A Semester in the Exercise Oncology Laboratory

Excerpt from Maddie F.

In this paper, I elaborate upon my experiences in the Exercise Oncology Laboratory over the past semester:

It’s Thursday, it’s the end of October, it’s thirty-three degrees outside, and I’ve hit snooze twice since my alarm went off at 4:45am. It’s now 5:07am, and I need to shower, eat, and catch up on yesterday’s cell biology homework because I’ve got a full day and baseline testing at the lab at 8:00am (which really means 7:15am). I like my life busy.

I manage to head out of my apartment by 7:00am, giving me fifteen minutes to complete a walk to the lab that normally takes twenty. By the time I reach the quad, my walk turns into a jog—I don’t mind because it’s thirty-three degrees outside and the sky is dark. I get to the lab with a minute to spare. The graduate student I am working with informs me about our participant, and, when the other undergraduates arrive, we designate jobs for the day. I feel confident in my ability to relay the script we use for baseline testing, so I elect to carry out the measurement of pulse, blood pressure, and communication of the script to the participant. The other undergraduates measure the participant’s height, weight, and hip and waist circumference. These designations vary on a day-by-day basis, however. As a group, we prepare the testing room and the EOL for the submaximal treadmill test and the functional fitness test. One undergraduate accompanies the graduate student downstairs to wait for the participant while the rest of us remain in the testing room, awaiting the day’s tasks. I hear the door to the conference room open and voices gradually amplifying. I check my phone and the time reads 7:51am, meaning the participant arrived early (as they always do). The participant is briefed on the session’s activities and is brought into the testing room, where we are introduced. One of the undergraduates measures the participant’s height and weight while the next measures hip and waist circumference. I facilitate this process by holding the tape measure for the other undergraduate while the measurement is taken. The participant is fitted with a heart rate monitor and I prepare myself for the monologue with which I intend to brief the participant. As the participant sits in anticipation, I relay the various safety features of the treadmill, the progression of the treadmill test, and the measurements that will be taken throughout. My modernized Shakespearean soliloquy lasts all of 5 minutes, after which I measure the radial pulse and blood pressure of the participant.

We then begin the submaximal treadmill test, where the participant walks on a treadmill at an increasing gradient until 80% percent of the maximum heart rate is achieved. Once the test is over, we transition to the functional fitness test. The undergraduates carry out the various assessments of the functional fitness test, including the chair stand test, arm curl test, chair sit-and-reach, back scratch test, 8 foot up-and-go test, and the 6-minute walk. After these tests are completed, we invite the participant back to the conference room and conclude the day’s session. Once the participant leaves, we clean and prepare the testing room and EOL for future use. I check my phone as I head out of the office towards the elevator. The time reads 9:49am. I have 11 minutes to get to class. I open Google Calendar on my phone. A busy day awaits, but I notice I am scheduled to work with Participant X at 5:20pm. I enjoy working with Participant X because he is a cordial man with the world’s best idiosyncrasy: he brings homemade, gluten-free desserts to every session. I look forward to this all day. I do not look forward to the next time I have to step on a scale, however.

It’s 5:05pm, I’ve set up the rooms for Participant X’s session and I’m waiting on the stairs on the first floor because he always shows up early. I see him park his car, and I head out to pay his meter. He steps out of his car holding a plate covered in aluminum foil. As I greet him he tells me what lies under the foil: gluten-free lemon bars courtesy of his wife. I thank him profusely and we head inside to begin the session. I measure Participant X’s blood pressure and heart rate. His prescription states the duration and intensity (via target heart rate range) of his treadmill workout. After the treadmill workout, we venture upstairs for resistance training using the Gymstick protocol. He completes two sets of eight repetitions of each of the various Gymstick exercises. He tells me he’s “winded” after the workout with a grin on his face. It’s interesting to witness the hypothesis “exercise triggers release of endorphins” substantiated right in front of you.

In his counseling session, I inform him of the signs and symptoms of when to halt exercise. We chat about his current prescription, and, when the session is over, we head to the office to set an appointment. He doesn’t leave without witnessing us try the dessert he so graciously brought. As usual, it’s amazing, and, as usual, I try to convince my roommate to throw our scale off the balcony.