I was diagnosed primary breast cancer on Valentine’s day 2017. No rose or a bottle of something nice. Just a “I’m sorry to say it’s cancer”. I’ve had better chat up lines I must say!
Breast cancer had always been on my radar. My mum and Aunty are both two-time survivors of the disease, so on my 40th birthday I received not a card, but a letter from the NHS inviting me for my very first mammogram. There’s a recurring theme here on what should be wonderful significant days!! It became obvious from my first few appointments that not only did I have big boobs (which of course I already knew), but in fact they were rather lumpy too. Not something I’d particularly noticed before. So, my big lumpy boobs and I started from this point onwards a regular love affair. Relatively constant caressing so that I became fully acquainted with what was normal for me.
Now, I have always been a bit of a ‘ploddy’ runner. I’m a good size 18, and at 5’11” tall I’m not built for speed. But I have always been able to go the distance once in gear. After purchasing a new sports bra back in Jan 2017, I was beyond excited to trial it on my runs. I have to say, that it was properly fitted by an independent lingerie boutique, so I knew it was a perfect fit, and on the day it was fitted (a Monday) my boobs were in banging condition! After a few runs that week all was good. On the Friday however everything changed. I removed the bra ready for a bath, and that’s when I noticed an area of reddened skin over the top of my left breast, with an area of thickened tissue below.
Fast forward through weeks of anxiety-filled doctor and hospital appointments, my diagnosis was confirmed. Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. I rattled through six months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiotherapy with my big-girl-positive-pants on. And what became absolutely apparent throughout all of this, was just how much keeping physically active was vital to my physical and mental health. I walked as often as I could for the simple pleasure of being active. Fresh air and a good stretch of the limbs did wonders. As soon as I’d had my surgery in the September, I was back out walking again the following week. I couldn’t bare the thought of being cooped up, and it was also a way of gaining back some control. I knew I couldn’t control the cancer or my treatment plan. But I could now start to put some positive energy back into my bones!
However, being an incredibly impatient person, I only waited another two weeks before the trainers were on and I was running again. And I have continued ever since. In March this year I was able to complete a 10k race that I had to pull out of last year to start my chemotherapy. It was unfinished business.
After finishing active treatment, I had the opportunity to take part in a local Pink Ribbon funded Pilates course. Six weeks of mind and body connection, helping me to regain strength and full mobility post-surgery, as well as to prevent lymphoedema because I’d also had a full node clearance. I have since been thrown into a medically induced menopause, so Pilates helps improve my strength to help with the simple tasks of sitting and standing up, not least because now my joints are squeaky, but it (along with running) will also help to prevent osteoporosis.
And that’s when it clicked. Just how absolutely vital the running and now Pilates had become. They were and still are part of a new sustainable lifestyle I have had to create going forward. So much so that I am now training to become a Pilates teacher, with a view to offering classes for people with or beyond cancer to help keep them active. I have also brought the national community initiative called 5k Your way to Lincoln (www.5kyourway.org). This is a project that encourages those being treated for or after cancer to take part in their local parkrun on the last Saturday of every month. Exercise has enormous benefits for people living with or beyond cancer. It can help reduce fatigue, maintain muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness, it may reduce side effects from chemotherapy, and may also reduce risk of recurrence and prolong survival. But the biggest impact of all is that it improves psychological well-being. And to navigate your way through treatment for cancer requires all the positive mind set you can muster.
My advice to others if they ever find themselves having to plod this road is simple:
- Take the time to focus on you. Your body. Your mind. This is KEY.
- A short walk a day does wonders for the soul. Fresh air can help to recharge and reset the mind. I promise you will feel so much better for it.
- If you were a previous exercise junkie before treatment, regress from your usual routine but stick with doing what you can. You know your body. Keep within a safe range, but the simple act of being active will stand you in good stead.
- Post-surgery Pilates is a must. If not through Pink Ribbon, then one that can accommodate your needs. Amongst many other things, Pilates will help achieve strength to carry out daily functional movements and improve your range of movement around areas of scar tissue.
I for one know that keeping active has become a part of my life forever. It’s not about running the fastest, or being the strongest. Its about creating and maintaining a new body that is fit for purpose. Create some time, your space, and work at your pace.
“Change happens through movement and movement heals” – Joseph Pilates.
Cath has a Facebook page @justbeandbecome for women in Lincolnshire living with or beyond any type of cancer who meet every two weeks. Everyone is welcome – just get in touch. And if you’re based near Lincoln and interested in taking part in the Lincoln 5k Your Way run (or just finding out more about it) you can check out their Facebook page.