Lift: Unique cancer care

Woman with green shirt
Lauren Whiting, CEO and Founder of Lift Cancer Care
FIFTY+SA talks to Lauren Whiting, CEO and one of the Founders of Lift Cancer Care Services about their unique concept of cancer care support.

A cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment of cancer takes a toll in many ways. Lift Cancer Care is a healthcare facility in Adelaide providing evidence-based treatments to help people through their cancer experience with the very best outcomes. 

Offering a range of clinical support services, Lift ensures that the person is being looked after, not just the cancer.  Sitting underneath the expert care provided by the patient’s primary specialist, the services offered by Lift specialise in integrated allied health services for oncology patients. Lift offers support services to people with cancer from the point of diagnosis, throughout treatment and into survivorship.

Every day, Lift connects patients with physiotherapy, dietetics, psychology, speech and exercise medicine. These may not be the main event in cancer treatment but they are an essential part of treating the person, not just the pathology. 

The idea for Lift Cancer Care came about when supporting a close friend with breast cancer. What did you see was missing in cancer care?

Working as a Physiotherapist, I had identified the lack of coordinated services for patients I was working with. Although it was easy to identify the various allied health needs of my patients, it was difficult to know where they could access these services from appropriately skilled clinicians.

At Lift we aim to provide a one stop shop for patients seeking allied health support during their cancer experience.

We have brought together the allied health services these patients need in one location. Staffed by clinicians with experience in oncology, the patients who come to Lift feel safe as their unique healthcare needs are being looked after.

In addition to bringing these services together, Lift offers an exciting approach to exercise for cancer patients. With the support of an on-site medical team, Lift provides exercise specifically for people undergoing active cancer treatment. Exercise Medicine at Lift is delivered in a dose shown to manage common side effects of cancer drugs, reduce cancer recurrence and improve overall survival. This innovative approach to exercise in cancer care was something I was aware of as being best practice, however it was not something available.

Lift has been able to identify these gaps and provides a range of commonly required allied health services as well as best practice, evidence-based Exercise Medicine treatment, all in the one location.

How unique is this concept and what is offered by Lift Cancer Care?

In addition to bringing a range of evidence-based services together in one location to provide a one-stop shop, we offer exercise to our patients in a way that has not been widely adopted yet. We provide exercise as a medical treatment. Lift is not aware of anywhere else in Australia delivering exercise to cancer patients in this way.

Why is exercise an ‘essential part of medicine’ when it comes to cancer diagnosis and treatment?

Over the last 15 years, the body of evidence supporting the benefits of exercise for people with cancer has exploded. It is now at such a point that it cannot be denied.

The evidence shows that exercise prescribed at a certain dose to people with cancer has 3 compelling outcomes.

One, it will reduce many of the common and very debilitating side effects of the treatment that cancer patients experience—this includes cancer related fatigue—something that can last for years and represents a huge quality of life issue as well a broader economic impact.

Secondly, exercise administered at this evidence-based dose can reduce the risk of cancer recurrence by up to 35%

And finally, it can improve overall survival by up to 60%.

To summarise, the evidence is very clearly telling us that exercise, when prescribed and administered in the correct dosage, is an anti-cancer treatment.

What the evidence is telling us is clear; exercise is medicine. If exercise was a drug, it would be prescribed to all people with cancer.

What are some of the outcomes you’re seeing with clients?

While the clinical services at Lift have many evidence-based outcomes, the overarching theme of what we are trying to achieve at Lift is maximising the quality of life and outcomes of our patients.

We have many heart-warming stories from our patients that through a range of sentiments, highlight to us and remind us of the impact we have on their enjoyment and quality of life.

I remember a conversation with a woman diagnosed with breast cancer who came to Lift for a range of our services. She said to me “Lauren, this is going to sound really strange, but I feel blessed to have been diagnosed with cancer, because it led me to Lift, and my life will always be better for it”.

I was overwhelmed by her statement, and it took me a long time to digest. It was the most humbling thing I had heard. I also remember in that moment thinking back to when I was working on the business plan for Lift. I could not have possibly anticipated a statement like that…it certainly wasn’t in my business plan…but that is when I knew that everything we were doing was right. We were making a difference.

From anecdotal evidence to more robust data, Lift partnered with a medical oncology practice to produce a study that examined the effect of the exercise delivered at Lift, on the growth of tumours. The study looked at 137 pairs of patients – with each pair matched for gender, age, type of cancer, stage of cancer and other markers.

In each pair, one was coming to Lift to get exercise treatment as well as getting chemotherapy and the other was just getting chemotherapy. The results of this study were phenomenal.

It showed that overall, those who attend Lift for exercise treatment in addition to their chemotherapy had a 66% reduction in the odds of disease progression and a 76% reduction in the odds of death.

After the study was written up it was submitted to the Internal Medicine Journal and at the end of last year it was accepted and published.

Contributing to the existing body of evidence of exercise in cancer and demonstrating how our treatments are improving health outcomes has been very exciting for Lift.

You’ve previously said disrupting a traditional and conservative industry can be tough. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you face?

One of the most important issues that needed to be resolved initially was how to safely connect people with cancer to the high intensity exercise shown to provide the best outcomes. Lift was to be a one stop for allied health services, with its unique selling point being that exercise was to be delivered in a dosage that would provide anti-cancer benefits to patients. 

This was an approach based on the latest evidence; however, it would require patients to access this treatment in an environment that would be able to manage the clinical risks often associated with these patients. This led to Lift becoming an accredited day hospital and creating a hybrid model of Day Hospital and out-patient clinic. This represents the core of the operational challenges Lift faces across almost every area.

From simple things like finding clinical software to support the Lift model of care; to more significant regulatory requirements, there are many elements of Lift that require complex problem solving, creativity and innovation.

The other area that has required focus has been educating people about exercise and cancer. Most people are used to engaging with exercise as part of a rehabilitation program after they have undergone a procedure or at the end of a course of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. As we offer exercise medicine treatment to people from the point of diagnosis and while they are undergoing cancer therapies, education of our referring specialists and our patients has been essential. 

At Lift we are putting evidence into practice, and this requires a shift in mindset from what we are used to doing for this patient population to what we know is going to provide optimum outcomes. 

The incidence of most cancers increases with age. Why is this so, and is there anything a person can do to reduce the risk?

The incidence of most diseases increases as we age. This is partly because you tend to have more exposure to risk factors the longer you live. In the case of cancer this can be things like sun exposure, smoking, alcohol intake or poor diet. As we get older we may also reduce some of our healthy habits such as exercise and meaningful social interaction.

Over time, our body’s cells become damaged. As we age and our immune systems weaken, there is more time for damage to accumulate and cause cells to grow and multiply more than usual, causing cancer.

The good news is that there are many lifestyle factors that can help to reduce the risk of cancer. Keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake, practising sun safety, and keeping active are all excellent habits to focus on.

The importance of exercise is something we focus on at Lift and as far as prevention goes, exercise is one of the best things you can be doing to boost your immune system, maintain physical function and reduce the risk of many cancers.

Unfortunately, the statistics around exercise tell us that in Australia an estimated 55% of people don’t meet the guidelines for cardiovascular exercise and 60% don’t meet the guidelines for resistance-based exercise.

If you don’t know where to start, make an appointment to see an Exercise Physiologist and they can tailor a program to suit your individual needs and ability.

It is also important to remember to participate in regular check-ups with your doctor and cancer screening programs such as the BreastScreen Australia program and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Your GP will be able to connect you with these initiatives.

Tell us about the Lift Choir!

The Lift Choir started after two patients—one a singing teacher, the other a musician—floated the idea at a patient morning tea at Lift. They were both passionate about the wonderful benefits that singing and music provide and thought it would be a lovely gift to share with people who have been diagnosed with cancer.

The choir started as a group of 7 people who ‘couldn’t sing’ and is now a group of 30+ members who meet each week and have even had a couple of paid gigs!

Singing has many well known benefits such as stress relief, improved immune function and improved lung function to name a few. What we notice with the Lift choir is that it provides such a wonderful opportunity for meaningful connection and promotes a sense of belonging which has benefits that can’t be underestimated.

The choir is a truly special group of people and Lift is so grateful to play a role in bringing people together each week to sing and to be joyful!

What are your future goals for Lift Cancer Care Services?

My vision for Lift is to change the landscape of healthcare delivery for oncology patients. I have seen the value of what we have been able to provide to the people who come to use our service and I think it’s something all people with cancer deserve access to.

Part of achieving this goal is contributing to the changing narrative around exercise in cancer care and the vital role it can play as an anti-cancer treatment. Lift has published one paper, and we would love to continue to play our part in growing this space and further contribute to the exciting growing body of evidence in the area of exercise and cancer.

Lift Cancer Care

520 South Rd, Kurralta Park

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