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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

North Texas Researcher Aligns with NutritionQuest to Provide Healthy Lifestyle Skills to Cancer Survivors

In collaboration with universities, health care organizations and cancer support groups from across the U.S., Canada, and Australia, a North Texas researcher has implemented an evidence-based lifestyle tool in an ethnically diverse sample of cancer survivors.

Tomi Huff was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 54, she knew she was going to die. No matter what the doctors said, she felt like her life was already over. Fast forward three rounds of chemotherapy and six years later, and Tomi is now cancer free with a renewed focus on keeping herself healthy. She’s feeling stronger every day, and is able to “be there” for her four grown children and, hopefully someday, for future grandchildren. Tomi credits an important part of her recovery to a UNT Health Science Center research study she joined six months ago, when she was approached Dr. Raheem Paxton, assistant professor in the School of Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health.
[Photo: Dr. Raheem Paxton and cancer survivor Ms. Tomi Huff]

Nearly 300 participants across the country are now enrolled in the program, which recently linked with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s Army of Women, a national cancer survivors’ network supported in part by the Avon Foundation.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, this program is available to cancer patients of any diagnosis, race, gender, or ethnicity, to help improve their survival rates through diet, exercise and healthy behaviors.  It is based on the NutritionQuest ALIVE evidence-based, personalized wellness coaching program that stands for “A Lifestyle Intervention via Email.”

Leading the project is Dr. Raheem Paxton, School of Public Health assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, Texas.

“Research has shown that cancer survivors can achieve longer-term health benefits and preserve quality of life through diet and exercise,” Dr. Paxton said. “Regular physical activity can also help with pain management, anxiety, emotional well-being, stamina and energy.”

This Internet-based program begins with a simple online health-risk assessment, where survivors identify their deficits in diet and exercise. Based on the assessment, survivors can select goals to create their personal healthy living plan. From there, they gain support through email, online resources and automated calls, according to their preferences.

“Our formative data collected from African American breast cancer survivors, the first group to participate, found that 97 percent indicated they would recommend the program to other cancer survivors, 81 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the program, and 73 percent said that the program was effective or very effective,” Dr. Paxton said.

Ms. Tomi Huff of Fort Worth, Texas, an ovarian cancer survivor, said her goals were to get stronger and eat better. Since joining the program seven months ago, she said she has lost 17 pounds, eats more fruits and vegetables, feels better, attends exercise classes and is about to join yoga. She has returned to work part-time and has seen improvement in her bone density measurements.

“After my diagnosis, I had retired and found myself with a lot of time on my hands,” she said. “Initially, I felt sure that I was going to die. Three rounds of chemotherapy and six years later, I was cancer free, yet I wasn’t living healthy.”

“When you’re getting older, have aches and pains and are fighting a disease like cancer,” she said, “you feel like you’re falling apart. It’s hard to get motivated to eat right and exercise. It’s nice to know you’re not alone, that you have help and a support network of people who care. Now I feel like there is a lot more ahead for me. Thanks to the program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, I’m back on track and now I have skills that I can apply in my daily activities.”