. Activity can help your body move and heal, so it is essential to get up and move every day if you can,” said Ryan Vieth, stage IVa colorectal cancer survivor, from Denver, Colorado, and Climb for a Cure leader for the Mount Bierstadt, Bailey, Colorado Climb August 6, 2022.

Vieth, age 47, when he was diagnosed with stage IIIc rectal cancer in September 2019, knows how difficult it can be to stay active and motivated during treatment and post-surgery, as well as following unexpected health challenges. Vieth said his radiation treatment “destroyed me physically.” Chemo left him with pins and needles in his feet that were so painful, he could barely walk. 

Currently Vieth said, “Life is pretty much what normal is going to be moving forward.” He has some permanent neuropathy damage in his feet and the occasional numbness in the tips of his fingers. Other than that, Vieth said it feels, “awesome and amazing that I can be active again.”

Fresh from celebrating his 50th birthday with family and friends, Vieth was delighted to share his tips for keeping active and moving.

Vieth's Top 5 Tips for Keeping Active and Moving

Vieth said it is vital to keep active and keep moving; but he also knows firsthand that there will be times during treatment or following surgery when it is exceptionally difficult to do that. 

1. Turn up the music!

“There isn’t a thought, a memory, or a process in all of life that isn’t associated with some song or music.” Every week Vieth shared a theme song with the group of people who were following him on Caring Bridge (an online journal he kept to keep friends and family members informed). Vieth said there were days where he could not physically get out of bed, but he turned on the music, focused on the music, and he just kept going. 

2. Start slow.

Acknowledge the challenges you face. Whether you are undergoing treatment or have had lower-anterior resection surgery or an ostomy, Vieth notes that sometimes it’s difficult to stay or become active. Sometimes getting out of bed is difficult, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Get out of bed and make progress with movement each day. Vieth also mentioned that while undergoing chemo, he didn’t feel good for about two or three days, but that left him 10 days to get up and get active, which he knew was essential for healing.

3. Stay close to home.

Vieth asserted that doing a little activity close to home or even in your home is better than no activity at all. You don’t have to hike a mountain or run a 5k to be active. Simply walking around your neighborhood or even the treadmill, climbing stairs, or riding a stationary bike are ways to keep active in the vicinity of or comfort of your home. Vieth said to “just do something” to keep moving and active. It’s important to gauge your body with the activity you are doing.

4. Consistently work at it.

Vieth moved to Colorado in 1993, and hiking, camping, and being outdoors were a huge part of his life. He’s always enjoyed taking his boys camping in the snow in the winter, as well as camping in the mountains with his family in the summer. He relished walking the trails or hiking with his family. Almost everything he appreciated doing was outdoors, until the neuropathy temporarily took away every activity he loved doing. He could barely walk, much less hike. It was difficult and frustrating for Vieth. What he now knows is this: It takes time to regain strength and heal. Vieth doesn’t focus on what he can’t do. He values the activities he is able to do now, and he realizes that he will be able to do more tomorrow than he can today. And he is OK with that because he is making progress every day.

5. Give yourself grace.

Vieth acknowledges that people want to push themselves to be where they were physically before treatment. But he warns that it takes time to physically and mentally recover. People need to be patient and not push themselves too far or too hard. During his radiation treatment, some days the most active Vieth could be was to get up and go outside and sit in the sun. He said that during radiation and post-surgery were the most difficult times to get up and get moving, and there were periods of time where he wasn’t able to be active. But he emphasized that as soon as he was able, he got up and got moving because it is good for not only his physical health but his mental health as well. 

Bonus 6. Listen to what the doctors tell you.

Whether or not you have an ostomy, start back into activity slowly. When your healthcare team tells you not to lift weight above a certain number, be sure to listen. While Vieth felt the want and need to be active, he is adamant that, “You absolutely must take the time to heal.” 

Vieth said it is vital to know that your life will be a “new normal.” Vieth compared this to COVID-19: Life is getting back to “normal,” but that “normal” is different than it was pre-pandemic.

Important Advice

Advice Vieth also wanted to share was not to “put the pedal to the metal” on the rest of life right before starting treatment. He felt tremendous pressure to get things done, and he worked long hours daily because he had just started his own business. As a result, he started out treatments exhausted. He emphasized that going through treatment and surgery puts your body through tremendous stress and strain. He said it is important to take your time and train (by not overexerting yourself physically, emotionally, or mentally) rather than trying to “get everything done.”

Fortunately, with time and healing – and it was a long road that required a ton of patience – Vieth said he is now in the best shape of his life. He is at a healthy weight, and he is active.

Vieth is looking extremely forward to this summer season: His first summer since being diagnosed, where he will be able to fully get out and participate in hiking the trails and mountains – and camping – again. 

Climb for a Cure

Vieth has an appreciation for being outdoors, and although his treatment and complications took him to within hours of dying, he chooses to approach life positively. One way he is moving forward is by hosting Climb for a Cure at Mount Bierstadt, Bailey, Colorado.

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Climb for a Cure, Colorado

The climb up Mt Bierstadt, located in the Mount Evans Wilderness Area, is known as one of Colorado's iconic 14er routes. Once at the summit of Mount Bierstadt, you’ll have incredible views of the Rocky Mountains Front Range. Grays Peak and Torreys Peak to the west, and just to the left lies Mount Evans.

He found Fight CRC through a Google search, and the more he read, the more Fight CRC checked all the boxes of what he was looking for in supporting an organization focused on colorectal cancer. 

“When I saw their major fundraising event was Climbing, I jumped right in,” said Vieth. For Vieth, the biggest thrill of hosting a Climb is having everyone who supported him and his family – and he had support from all across the country – come out to Climb with him. He wants to raise awareness and funds and get people talking about colorectal cancer prevention and screening.

Can’t travel to Mount Bierstadt to Climb for a Cure? We’ve got you covered! Find a Climb near you!

Learn more about cancer-related fatigue, physical activity and colorectal cancer, and hiking tips.

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