His fingers and the bottoms of his feet were numb. Sitting for long stretches made it worse, and when he stood up, it was hard to find his balance.
After rounds of chemotherapy in 2003, 2011 and 2014 to fight his lymphoma, John Ayres suffers from from chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). It impacts many cancer patients and results in numbness in the extremities, balance issues and muscle weakness.
“I didn’t want to have to walk with a cane,” John said. “Canes are for old people and I’m not old.”
John is 82, in remission, and still works as an electrical engineer.
With the help of Marie “Mimi” Lamantia and a Pelotonia Fellowship, he’s regained a big chunk of his balance and ability to walk – and dance! – and doesn’t need a cane.
“I’m still in the risk zone for falling,” John said. “But it’s not as severe as it was and there’s a chance I can work my way out of it.”
Mimi is a Dance and Pre-Med major at Ohio State, and was determined to combine her two loves and find a way to help CIPN sufferers.
“I did a lot of digging and found research that used dancing as an intervention,” Mimi said, adding she found studies that utilized the tango to help elderly people with balance issues and patients with Parkinson’s Disease.
What she couldn’t find was research about how the tango – or other forms of dance – could help with CIPN. So, with the help of her advisor, Lisa Worthen-Chaudhari, Mimi created her own research project, applied for and received a Pelotonia Fellowship.
Starting in July, Mimi led three, 10-week tango sessions that included about 30 James patients with CIPN and 10 of their caregivers.
Data collection is an important component of Mimi’s tango research. An early class in each session was “data collection day,” she said, adding there are several ways to measure a person’s balance, strength and agility.
One is with a balance board.
“We had people stand on a balance board, with their eyes closed, and we measured the amount of their sway,” Mimi said.
The average amount of sway for the general population is about 4 millimeters. The average for Mimi’s CIPN students was 9 millimeters which “put them at a great risk of falling,” she said.
Measurements were taken at the end of the 10-week session, and “their sway decreased by 56 percent,” Mimi said. “That’s really exciting, because it takes them out of the high-risk category for falling and shows that the Argentine tango can be a valid intervention.”
Mimi plans to take a gap year after she graduates in the spring, and then attend medical school. During her gap year, she hopes to continue her tango-related research. “Hopefully we can use this work as pilot data to get more funding and do a larger trial.”
John and Sine-Marie will continue to tango.
“It’s like learning a new language, it helps the neurons in your brain,” Sine-Marie said.
They hadn’t danced together since 1999, at the wedding of one of their daughters.
“This class brings us a great deal of joy and is something we can do together,” John said.