PUBLISHED ON: 16 January 2019

Sara, Rebecca and Della talk about their relationship with exercise throughout and beyond their breast cancer treatment.

Sara and her family

Sara: I felt physically and mentally better

Sara shares how gentle exercise helped her while she was going through her treatment.

Everyone told me exercise would help

I was told that a little gentle exercise would help me during my treatment. Exercise when you have the energy of a zombie? Exercise when you want to curl up under the duvet for a year? Exercise when your tears won’t stop? Yes. Yes. Yes.

My husband told me. The oncologist told me. The chemo nurses told me. All the help websites told me.

I built up my strength

I did not feel like doing any exercise. But I tied up my trainer laces, peeled myself off the sofa and went for a gentle walk. This became a gentle walk a couple of times a day. No more than 10–15 minutes on my bad days, but longer and longer on my good days.

It really did help me. I felt physically better. And I felt mentally better.

We are all different

Some people try to carry on with their pre-diagnosis exercise regime as much as they can. But we are all different when it comes to energy levels and exercising during treatment.

The benefits of exercise were huge for me: the fresh air, seeing people, having a change of scene, getting out of the house and realising that even though you are feeling awful, life carries on as normal.

Rebecca at the top of Snowdon

Rebecca: It’s important to listen to your body

Rebecca shares how exercise helped her manage her fatigue after her breast cancer treatment.

Being active helped with my fatigue

After radiotherapy I was put on Zoladex and tamoxifen for 10 years. At first the hot flushes were really bad, and then fatigue hit.

I had been seeing a physiotherapist throughout my treatment, who recommended physical activity to help with the fatigue. The idea of getting up and being active when you're exhausted is the last thing you want to do! But the more I persevered, the more it helped.

If I was feeling tired from fatigue and went for a lie down, it often made me feel worse, whereas if I pushed myself to go outside or run up the stairs, I felt more energised.

Exercise can be daunting

I was extremely fit before I was diagnosed, but even for me it was a struggle getting back into anything after treatment. Chemotherapy particularly affected me.

It can be scary getting back into exercise, or starting for the first time, but it's easier than it seems. Sometimes you don't even realise you're doing it, like walking the dog or taking the stairs instead of the lift.

Don’t push yourself

I wanted to rush back into running, but my physio advised me to take it easy.

The key piece of advice I got was not to do anything more than 60% of what you're used to. I was desperate to turn up the dial when I felt I was getting better, but that would have sent me back again.

It's vital to listen to your body and not push yourself too far.

Della in the gym

Della: I found what motivates me

Della explains how exercise helped her regain confidence and feel better once her treatment finished.

I wanted to take care of myself

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to do my best to take care of myself.

Going to the gym during treatment wasn’t an option because I was too tired. It took me about three to four years after treatment to really start looking after myself and start going to the gym.

I do what I enjoy

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 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!’

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.

Take one day at a time

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

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. 

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