I didn’t realize my body would feel so different.”
“I didn’t realize I would feel so tight.”
“After surgery I felt as though they shortened both my arms.”
“I was amazed at how difficult everyday tasks were - lifting plates from the dishwasher to the cupboard became a workout in itself.”
“I probably didn’t feel healthy until 18 months past my initial treatment (surgery).”
These are comments from breast cancer survivors I’ve met in the MovingOn program. It seems as though the big surprise waiting for us at the end of treatment is that it isn’t really over – the medicinal component is complete, but the lifestyle component is just shifting into gear. As a personal trainer and breast cancer survivor, I was ready to jump right back in to training as soon as my chemo ended. I never anticipated how uncomfortable I would be or how my body would feel.
I find that most of the survivors I meet think they are in the minority – they don’t even consider that there are other survivors who are experiencing the same challenges they are; instead they assume they did something wrong during treatment and that must be the reason they feel the way they do. Having experience as a survivor and a personal trainer I’m here to tell you that this is absolutely not the case! Almost every survivor I encounter has experienced their own version of discomfort, aches and pains. After surgeries and treatments most women have tightness in their chest muscles, back and neck pain and they are very concerned about moving their bodies because everything feels differently.
Let me give you a little of my background – I know you’re probably thinking that as a personal trainer I would know exactly what to do post-treatment. After having bi-lateral mastectomies, I had expanders put in my chest to make a new pocket for my implants. While the expanders were in, I hated the way they felt when I moved. I can only describe the feeling as putting a ping pong ball in a plastic cup, then every time you want to raise your arm out in front of you the cup would shake and the expander would move around. I am of course, aware that the expander wasn’t moving, I have a wonderful plastic surgeon that did a fantastic job on my reconstruction. What I’m referring to is how I felt with this new post-surgical, post-chemo body I was walking around in.
LaTefia Bailey is a breast cancer survivor and a physical therapist I met recently at a MovingOn class. I made the assumption that a physical therapist would surely understand and expect the outcome of the surgeries and treatments we faced. “Treatment really knocks you down. It’s a slow process, but as the weeks go on you feel stronger and more energized. But you also know you aren’t at 100%, you’re not where you were before cancer diagnosis. I have come so far, but I still have so far to go.” When I heard LaTefia express her experience with treatment, I felt validated. If you are reading this blog and you share in LaTefia’s, mine and the 2.5 million other breast cancer survivors out there - you are not alone. You can regain control and you will feel better.
As LaTefia expressed, “I set goals for myself, like I remember when I could finally reach my son’s dish in the top shelf of the cabinet. I can push this cart at Target and I’m not so tired when I leave. I keep reminding my self it’s only been a month, I have to give myself time. I didn’t receive treatment overnight and I won’t be healed over night”.
Here are some tips to consider before you start MovingOn:
- First and most important, make sure your doctor approves you starting an exercise program.
- Start slow. Most of the time, a cancer diagnosis slows us down. When treatment ends we want to jump right back in to life. Take it easy - remember to build in rest periods.
- Start at the beginning. Build/correct your foundation first. You wouldn’t rebuild a house by renovating the second floor first, would you? Start with posture, that’s your foundation. Sometimes just sitting up straight can make a huge difference in how you feel.
- Don’t discount flexibility and range of motion exercises. If you can’t stand up straight or bend over without feeling like you are going to tear something, you might not want to pick up any dumb bells yet.
- Once you have your foundation set (correct posture and sufficient range of motion), progress with bands for external resistance, then add the dumbbells and kettle bells and the like.
- If you choose to work with a fitness professional, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure they have experience working with health concerns/conditions similar to your own.
- If you want to take a class, but you aren’t sure if you are ready for it, speak with the instructor before class. I promise you, they will appreciate it and you will feel more at ease.
- Attend a MovingOn Rehabilitative Exercise Program. In the MovingOn program we’ll take care of all of the above!