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‘Exercise is Medicine’: TUS CHAMPS Project Poised to Transform Childhood Cancer Survivorship Care

Exercise is Medicine’: TUS CHAMPS Project to Transform Childho
  • 11th June 2024
  • Up to 90% of childhood cancer survivors experience one health related condition after treatment. Research shows that diet and exercise could play an important role in improving health after cancer yet Ireland currently lacks formal diet and exercise cancer survivorship services which are specifically designed to support young patients post-discharge.
  • A first in Ireland and globally, CHAMPS will tackle post-cancer health challenges for survivors of  childhood cancer through a personalised home-based exercise programme.

Despite the remarkable progress in cancer treatment, with a five-year survival rate of 87 per cent for childhood cancer, up to 90 per cent of survivors encounter health-related conditions post-treatment, such as chronic fatigue, weakness, or pain.

Yet, Ireland lacks dedicated cancer survivorship services tailored to support young patients post-discharge, leaving many feeling isolated and vulnerable after completing treatment.

Jennifer Fitzpatrick, a PhD candidate at Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), Athlone Campus, is delivering a pioneering initiative aimed at tackling this to transform the quality of life for survivors of childhood cancer nationally.

CHAMPS (The Childhood and Adolescent Cancer Survivors’ Physical Activity and Movement Programme), a first-of-its-kind initiative in Ireland and globally, is a 12-week personalised, home-based physical activity programme co-created by childhood cancer survivors for childhood cancer survivors.

The programme’s name, CHAMPS, reflects its core philosophy—to help young survivors become champions of their own physical capabilities.

“A lot of young people who’ve had cancer explain how their quality of life decreased as a result of many of the side effects and the traumatic experience of cancer and they feel they are on their own to manage the physical side effects or challenges post-treatment. That’s especially tough when they’ve been through this really difficult journey,” CHAMPS co-creator Jennifer Fitzpatrick explained.

The 12-week CHAMPS programme includes personalised physical activity sessions (‘Let’s Move Like a Champ’), educational workshops (‘Let’s Learn Like a Champ’), and family-based support (‘Becoming a Champ’) to support long-term success in physical activity and overall well-being.

Pictured: (L2R) Dr Mairéad Cantwell, TUS PhD supervisor & lecturer; Amy Nolan, director of clinical affairs, Irish Cancer Society; Jennifer Fitzpatrick, TUS PhD candidate. Photo: Nathan Cafolla.

Inspired by successful models in Germany, where exercise is integrated as standard into the cancer care pathways, CHAMPS represents a vital step forward in survivorship care in Ireland, filling a critical void in post-cancer rehabilitation.

Under the guidance of Dr Mairéad Cantwell, a leading researcher in cancer survivorship care based at TUS in Athlone and Jennifer’s PhD supervisor, CHAMPS is poised to make a lasting impact on the landscape of childhood cancer survivorship.

“CHAMPS offers personalised, home-based exercise support to the young person, recognising that each survivor’s needs are unique. The home-based approach enables the young person to be active in a familiar environment. This improves their confidence to be active and supports them to work towards joining physical activity programmes and initiatives in their community once the programme finishes. By fostering a sense of empowerment and celebrating individual victories, the programme instils resilience and fosters long-term physical and mental well-being,” Dr Cantwell said.  

Currently in its first cycle, the CHAMPS programme has seen a remarkable uptake and is currently recruiting for participants for subsequent 12-week blocks over the summer and in September.

“Everyone is welcome so if there’s someone out there who thinks they could benefit by getting involved in the programme, please get in touch,” Jennifer said. “Exercise is medicine, not just for the body but for the mind, and can help young survivors not only reclaim their physical health but also their sense of agency, paving the way for a brighter, more active future.”

Looking ahead, Jennifer, whose PhD is co-funded by TUS and the Irish Cancer Society, and Dr Cantwell, hope to complete a larger scale trial of CHAMPS, rolled out nationally, and also look at introducing the intervention across Europe.  

For more information about CHAMPS and how to get involved, interested individuals can fill out this form or contact Jennifer via Instagram (@jennyfitz.phdstudent).