PUBLISHED ON: 15 January 2019

Della was shocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She explains how exercise helped her regain confidence and feel better after treatment finished.

Woman exercising at the gym

My diagnosis came as a great shock

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and it came as a great shock to me. I didn’t really know much about cancer as it’s a taboo subject in my community. I had never heard a black person in my community come out openly and say, ‘I was diagnosed with cancer.’

Also, in the media, I feel like you mostly see white people when they talk about cancer, so I thought, ‘Oh we don’t get cancer, it’s only other people.’ I wasn’t fearful when I was diagnosed however, as I got information from health professionals and knew I was in good hands.

I wanted to educate others about breast cancer

After I was diagnosed, I wanted to go to the places I was signposted to and find out about how I could take care of myself. I also started questioning why black women don’t talk about breast cancer more.

So my journey became about learning how to look after myself, get well, and to start educating people in my community that there's life after a cancer diagnosis and that you’re not alone.

My support group could share my pain

I went to a support group to talk to other people so I could learn from their experiences. The support group could share in my pain and acknowledge what I was going through.

Support groups are another thing that my community don’t often go to, so I try to encourage others to explore their options. Someone I knew once said ‘Oh, support groups just drink tea!’ so I try to help reframe those perceptions.

I wondered what I had done wrong

During treatment, there were times I felt down and thought ‘why did this happen to me, what have I done wrong?’

When I started exploring my support options, I realised that there’s nothing I had done to make breast cancer happen to me. It helped me get out of that mentality. I also looked at other people who had gone through it before and could see that they were living well and that there's life after breast cancer.

It took me a while, but I look forward to exercise now

Woman stretching at the gym

One of the support places I went to after my diagnosis was Penny Brohn, to find out about a holistic approach to wellbeing. However, it took me about three to four years after treatment to really start looking after myself and start going to the gym.

Going to the gym during treatment wasn’t an option because I was too tired, but I look forward to going to the gym now and the goodness I receive from exercise. I feel like I’m catching up on what I was missing out on! I feel so much more energised.

I feel good about myself

I do what I get enjoyment out of, like swimming and aqua-aerobics. Now I look at myself and can say, ‘You feel good, and you look good!’

Exercise doesn’t always come easy during, or straight after treatment, and it’s OK if it takes you a while to feel ready.

I found what motivates me

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to do my best to take care of myself. I had my BMI (body mass index) taken, and that was a kind of push for me to do something. I was given the option of going to a few health centres but found it difficult with work. I ended up taking a few trials at different gyms and decided to join one.

Now every three months at my gym they check my BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure, and that’s a good motivation to keep taking care of myself. When there are improvements, it makes me feel like I’m getting something done. Exercise also makes me feel good. It took me a while to get into it, but now I wouldn’t give up exercise for anything.

Exercise should be something you love doing

My advice to people who are getting started with exercise after treatment is to take one step at a time, and to do something you like doing. If you enjoy what you’re doing and it makes you feel good, you’re more likely to keep with it.

I’d also suggest starting off with something gentle, like going for a walk, or getting in the pool. Take one day at a time. I’ve tried lots of different activities, but I really enjoy dancing, aerobics and swimming, and anything with music. Music lifts my spirits and helps me a lot while I’m exercising.

I have my down days with exercise, but that’s OK

I have my down days where I don’t feel like exercising, but I try not to take life too seriously and not to be too hard on myself when this happens. To stay motivated, it helps me to read other people's stories who've been through what I’ve been through. I also see life after breast cancer treatment as a ‘second life’ for me, where I can do things better for myself. That keeps me going.

Challenge yourself to a Pink Ribbon Walk and show your support with every step for everyone affected by breast cancer.

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