Spotlight on Dr. Tom Darling and the Cancer Rehab Program

Loren Rhoades, Contributing Writer

Exercise can not only keep us in a shape but also help us learn more about one of the world’s deadliest diseases, according to budding research.  HHP Division Chair and Associate Professor Dr. Tom Darling and his growing cancer research program are making this a reality by bringing both OBU and the Shawnee area one step closer to understanding cancer with the help of exercise physiology.

“Although heart disease is still the number one killer, we know a lot about it,” Darling said. “Cancer, we don’t.”

Darling specialized in cardiac rehab for five years and has now specialized in cancer for 10, along with having a background in exercise physiology. He did his cancer specialty education through the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. where he researched how exercise effects cancer care. One example of his research being, cancer related fatigue.

One of Darling’s goals in the current program here on campus is to use exercise to bring cancer rehab to the level that cardiac rehab has reached today, while continually learning about cancer in the process.

He started the cancer rehab program in 2015 soon after his arrival to OBU. Since then he has done three pilot studies, which are small preliminary research studies before a bigger planned study. The first year Darling ran a survey study with the help of five under grad students. The second year, he and his students had three cancer survivors go through an eight-week exercise program along with a prayer intervention.

“We have a lot of evidence that shows prayer helps, and this is obviously a good OBU component,” Darling said.

Prayer falls under the category of complementary and alternative medicine that is used to help cancer patients and doesn’t involve scientific variables. Other forms of this medicine include meditation, nutrition and exercise. Exercise of course being the main focus of the program that Dr. Darling has created.

As of right now, once the program is completely up and running it will be the only research driven exercise program for adults with cancer that is offered in Oklahoma.

Students in this program go through a four credit hour course that goes throughout the fall and spring semesters. In the course, the students learn how to program while doing research from scratch. At the end of each year, they attend a conference where they present the results they have collected.

When collecting these results, they do studies on three different types of people such as, cancer patients, cancer survivors and cancer caregivers. Every person who is studied in the program is either a part of the faculty on campus, is family of faculty or a community member.

Since starting the program, Darling has gained a lab specifically for the cancer research as well as for the health and human performance program. The lab has a TrueOne metabolic system that will be used for tests such as an athletes’ aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, max V02 and stress tests on cancer patients. Both Dr. Darling and his students are extremely grateful for the gift that is this machine.

“Administration said, “Yes we want to support you.” So, they gave us the budget to purchase it. We are so thankful to administration for that,” Darling said.

“If we don’t have that machine we technically aren’t an exercise physiology lab.”

Darling’s future vision is to eventually grow the program to a point where they can gain separate facilities for the exercise physiology lab and the cancer research program.





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