For the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the US, many of whom have had surgery, getting back into exercise and learning how to move after breast cancer treatment is a difficult challenge. But it’s important to exercise, according to the American Cancer Society, to help decrease side effects of surgery and resume normal daily activities.
Breast cancer can take away your sense of control
Cancer diagnosis and the related side-effects can quickly take a mental and physical toll, and many patients feel like they’ve lost control of their bodies. I was one of them. Over an 18-month period, I had bilateral mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation and multiple reconstructive surgeries. After my first mastectomy, I could not pick up a cup of coffee.
Exercise after breast cancer treatment
Even though I had worked as a certified personal trainer for three years until my diagnosis, when I went back to the gym for the first time after treatment, I felt unsure about exercising and was scared I might injure myself. But with the support of my oncologist, Dr. Bonni Guerin at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, I slowly got back into exercise and turned my life around.
Breast cancer survivors can stand tall
If you have had procedures related to breast cancer, you are most likely familiar with the tightness in your chest, some shoulder-area discomfort, and weakness in your upper back. For example, if you had a mastectomy, you may stand with your shoulders rolled inward, which makes your chest feel tight and weakens your back muscles. Simple exercises such as stretching your chest and shoulder muscles and strengthening your upper back will help you feel more comfortable and, more important, regain control of your body. Exercise has also been proven to decrease recovery time and help with weight loss, which may reduce the chance of a recurrence and, in general, improve your outlook.
Be inspired as a breast cancer survivor
As a certified personal trainer experiencing the struggles that survivors encounter, I was inspired to become accredited as a cancer exercise specialist and create an exercise class for breast cancer survivors, called MovingOn, at Overlook Hospital. All participants are breast cancer survivors who have learned that they are not alone, and they have a comfort in camraderie, even if that means removing their wig or sitting for a moment during exercises. Many hospitals offer similar programs, and I encourage fellow survivors to take advantage of rehab and exercise classes available to them.
Every survivor has to start somewhere to move forward after diagnosis and treatment. But remember that progress takes time. Listen to your body. Rest when you need it and stick with your exercise program. You will find the strength, energy and positive attitude you need and deserve.
For more information, visit www.movingonfromcancer.com.