Watching their 5-year-old daughter Lauryn stand on her tiptoes as she rang the bell symbolizing the completion of her cancer treatment was a dream come true for Larry and Danielle Criswell.
Lauryn was diagnosed in February with pineoblastoma, a rare and aggressive brain tumor.
“Lauryn’s diagnosis caught us completely off-guard,” Danielle says. “We were used to an active child who was full of life, but cancer treatment took its toll.”
While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, Lauryn’s energy waned. She spent most of her time creating ladybug and rainbow-themed drawings with the Children’s Art Project, which provides young cancer patients with an outlet to share their artistic talent. When she wasn’t drawing, she’d quietly play with stuffed animals or her sister, Leia.
But then she became involved in the ProFit Program at the children’s hospital, and her activity levels skyrocketed. The program brings professional and college athletes to the hospital to engage kids in fun sports and get them out of bed and moving.
In her first ProFit event, Lauryn and other pediatric patients were led by Olympic long-jumper Yvonne Trevino Hayek as they made their way through a mini-Olympic obstacle course.
Since then, she and fellow patients have been visited by professional soccer players and college basketball teams. Lauryn even made a winning basketball shot when the University of Houston Cougar basketball team came to visit.
Exercise during cancer treatment shows benefits
The ProFit program was developed by Keri Schadler, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatric Research and a member of the Pediatrics Energy Balance and Integrative Medicine team.
“Studies show that exercise during treatment is safe and helps patients become more physically fit,” Schadler says. “Patients benefit from the physical activity that comes from playing sports and engaging in other physical activities." Preclinical evidence suggests that exercise may also improve chemotherapy's effectiveness, she adds.
Studying exercise’s effect on childhood cancer patients through clinical trials
Schadler and other members of the Energy Balance and Integrative Medicine team also launched the SummerFit Program with weekly personalized fitness classes for patients and their siblings. Patients were divided into classes by age and treatment type, and measured for mood, pain level and fatigue before and after classes. The data collected is part of Schadler’s ongoing research into exercise’s effect on pediatric cancer patients.
“Exercise oncology is a new and fast-moving field in pediatrics,” says Schadler, who’s leading four MD Anderson clinical trials and partnering with other institutions on two national clinical trials. She’s also helping develop an educational program for physicians, and is spearheading the installment of an on-site pediatric patient gym at the children’s hospital.
Gratitude for a daughter’s energy
It’s initiatives like these for which Danielle Criswell is grateful.
“Faith, family, and friends helped get us through Lauryn’s treatment,” she says, “and we’re grateful for the hospital programs that helped bring a smile to our daughter’s face and put the energy back in her step.”
Lauryn Crisswell participates in physical activities during a visit from University of Houston Cougar basketball team members.