In a second-floor, 300-square-foot chemotherapy infusion suite in Penn State Cancer Institute are some dumbbells, some stretchy bands, two treadmills, a recumbent bike, a weight bench, some physical therapy tools, and a raised mat.
It’s not much and it’s not very big, but for researcher Kathryn Schmitz, it’s what she wanted.
“What I asked for and got in coming to Penn State Cancer Institute was the exercise medicine unit in an oncology clinical setting,” Schmitz said. She needed it for her work.
With the help of an experienced master trainer, this is where she and her team plan to make exercise part of the standard of care for cancer patients as they research the role of nutrition and exercise in cancer treatment and recovery.
She has several clinical research studies underway or in development.
While she has been a professional dancer and a personal trainer, Schmitz is now a professor of epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine and the associate director of population sciences at the Cancer Institute.
“I had this beautiful office at the top of this amazing building and I was paid handsomely, but I had a terminal case of boredom,” she said. “I decided I wanted more.”
So she returned to school to earn her master’s and doctoral degrees, where she developed a love for research that led to a postdoctoral research fellowship and a master’s in public health.
Schmitz later joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota in the School of Public Health in the Division of Epidemiology and later the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania.
She says joining Penn State was a natural fit because of its strong exercise physiology program.
While her research initially focused on obesity and heart disease, she now finds herself in a growing field studying the relationship between exercise and cancer.
“It’s been really exciting,” Schmitz said. “It’s rare that you get an opportunity to work in an area of science where you can do a study that changes clinical practice.”
“By the end of my career, I want us to be using exercise in oncology the same way that we already do for heart disease.”