Getting Back To Me

Cancer takes so much away from both patients and caregivers. A little over a month after my diagnosis, I had the first major surgery I have ever had in my life, and during that surgery, cancer took a portion of my left breast away from me. Once I started chemotherapy, little by little, the drugs and cancer began to take even more from me. Cancer took all of my hair, some of my toenails, it dried out my skin, it aged my face and body, it took my confidence, energy, health, and my overall well-being both mentally and physically.

When I heard from other cancer patients that it could take a year to two years to recover from fighting cancer, I didn’t believe them. Before cancer, I always thought that I was strong and doing reasonably well health-wise, other than having type two diabetes. I lost over 100 pounds a few years ago, and I had even discovered in October of 2018 that I was starting to enjoy running.

I am often asked if I had any signs that I had cancer before I found the first tumor during a self-exam in February 2019. Looking back, I did have symptoms, but I didn’t know it at the time. About one week before Christmas in 2018, I started a run, and five minutes in, I was out of breath and extremely fatigued. I was bothered that I couldn’t continue, but I just assumed that I was coming down with a bug or something, so I wrote it off and promised myself that I would get back to running as soon as I felt the energy to do so. When my husband and I went home to see my Dad for Christmas, I noticed that I felt even more exhausted than I had a few weeks earlier. It seemed like no matter how much sleep I got, it wasn’t enough, and the simplest task wore me out. Then a few weeks into January 2019, I woke up one day with my left shoulder blade, my shoulder, and the left side of my neck hurting. I thought that I had slept funny on that side and that it would work itself out in a few days; it didn’t stop hurting until I had my first surgery when all of the tumors were removed.

As I sit here two years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I am beyond thankful for so many things. Recently, I am most thankful for the fatigue I have been suffering from for so long, finally subsiding and helping me get back to me. I never really knew what real fatigue felt like until I had aggressive cancer and had to go through a rigorous schedule of scans, blood draws, surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments to save my life. But now, I am getting back to a regular schedule when it comes to working out, and with each workout, I feel better and better. Last night I ran 1.50 miles in 20 minutes, not bad for someone who has been through so much and hasn’t gone on a run in over 25 months! I am proud of myself and I am really enjoying working out again.

I am getting back to me, day by day…. 😁

Here’s Why Exercise Is Crucial in Preventing, Treating Cancer

I struggle with getting exercise into my daily routine not because I am too busy, but because I am still dealing with fatigue from over a year of fighting breast cancer. Everything about my journey has been exhausting both physically and mentally. Luckily I am on the other side of treatments and endless doctors appointments so my energy level is slowly improving. Most days I try to get some form of activity in, even if it is just cleaning part of the house or playing with my dog….it all counts and I make sure to remind myself of that.

Written by Matt Berger on October 20, 2019

Strength training two to three times a week along with aerobic exercise three times a week is recommended for cancer prevention.
  • A panel of experts has released guidelines stating that regular exercise can help prevent cancer as well as help people undergoing cancer treatment.
  • The experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week and strength training 2 to 3 times a week.
  • Experts say exercise can help prevent cancer by reducing inflammation, keeping weight under control, and boosting the immune system.

Kathryn Schmitz is seeking a paradigm shift.

Schmitz, a professor of public health specializing in cancer at Penn State University, thinks the perception of the ties between exercise and cancer is where the perception of the ties between exercise and heart health was decades ago.

Back then, she said, getting a patient out of bed and moving after a heart attack would be criticized. Today, the benefits of exercise to heart health and recovery are well known.

A similar consensus is emerging in the way the medical field thinks about cancer.

The latest sign in that shift came this week, with the publication of new guidelines that recommend physicians “prescribe” exercise in efforts to reduce the risk of certain cancers and improve the treatment outcomes and quality of life of those with the disease.

“Today if you asked someone with a dad with colon cancer if he should be exercising they’d probably either say no or they don’t know,” Schmitz told Healthline.

Schmitz co-chaired the roundtable — which included experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society, and 15 other groups — that put together the new guidance.

The gist of the guidance, published in three papers this week, is that exercise can contribute to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer.

The guidelines also state exercise can help improve survival rates for people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer — as well as the quality of life of those people in terms of reducing side effects of cancer treatment.

How much exercise?

The researchers recommend that people with cancer do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 3 times a week and strength training such as weights 2 to 3 times a week.

Schmitz said originally the researchers looking into that question sought to find out if there were specific “doses” of exercise that could be tailored to different people with cancer.

But the 30 minutes 3 times a week recommendation seemed to work pretty universally.

They still ended up with their goal of being able to “prescribe exercise like a drug,” Schmitz said. “Just turns out that it’s, say, 600 milligrams for everybody, if you will.”

In terms of cancer prevention, the recommended general physical activity guidelines are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

Schmitz says getting more tailored recommendations for cancer prevention is one of the remaining open questions that ongoing research hopes to help answer.

“We don’t know the exact, optimal dose of exercise needed for cancer prevention,” Alpa Patel, the American Cancer Society’s senior scientific director for epidemiology research, told Healthline. “But we know from the evidence to date that the more you do the better.”

Why exercise works

Patel, lead author of the paper that covered the prevention aspects of the new guidance, said how exactly exercise affects cancer prevention is severalfold.

That includes exercise’s effects on reducing inflammation, helping regulate blood sugar and sex hormones, and improving metabolism and immune function.

“Depending on the specific cancer, one or more of those mechanisms may be more important than the others,” he said. “So, for breast cancer, the benefits of exercise are really driven through the impact on sex hormones.”

“It can also affect cancer development or risk through reducing obesity, a risk factor for many cancers,” said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s panel on survivorship guidelines.

She told Healthline that the exact reasons why exercise affects certain cancers in different ways still needs additional research.

The current recommendations do vary a bit based on personal history, Denlinger noted. But, she said, “at this time, there is no one ‘best’ exercise — anything that gets you moving and active is good.”

She said further trials are under way to evaluate how and when exercise can affect cancer treatment.

The effort underway for Schmitz — through an initiative she started at the American College of Sports Medicine — is pushing to get oncologists to assess and advise cancer patients’ physical activity.

“This is an easy, cheap way to give patients less fatigue and a better quality of life,” she said.

Final Follow-up with My Surgeon

Mood: Accomplished 😊

I had my final follow-up appointment with my surgeon earlier this week. Both sides of my chest look good. During my surgery he stitched up my breasts from underneath a little bit so the implants would drop and settle without making my entire chest drop too much. During the first reconstruction surgery I had a breast lift so it was important that during the second reconstruction surgery, when he inserted my implants, that all the work he had done with my lift would not be ruined.

It has been 9 weeks since my surgery and my breasts are almost completely done dropping into a natural position. I am completely healed from surgery and cleared, no restrictions! It was important for me to get to the place where I am cleared with no restrictions because I have been having issues with a bulge on the side of my left breast, the side where the cancer was, that has been causing me some pain and discomfort since my first surgery over a year ago. The pain isn’t constant, but it is enough to bother me. I am feeling pain and pressure both when my arm is resting against the side of my breast and if I wear a bra for more than a few hours. With most of my clothes I don’t have to wear a bra anymore thanks to my reconstruction surgeries, but now I feel like I don’t have an option concerning wearing a bra or not due to the pain and discomfort.

During my last follow-up appointment with him we discussed this problem and it seemed like it might go away with time. He also stressed that it is difficult to operate due to pain, as he would be blind going in, not being able to actually see what is causing the problem. But since that appointment the pain and discomfort has only gotten worse so I mentioned it to him again this week during my appointment and we talked about it in more detail.

I asked him if he thought that the bulge was fat or tissue and he said that fat is tissue. So I asked if getting back to working out and maybe even lifting weights, now that I am cleared, would help give me some relief or even possibly get rid of the problem altogether. He said that it possibly could help and it was worth a try before falling back on having  another surgery that could fix the problem or not, no guarantees. So, we agreed to wait and see what happens once I am working out again and instead of making an appointment for three months out, the normal amount of time, we will see how I am doing in 7 weeks when I go back to see him after my mammogram in mid-August for my results.

In other news….here is a picture of what my hair looks like now! After 8 months of growth, I am a blonde again! 😁 I couldn’t deal with the dark/gray hair anymore…it was seriously depressing me!

8 Exercise Routines That Don’t Involve a Gym

A long time ago I had a gym membership with a friend of mine and eventually that friend stopped coming to the gym, even no showing our trainer. I kept my membership and continued to go to the gym but as soon as my membership was up I decided to find a way to workout at home. I have done a few of the suggestions below and I have found that a gym is not needed. Now with online classes both live and on demand and affordable home equipment, it is easy and convenient to workout at home. My workout schedule has been on and off over the past year due to extreme fatigue from treatments, generally not feeling well and having multiple surgeries. I intend on getting back to regular workouts soon and in the meantime I have been working on keeping my eating as healthy as possible so I am steadily losing weight. If I can do it, you can do it….there is always something you can do.

By Lorna Collier Last Updated: May 8, 2019

Skip the Gym and Get Fit at Home

You want to exercise, you really do, but it’s tough to fit a trip to the gym into your jam-packed daily schedule. Not to mention gym memberships can be expensive. Or it may be intimidating to think about working out next to pumped-up hard bodies if you’re just looking to stay fit. Whatever your reason, avoiding the gym doesn’t have to mean giving up exercise. Try these tips to reach your 30 minutes of daily activity outside of a fitness center. 

1. Video Workouts

Want to avoid spending money on fitness DVDs? Many local libraries have collections of workout videos you can check out for free. You can also buy used copies through online classifieds or garage sales. Streaming sites like YouTube or your cable’s on-demand service can also be budget-friendly sources of video workouts. Government agencies like the American Council on Exercise and the Centers for Disease Control also offer free online exercise videos. Seniors can get a free exercise DVD tailored to older participants from the National Institutes of Health. 

2. Exercise Videogames

Videogame platforms like the popular Wii Fit for Nintendo use technology to track your body’s movements, so you can play games like tennis or golf virtually, as well as ride bikes, box, and dance. One study showed that participants burned more calories playing Wii’s boxing module for 30 minutes than through brisk walking. Exer-games can be a fun way to stay fit at home, though you will need to use them regularly and with intensity. Along with the Nintendo Wii, you can find exer-games for PlayStation and Xbox, too. 

3. Home Gyms

These days, it’s possible to build your own home gym on any size budget. You can buy firsthand from sporting goods and fitness stores or score used equipment from garage sales, resale shops, or online resources like Craigslist. Friends or relatives also may want to find a new home for the treadmill that’s taking up dust in their basement, so let them know you’re looking. Many discount stores carry small exercise items, such as fitness balls, jump ropes, and resistance bands, making it convenient to complete your home gym on your weekly shopping runs.

4. DIY Equipment at Home

You don’t even necessarily have to buy equipment to exercise at home. Do you have stairs? Voila! You have a StairMaster. Want to do step training? You can swap out a pricey exercise step for a stepstool or sturdy chair. Large cans of food or 12 packs of soda make effective hand weights. Finally, use your own body as a weight, doing planks, push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, and balancing poses to increase strength and tone muscle. 

5. Mall Walking

Walking is the easiest, least expensive activity to fit into your day. If you want to get out of the house but don’t have anywhere outside that you’d like to walk, or if the weather is bad, consider becoming a mall walker. Some malls even open early to allow mall walkers to make their way through the halls, which is especially good if you want to avoid slower-moving crowds of shoppers. Keep in mind that for a workout, mall walking is more than just an excuse to window shop. Walk fast enough that singing would be difficult, but not so fast that you can’t talk. 

6. Household Chores

It can be hard to get to chores when you think of them as, well, chores. But as fitness boosters, they’re a sure thing. Vacuuming, scrubbing floors and walls, and many other household tasks can rev up your cardio system or challenge your muscles enough to help you get fit. Outdoor chores like gardening or sweeping the garage count, too. Just keep your mind open to possibilities as you go about your daily tasks and remember to do them energetically enough to break a sweat and get your heart pumping. 

7. Outdoor Clubs

Community clubs and activity groups offer a fun and social alternative to the gym. The Sierra Club, for example, has lists of local hikes, bicycling trips, and other outdoor activities you can join. Search online social sites like Meetup.com for groups and people near you who are interested in outdoor activities like walking, hiking and other outside-the-gym fitness pursuits. For a more intense outdoor workout, try boot camp programs in local parks run by trainers who can provide a gym-level workout outside a traditional gym. 

8. At-Home Personal Trainers

Certified personal trainers don’t only work with clients at gyms. They also make home visits and can design personal workout routines for you in the environment you prefer. You can check with your local fitness club for referrals, or visit personal training professional associations like the American Council on Exercise to find qualified trainers in your area.