Why I Exercise After Breast Cancer by Marianne Dietrick-Gallagher
FEAR, DISBELIEF, NUMBNESS, STOICISM, I WON’T SEE MY GRAND KIDS GROW UP, I’LL NEED A WIG, SHOULD I HAVE RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY?
…….. just a sampling of the immediate thoughts that percolated in my mind in the minutes after hearing that my mammogram showed something certain to be breast cancer.
Thankfully after weeks of worry, I learned that my tumor was early stage and could be managed with surgery and radiation therapy.
Working out helped me (and continues to help me) as I persist in my journey. I’ve exercised all my life, with varying degrees of intensity. I wanted to give up working out after my diagnosis, since at first it seemed to me that my healthy habits hadn’t helped. I’m glad that I persevered.
Here are the facts about exercise and breast cancer:
· Physical exercise helps decrease the risk of breast cancer in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women by:
1. Supporting a normal weight.
- This may be related to lower estrogen levels. (Endogenous estrogen causes certain breast cancer cells to reproduce).
- Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a 30-60 percent higher breast cancer risk than those who are lean.
2. Reducing inflammation.
3. Improving immune system function.
· Exercise after a diagnosis of breast cancer is linked to better cancer outcomes (risk of recurrence and death from breast cancer), especially if the breast tumor’s growth is hastened by estrogen.
· Exercise supports a positive body image, emotional well-being, sexuality, and healthy sleep.
· Exercise helps to manage pain and reduce anxiety and depression.
I’m proud of my commitment to exercise. I worked out the day of my surgery (before I traveled to Penn) and missed very few workouts during the seven weeks of daily 6:00 a.m. visits to Penn Radiation Oncology, despite travel to a New Jersey work-site each day. To be honest, I didn’t do it for the “joy of exercise,” but to manage my anxiety and fear.
After completing my treatments, I started coming to Strength for Life. My motive was not the love of weight training, but to get in shape in the event of a recurrence and the potential need to be strong through chemotherapy. I’m so very glad that I joined. I’m now here because I like it (although, some days more than others)! Since working with the Strength for Life family, I’ve:
· Learned to manage the ever-present joint pain that I experience from the medication that I will be taking for 5-10 years.
· Accomplished exercises that I could never previously do [e.g. a lunge and a 105-pound squat for 3 reps (albeit a bit high)]!
· Gained muscle definition and strength.
· Met wonderful people.
Here are a few tidbits to glean from my experience:
· Eat a healthy diet. For me, that’s cutting down on pasta!
· Maintain a normal weight (an ongoing struggle for many, especially after menopause).
· Get your mammograms. I can’t stress this enough.
· If you have a positive mammogram and/or biopsy
- Reach out to friends. Feel free to call me, if I could be of help!
- Ask questions of your health care provider. I never thought to ask early in the process how advanced my tumor was. Asking may have saved me from a lot of worry (and the challenge of selecting a wig shop)!
Thanks to Penn for the exceptional care I received, and to Strength for Life for allowing me to share my perspectives, and to Natalie, my trainer.