Live your life and still be yourself

This year, I hit the three-year mark of saying I am a three-year survivor. Every year is a milestone to commemorate. When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer or any type of cancer, it can be hard to think of the future. With each year, I like to celebrate by committing to future goals and dreams as well as looking back and reflecting on all that I have overcome.

Returning back to teach my FLexercise classes was scary at first, but at the same time a real tonic. The support and camaraderie shown to me from my class members certainly gave me a huge boost and helped me take back control. As the weeks passed it was noticeable how my overall strength and range of motion in my shoulder joint improved. So, for me continuing with an exercise regime has been vital to my recovery, making me feel normal and less anxious.

A good exercise programme will help reduce the side effects of surgery and treatments

Exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind after a cancer diagnosis. Even, if you have never been active, exercise can become a favourite activity. Some cancer survivors will need to exercise under supervision and even if supervision isn’t needed, finding a suitable program, either individual or in a small group will help most achieve their goals.

For many women, one sided mastectomy or minor breast surgery can have adverse side effects on posture, balance and the musculoskeletal system. Uneven distribution of the load on the operated side compared to the side where the breast was preserved can place the spine out of alignment. When this happens the body’s centre of gravity is shifted to the side where the load is greater.

This was something I experienced, I noticed a tendency to lean to one side which affected my posture, I couldn’t blame the occasional glass of wine! This was a combination of misalignment in my spine causing my shoulder to drop on one side. It was only by catching my reflection in the mirror that alerted me to the fact.

As an aid to help correct my posture, a physio recommended sticking a small orange spot sticker on the centre of my watch face. This was a great tip to ensure I frequently checked and corrected my posture! It was also a gentle reminder to persevere with the exercise below.

One great tip!

Recovery is all about learning, growing and retraining your brain. Don’t give up!

What should an exercise program include?

Before beginning any exercise program, it is important to receive medical clearance. Always start slowly with any new exercise regime.

An exercise routine should include strength training, stretching, posture and balance exercises.

What you can do at home?

Many women experience shoulder/mobility issues, like myself. Shoulder pain and stiffness are very common after breast surgery and radiation therapy. Exercises are given, but if not performed regularly to help regain usual range of motion, more stiffness or even frozen shoulder and rotator cuff issues can result. Try some of these recommended exercises from Breast Cancer Now.

Rehabilitative programs, should not only focus on the recovery of upper limb function but as mentioned also include exercises for realignment of the trunk and exercises for improving postural control. Read our blog on posture which gives you sound advice on checking your posture.

Benefits of strength and resistance exercise

Strength exercises (also called resistance exercises) make you muscles work harder by adding weight or resistance to a movement. Strength exercises can help fix muscle imbalance or weakness after breast surgery. Strengthening bones, improving balance and posture, will no doubt boost quality of life by making chores, such as carrying groceries and recreation, playing with children and grandchildren easier and more enjoyable.

Some examples of resistance exercise:

  • Free weights such as dumbbells
  • Resistance bands of varying length and tension that you flex using your arms and legs
  • Exercises that use your body weight or create resistance against gravit

What can you do at home?

  • Cans of soup or baked beans are as good as any free weights
  • Sit on a chair raising and lowering your legs. Standing up and down. Remember to pull in those abdominal muscles.
  • Use the back of a chair and do some balance work standing on one leg at a time for 10 seconds slowly removing one and then both hands.

It’s important to remember that everyone is different and some of these exercises may not be right for everyone. If you’re at risk of lymphoedema, always check before starting a strength-training workout.

And finally

I hope by sharing my story it will help you realise it is possible to regain your life and in lots of ways be stronger, happier and heathier.

Participating in any type of exercise program will help to give a sense of control and accomplishment.

Above all take your time and build up your activity levels gradually. Listen to your body.