I wrote this in October 2010
I didn’t sign up for breast cancer. I think it’s true to say that nobody does! But you play the hand you’re dealt and I’m looking forward to the day I’m properly fit (by my definition, not that of others). Then I can look back and say what I already believe; that the whole experience was just a nasty blip in an otherwise privileged life. I’m grateful to the British National Health Service (NHS) for giving me treatments that cost tens of thousands of pounds and in so doing saving my life, but have come to the conclusion that so much more could have been done – without spending any more of the British public’s money – had the practitioners treating me taken seriously what I said. It’s a hard, hard slog and I’m writing this series in the hope that others going through similar challenges can benefit from what I’ve learned and am still learning.
|Directly after the mastectomy - look, I still had hair|
My life, hobbies, self-image and work revolve around activities that require me to be super-fit, healthy, resilient and strong. This enviable lifestyle has taken years to attain and I’ve no intention of sacrificing it after having gone through such hellish treatment to rid my body of the disease. Getting back is not easy, and is made unnecessarily frustrating and complicated by the lack of good quality information available for those recovering from cancer who are determined to regain their sporting lifestyle. This is made more challenging because it doesn’t take long before, while scouring the internet, trying to divine truth and science from hearsay and anecdote, that we come across the more depressing side of the disease. It was this negative side of the research that made me decide I’d be better off working things out for myself, reading books and asking questions of those with good knowledge that I’ve managed to find until such time that I can read about symptoms, side effects and possibilities without worrying for myself. Such experiences must be all too common for those in my position, which is why I’m sharing what I’ve learned here.
If I did what people said, I'd never get training
Training is hard. It’s no consolation to hear that others are nowhere near as badly affected by the externally imposed chemical menopause as I. While it has definitely decreased over the last twelve months, the onslaught of what those who have not experienced think of as ‘hot sweats’ is hard enough to contend with when you’re not exercising and a real challenge to manage when you are. At first I found it difficult to know whether to stop exercising completely when the waves of post-chemo illness enveloped me, or whether I should teach myself to work right through them. Directly after chemo I had no choice as I was too tired, too ill and too weak to do anything other than stop. Now; a year later, I’m inclined towards the latter. If I stopped every time I felt ill I’d get nothing done - and most days wouldn't even get up - and although I expect the ill feelings to disappear over the next 6-8 months* I’ve networked with women whose recovery has taken years so have decided to continue on the path back towards the super-fitness irrespective of when my own symptoms finally stop.
After chemotherapy finding the energy to train isn't easy
But that’s by no means the only challenge. Even to approach my target fitness level I must find the time and energy to train several times a week. Chemotherapy killed pretty much every new cell in my body for six hard months. That means I have to rebuild cell walls, the layers of skin on my body, redevelop an immune system, regrow muscle fibres and more. Months after chemo I had absolutely no reserves and when I was tired nothing worked. There was no second wind and no reserve muscular strength on which to call. My gym experience didn’t so much involve weight training to failure as being unable to lift the weights at all! It’s only now, a year later, that I’m beginning to reach a fraction of my pre-chemo strength. My workouts are still less a matter of pushing the barriers than of frustratingly unremitting hard graft.
But weight training is good for everyone
Research has determined that weight training is good even for those women who don’t want to return to a super-sporty life. In 2006 the University of Minnesota published a paper determining that weight training gives double the benefits of aerobic exercise, and NACER.org lists a number of research papers demonstrating the same thing.
*I still feel ill regularly and am really annoyed that I could have been so mislead