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Ann's Story: Navigating the Path through Treatment and Recovery - Exercising Through Cancer

The journey through cancer treatment is a profound challenge, affecting every facet of life. Among the multitude of advice for managing this difficult period, one recommendation may stand out for its multifaceted benefits: exercising. While it might seem counterintuitive to move more when energy levels are at an all-time low, research consistently highlights the positive impact of exercise for those undergoing cancer treatments. Ann tells her story on how she coped with the news and we offer some advice on how staying active can be a valuable ally in the battle against cancer.

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Ann's Story

''When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was like the bottom just fell out of my world. The dreaded 'C' word, one of the most feared illnesses around. I felt scared and overwhelmed at the thought of what I must face, angry too, it seemed unfair when I was in the best shape of my life at 52, I ate healthily & exercised regularly.

Once I was over the initial shock, I realised it was the one thing that was on my side, I was going into it fit and strong, and a strong body can better withstand treatment. It was the one thing that helped me stay positive. So I stayed weight training with Leonard and Thomas until the day before my surgery. I felt ready and prepared.

After the surgery, I recovered quickly, I waited the 6 weeks to give my body time to heal and after consulting with a cancer physio, I was ready to start training again, and my trainers worked with me starting slow and with lighter weights we built my strength back up. Subsequently when it came time to start radiotherapy I was again feeling strong and positive, which you need to be, as radiotherapy is hard on the body and mind.

With the help of family and friends, who drove me up and down to Cork every day for 3 weeks, not only did I get through the radiotherapy with only a few side effects I managed to stay training a couple of times a week. This helped immensely, not only physically, but it gave me something to focus on while going through the treatment. I think it's very easy to get into a negative mindset when you're ill, especially when you're facing something like cancer.

Staying training in the gym helped me feel better, I believe it helped me heal and recover faster and cope better with the side effects of treatment, and it also helped me keep up my energy and strength. I'm not saying it was easy, because it wasn't, but I had lots of support from my family and my friends and great trainers behind me to help. I'm still recovering mentally and physically, I take it one day at a time, but one thing I can say for sure is that staying positive and active helped me recover quicker. I am thankful to be on the other side of it''

Whatever you're facing in life, don't ever give up!!!

The Power of Movement: Physical Benefits

Engaging in physical activity during cancer treatment can offer significant physiological advantages:

  1. Improved Physical Functioning: Regular exercise helps maintain muscle mass and strength, reducing the risk of atrophy due to inactivity.

  2. Enhanced Treatment Efficacy: Some studies suggest that exercise might improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy by increasing blood flow, potentially bringing more of the treatment to the tumor site.

  3. Reduced Side Effects: Activities like walking or gentle stretching can alleviate some of the side effects of treatments, such as fatigue and nausea.

  4. Better Immune Function: Moderate exercise can boost the immune system, which can be compromised during cancer treatment.

  5. Bone Health Preservation: Weight-bearing exercises can help mitigate bone density loss associated with certain cancer treatments.

Cultivating Resilience: Mental and Emotional Benefits

The psychological impact of cancer diagnosis and treatment is well-documented. Exercise serves as a powerful tool for mental health:

  1. Stress Reduction: Physical activity leads to the release of endorphins, natural mood lifters that can also act as natural painkillers.

  2. Improved Mood: Exercise has been shown to lower symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common among cancer patients.

  3. Cognitive Clarity: Regular movement can help combat cancer-related cognitive changes, sometimes known as "chemo brain," improving focus and memory.

  4. Empowerment: Taking an active role in one’s health can foster a sense of control and empowerment.

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Social Connection and Support

Joining exercise groups or participating in physical therapy can also provide social benefits:

  1. Community Building: Being part of a group or class helps build a support network of individuals who understand the cancer journey.

  2. Shared Experience: Group exercise offers the chance to share experiences and tips with others in similar situations.

Tailoring the Exercise to the Individual

It's important to note that exercise regimens should be tailored to each individual’s capabilities and limitations:

  1. Personalization: The type and intensity of exercise should be adjusted based on the individual's current fitness level, the type of cancer, and the treatment phase.

  2. Professional Guidance: Working with a physiotherapist , an exercise oncologist and personal trainer can ensure that the exercise plan is safe and effective.

  3. Listening to the Body: It's crucial to listen to the body's signals and respect its limits. On some days, this might mean gentle stretches instead of a walk or light resistance training.

Starting the Exercise Journey

For those looking to incorporate exercise into their cancer treatment plan, here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Consult with Healthcare Providers: Before starting any exercise program, it’s essential to talk with oncologists and healthcare teams.

  2. Set Realistic Goals: Start small and gradually increase activity as tolerated.

  3. Incorporate Variety: Mixing different types of exercises can keep the routine interesting and work different muscle groups.

  4. Seek Support: Consider joining an exercise program to stay motivated.

FAQs About Exercising During Cancer Treatments

Q: Is it safe to exercise during cancer treatments?

A: While exercise is generally safe for many cancer patients, it's crucial to consult with your healthcare team before starting any new exercise regimen. The safety and appropriateness of exercise can vary based on individual health status, the type of cancer, and the treatment plan.

Q: What types of exercise are recommended for those undergoing cancer treatments?

A: The type of exercise recommended can vary greatly depending on individual circumstances. Generally, a mix of cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, and balance exercises, tailored to the individual's capacity and adjusted as needed, can be beneficial. Always get approval from your healthcare provider first.

Q: How can I start exercising if I’ve never been active before?

A: Start slowly and prioritize consistency over intensity. Gentle activities like walking, light stretching, or personal training can be good starting points. Work with a healthcare professional to create a plan that is safe and effective for you.

Q: Can exercise reduce the side effects of cancer treatments?

A: Yes, exercise has been shown to help manage side effects like fatigue, depression, and muscle loss. However, each individual’s experience can vary, so it’s important to tailor the exercise program to your unique needs.

Q: How often should I exercise during treatments?

A: The frequency of exercise will depend on your current health status and how you’re feeling. Some patients may be able to handle light exercise most days of the week, while others may need more rest. Consult with your healthcare team to determine the right balance for you.

Q: Should I exercise if I’m feeling fatigued from my treatments?

A: Light to moderate exercise might actually help improve your energy levels. However, it’s essential to listen to your body and rest when necessary. Speak with your healthcare provider to understand what level of activity is appropriate for you.

Q: Can working out help me cope with the emotional stress of cancer treatments?

A: Many people find that exercise helps improve their mood and reduce stress. The endorphin release during physical activity can be a natural mood booster.

Disclaimer: Please note that we are not cancer specialists, and the advice we provide is based on our experience working with clients who have undergone cancer treatments. We always seek guidance from our clients’ doctors or physiotherapists when designing exercise plans to ensure they are safe and appropriate. Exercise should complement the treatment plan set by your medical team, and should never replace medical advice or treatments prescribed by healthcare professionals.

In conclusion, while cancer treatments are an undoubtedly challenging ordeal, incorporating exercise can provide a wealth of benefits that bolster physical health, fortify mental well-being, and nurture social connections. With proper guidance and a personalized approach, exercise can be a therapeutic cornerstone in the journey toward recovery.


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