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Body Strength, Body Image: Cancer Survivor Helps Others Build Both

A Cranford resident leads exercise programs for fellow breast cancer survivors in Scotch Plains, Fanwood and surrounding communities.

Lockey Maisonneuve says she never considered herself especially pretty, until, that is, she survived stage-three breast cancer and found a strength that has made her feel a sense of beauty that has gone far beyond her physical appearance.

Maisonneuve, a Cranford resident, has since made it her mission to share this strength and self-worth with other breast cancer survivors through a special exercise program called "Moving On," which she developed by combining her experiences as a personal trainer and a cancer survivor who has moved beyond the toughest year of her life.

Maisonneuve is a certified personal trainer through the National Association of Sports Medicine and a cancer exercise specialist through the Cancer Exercise Training Institute. She also serves on the Community Advisory Board for the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital in Summit.  

Maisonneuve demonstrated her exercise program recently at a Breast Cancer Support Group held at the  in Scotch Plains. The support group is one of many wellness programs coordinated through Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Community Education in Rahway.

The exercises include neck and shoulder rolls, head turns and other movements, ones that she has named “The Monkey Stretch,” “The Butterfly” and "The Vaudeville.”

“Most women who have undergone radiation and surgery are afraid to move because everything feels different, but the reality is, if you don’t start to move your body again and use it, you will never feel better,” Maisonneuve said as she addressed the support group. “You will begin to feel stronger, and you will increase your range of motion and that is very empowering."

Maisonneuve discovered that she had breast cancer in August 2006, when a sonogram led to what was then a devastating revelation.

“I was technically diagnosed in the reception area of the imaging center. I went in for the sonogram, they put the gel on me and began to conduct the test. The technician then walked out of the room, quickly came back in and told me to get dressed and to go home and call my doctor,” Maisonneuve said.

When Maisonneuve walked out into the reception area, she said several technicians were huddled together examining a film. She heard someone say, “Here she comes.”

“They acted like children who had been caught doing something wrong. I then asked, what is going on? Could you please tell me what’s going on?”

In front of a room full of people, the technician who had performed the sonogram told Maisonneuve, “'Honey, you’ve got cancer.'”

Maisonneuve said she was thunderstruck. “I went outside and cried for 20 minutes," she said. "Then I called my closest friend in the world and then I felt like I was really going to break down because suddenly it was very real." 

Her next thought: “After everything I’ve been through in my life, I can’t believe I’m going to die this way.”

Soon, however, Maisonneuve's shock gave way to inspiration and motivation – a drive to survive. “Something took over. I remembered thinking, I have got to get through this because I have two children to raise,” she said.

The ensuing months were difficult. Maisonneuve underwent radiation treatments, chemotherapy a radical mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

Her treatment and recovery have proven successful, she said, thanks to her team of doctors at Overlook Hospital, including surgeon Dr. Dianna Addis, oncologist Dr. Bonnie Guerin and plastic surgeon Dr. James Gardener.

It was Addis who told Maisonneuve at the time of her diagnosis that if it weren’t for advances made in cancer treatment during the last four or five years, stage-three breast cancer would be considered a terminal illness.

“I remember she said to me, ‘This is going to be an ugly year for you. It’s going to be an ugly bump in the road,’" Maisonneuve said. "But I knew at that moment that I was going to survive."

Nevertheless, the challenges were immense. For Maisonneuve's first chemotherapy treatment, “I didn’t want my husband to accompany me, I felt like I had to do this on my own," she said. "The nurse was about to insert the port and suddenly the reality that I was about to go through chemotherapy hit me.... It was at that point I very politely said, 'Thank you very much,' and then I said, 'Could you excuse me for a minute?' And I walked into the bathroom and began to cry hysterically. All I could think of is, 'I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe that my body gave out on me and I can’t rely on it anymore.'”

Then, as quickly as the emotional storm had appeared, it disappeared.

“I then walked back into the room. I was calm. The nurse said, 'Are you ready?' And I said, 'Yes I’m ready.'”

Through her treatments, Maisonneuve said she found a strength she never knew she had, one that radically altered her self-image. “I never really felt pretty until the last two years of my life," she said. "I always found fault with myself. My hair was not right. There was always something out of place. Now I think feel more attractive because I am more appreciative of what I do have and I’ve proven to myself that I’m a strong person."

It is this view that Maisonneuve said she wants to share with as many women as possible with her MovingOn program. “If I could do anything I wanted, I would give as many seminars as possible and reach as many women as I can. I want to help women who are afraid to move their bodies feel good again, and truly help them to move on.”

Maisonneuve leads classes at the Fanwood-Scotch Plains and Berkeley Heights YMCAs. She will also lead a class at the Summit Medical Group. For more information her website at: http://www.movingonfromcancer.com

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