In the past two years I have held the hand of one of my best friends as she battled and successfully won the fight against Breast Cancer. But the months post treatment have actually been more traumatic on her body than the treatment itself. She was forced into menopause (at age 36), and ultimately had to opt for removal of her ovaries – all of which has messed with her body more than chemo and radiation.
In light of this, as her friend and personal trainer, I researched ways to ease her back into exercise, and discovered that there is a serious dearth of information and support regarding post-cancer physical fitness.
How do you get your body in shape after chemo and radiation has left your muscles weak or your stamina nonexistent?
How do you regain flexibility and muscle tone after a lumpectomy, mastectomy or any other cancer related surgeries?
How do post cancer drugs (like in her case tamoxifen) affect blood pressure, metabolism, moods, and even equilibrium (some meds actually make clients dizzy)?
These are just some of the questions and issues that cancer survivors face.What I have learned is that there is no one approach fits all – much like all training sessions – but even more so in this case. The trainer, client AND doctor must work together to assure that the client’s body can handle the reintroduction of exercises and flexibility-range of motion . Nutrition has to be closely examined as it relates to the drugs they ingest. Most of all, patience – HUGE PATIENCE – must be maintained by the client as the body make take a very long time to build back up from the destruction it underwent.
My advice to anyone in this situation is to take it slow, but persevere. The body is resilient but is also fragile under these circumstances. Think of it as starting from zero. Keep your goals small, but keep setting goals as the baby steps are achieved. Also remember that body acceptance is essential as your body may be changed irrevocably – on the outside as well as the inside.
If you attend a support group, perhaps extend the meetings to include 20 minutes of yoga or pilates, or find a Certified Personal Trainer who would be willing to offer a gentle body-sculpt class for the group (I would offer this pro bono). If you belong to a gym, stick with circuit machines until your strength and balance are back.
So the next time you or someone you know survives cancer, CELEBRATE, but then get back on the exercise train with patience and focus and your body will come back to life too.