Making the Impossible, Possible – Getting back to Normal after Cancer, A Case Study

“After fighting the fight of my life, taking a year and a half to recover and then having to return back to full time work, it seemed like an impossible task at times.

Now looking back and after having just completed my first full week at work, I can honestly say the rehabilitation and strength building that Leonie provided, which was offered and financed by AMP, has played a massive part in my success and one which I am truly thankful for.”

This is part of the email Rick* sent to his Specialised Health Exercise Physiologist, Leonie Olsen, last week.

With such impressive feedback, we thought we’d get into the details around the program Rick committed to.

*Client’s name has been changed to maintain confidentiality 

Rick – November 2017

From a working-class suburb of Brisbane, Rick loved nothing more than kicking a footy with his kids in the park. Shortly after celebrating his 41st birthday he received the news:

Oesophageal cancer.

Rick was told that the tumour was too big to operate straight away so after having a bout of both chemotherapy and radiation Rick eventually underwent surgery where surgeons removed the top of his stomach as well as his oesophagus, creating completely artificial versions, to prevent as much chance of reoccurrence as possible.

Since diagnosis, Rick went onto lose almost 25kg in body weight, he had ongoing dizziness, blurry vision and of course, as you’d expect with an artificial oesophagus he had terrible reflux which meant he could only sleep sitting upright in a chair. As you can imagine, Rick’s quality of sleep was terrible resulting in ongoing fatigue where he would have to sleep during the day to catch up, causing a vicious cycle and worsening his fatigue.

Compounding things even further, Rick was also avoiding eating wherever possible due to the reflux, neck pain and tiredness after eating. Avoiding nutrition was likely to be further impacting his energy levels!

18 months later… Exercise Physiology starts – May 2019

As you would need to with a case like Rick’s, Leonie and Rick both went through a super comprehensive initial assessment and together they set the following goals:

Rick was going to go back to work as a full-time refrigeration technician and the program would be tailored so that he would have more energy to play footy with his kids when they were home from school and he would cut the habit of having to catch up on sleep in the day.

As expected, Leonie’s assessment found that Rick was significantly deconditioned due to the cancer treatment, he had large scale muscle loss and the ongoing inactivity over the past 18 months had left a solid mark on his physical capacity. He had low muscle endurance, particularly in the legs, and this was going to be a huge barrier considering that his role was largely physical with alot of lifting, carrying and bending having to be performed day in and day out.

Despite confirming this terribly deconditioned state, Leonie also found that Rick did had more capacity than he had realised! Knowing that getting back to work as soon as possible was going to be a hugely positive step for Rick both physically and psychologically, with some new found confidence in his abilities plus some reassurance from Leonie, they agreed he would start trying some duties and with the help of a Rehab Provider, Rick started to work his way through a slow but gradual return back into his work.

The Program

Knowing the physical nature of the job as well as what it would take to be able to kick the footy around in the park again, Leonie concentrated on building muscular strength, functional strength (which includes manual handling!) and aerobic fitness. They met up once a week and Rick also did regular sessions on his own.

In addition to exercise, it was imperative to address the fatigue symptoms with Leonie providing alot of pacing education as well as numerous other strategies to help and they also went over all of Rick’s dietary habits including having small snacks instead of a meal, to avoid the reflux, pain and fatigue he was having with eating.

And staying true to the training philosophy, albeit with some thinking outside the box – they organised a “morning training routine” to prevent the shock of being up early and getting ready to go!

Fast Forward to Now..

Rick recently started full-time hours!!!

Plus he has more energy to play with his kids and has even started jogging routinely.

Complete remission of the cancer is yet to be confirmed, but Rick is staying positive, recognising his new strength and using his newfound fitness as a weapon.

Everybody loves a graph, right?

Here’s a visual summary of the conditioning program mid-way. 3 out of the 5 goals have been smashed out of the park already so🤞for the positive trend to continue!


Well done Leonie for being such a great EP! However, the best EP can’t work their magic without the customer’s dedication! So congratulations to Rick as well for putting in all this effort and reaping the benefits! And a big thanks for sharing your story!