The basic premise is the same too: a little exercise is better than no exercise and possibly the only real difference is motivation, the presence and the lack thereof.
Breast cancer patients theoretically have more motivation. When we’re told that exercise will make us stronger for surgery, help us heal faster and greatly reduce our risk of recurrence, then these are strong motivators to get on our bikes.
Equally, when we’re sore and scarred, or fatigued and nauseous, or just generally sad and scared, then the motivation required to get our running shoes on can be very hard to drum up.
But exercise we must and it’s essential that we do so in consideration of where we are in our cancer treatment, always in constant consultation with our physicians, and in the knowledge that our exercise plan should change and adapt as our condition does.
If you’ve just been diagnosed and are facing treatment or surgery in the near future, then your goal may be to get as fit as possible before treatment begins. Finding an exercise routine which works within your lifestyle and interests can help to reconnect with your body, which could feel very foreign to you right now, and continuing with an existing exercise routine can be emotionally comforting in these early days post-diagnosis.
While undergoing chemo- or radio-therapy we need to always be aware of our health; if our white cell count is low and we’re prone to infection then swimming in a public pool may not be sensible. If your bone density is compromised by the drugs you’re taking then exercises with an increased risk of fractures should probably be avoided and instead we should seek out exercises such as walking or jogging which are known to increase our bone strength.
Post-surgery it is crucial to start gentle breathing and shoulder/arm exercises as soon as possible to prevent muscle stiffness and possible limitation on use of the limbs later on. Early and continuous exercise post-surgery can also contribute to reducing the development of lymphoedema. As the weeks pass we can gradually increase the intensity of these exercises (see links below), always working in consultation with our doctors and our bodies.
If undergoing reconstructive surgery however, it’s important to be aware that some swimming strokes may cause implants to shift, resulting in further surgeries.
We all know that keeping fit could help keep cancer at bay, think realistically about what kind of exercise works for you. Find an exercise buddy. Join an exercise group with other people with breast cancer. Or decide to relish the time alone. And try to make it fun – laughter is regarded as a form of exercise too!
How are you exercising these days, and would you have any recommendations to someone newly diagnosed and keen to stay fit?