Leading an active life can help women treated for breast cancer live longer and healthier lives. Just ask Sherdinia Thompson-Dunn of Carrboro, NC. Thompson-Dunn, a 1967 graduate of UNC, found some pleasant surprises when she began a self-directed walking program in October 2013 following treatment for breast cancer.

Sherdinia Thompson-Dunn

Thompson-Dunn participated in a UNC Lineberger pilot study to test the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease self-directed walking program, which was adapted for breast cancer patients. The study was conducted by UNC Lineberger Geriatric Oncology Program Director, Hyman Muss, MD in collaboration with other UNC researchers.

“When I first started the walking program, I was having some pain and stiffness in my joints, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to find the time to walk,” said Thompson-Dunn. “I started slow – walking four blocks around my neighborhood, then gradually I worked up to eight blocks. After a while, I was surprised to find that I would look forward to walking.”

Although retired, Ms. Thompson-Dunn has a busy life helping to care for her mother and taking care of four young grand-nieces after school during the week. She says her husband, Sinatra Dunn, encouraged her to make time for herself and stick with the walking program, and she is glad she did. “Walking gives me a mental clarity,” she explains. “It’s like a wind-up that gives you energy for the whole day.”

For this pilot study, Dr. Muss and his colleagues were particularly interested in testing the feasibility and benefits of a walking program among older breast cancer survivors.

“Breast cancer is a disease of aging. In fact, most people in the U.S. with breast cancer are now 65 and older,” said Muss. “We know that incorporating simple, routine exercise—like walking—into a patient’s treatment plan helps maintain function and improve overall quality of life.”

Last February, The Kay Yow Cancer Fund®, in partnership with The V Foundation for Cancer Research, awarded a $1 million women’s cancer research grant to UNC Lineberger to evaluate the impact of physical activity among breast cancer survivors. This grant will facilitate an expansion of a well-established base of research being conducted at UNC Lineberger on aging and breast cancer. Dr. Muss says,“we are thrilled to have the opportunity to grow this program, help more breast cancer patients and see it realized on a national scale.”

The research project will be conducted as a national, multi-site collaboration with the Cancer and Aging Research Group, UNC Hospitals, affiliated community clinics and the Alliance for Clinical Trials and Oncology.