Welcome to all of the beautiful women fighting (and beating) breast cancer! Journey to Wellness LLC is the culmination of my imaginings during the past 18 months following my own diagnosis. This website is created so that we can share experiences, insights and information regarding fitness, nutrition and ways to continue to feel and look well throughout our journeys with breast cancer.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

It goes without saying that having breast cancer sucks!!! That being said, there just may be another way to look at it.

While receiving a cancer diagnosis brings with it a long list of obvious negatives, positive things really can come from it. Speaking to other cancer survivors, I have come to understand that, even while facing the most difficult time in their lives, people can learn valuable lessons and experience wonderful things. This means different things for different people, but for me, it was a realization that I could bring breast cancer survivors the message about the importance of exercise and healthy eating. Trite as it sounds, this post is my version of “making lemonade out of lemons.”

It wasn't immediately obvious to me that the period of time during which I was undergoing surgery and treatment was a time when I could focus on fitness. However, early on in my treatment process, I met a woman in the waiting room of my oncologist's office who was three years past her own diagnosis and treatment. I was anxious about what lay ahead for me, and she perceptively recognized my anxiety. During our conversation, she said something that I thought odd at the time, but upon reflection, it now makes a lot of sense to me. In many ways it helped to form my own perspective about how to view and handle the many months of treatment in store for me, in a positive way.

The woman in the waiting room with me explained that, when she looked back at the year in which she had undergone surgery and chemo, she was almost wistful. It was not that she missed the fear, pain and accompanying side effects of treatment; rather, she missed all of the time she had to focus on - and indeed take of - herself. She went on to say that, for the first time in her adult life, she had time to devote to herself. She read books and magazines, made dates to see old friends, and treated herself to spa treatments and other little niceties, all without feeling guilty. Although I did not realize it at the time, this is where the beginnings of my own approach were formed.

As women, we are often focused on the others in our lives, and put their well-being before our own. A breast cancer diagnosis switches the focus from jobs, husbands, children, etc., to ourselves. We are forced to prioritize and must put our effort to defeat this disease at the very top of our to-do lists.

After addressing all of my medical needs, I began to think of how I could best utilize the “extra” time I now had in my day. Health and fitness had always been a priority for me, but, as a working mother of three, I found that there certainly were times when it was hard to keep to a schedule that included my own workouts. Healthy eating also sometimes took a back seat to preparing foods that my children and husband preferred. With schedules that included sports practices, music lessons, school activities and the like, meals were often grabbed on the go, and were not as nutritious as they should be.

Keeping the comments of the woman from my oncologist's office in mind, I realized that I could use the time following my diagnosis to restore myself to a level of fitness with which I could be happy. Despite the havoc wreaked upon my body from surgeries, chemo and hormone therapy, I decided that I would make consistent efforts to exercise and focus on eating a clean and nutritious diet (with the occasional exception for animal crackers, for which I had developed an unexpected craving).

As soon as I was given medical clearance after each surgical procedure, I would return to the gym and slowly (beginning by walking at a slow pace on a treadmill 20 to 30 minutes daily) work towards improving my stamina. Using light weights and some yoga for flexibility, I had to alter my former workout routine to accommodate my new body and its limitations. There was some trial and error in my method, but eventually I was able to design a workout that allowed me to progressively increase my endurance, strength and flexibility.

There were certainly times (especially during chemo) during which I was not as energetic and enthused about exercising, but I always knew that, if I continued to push myself, there would be dividends in the end. I focused on what my body could do, not what it couldn't. Being able to set and achieve small goals (e.g., walking five minutes longer, graduating to a spin bike, lifting slightly heavier weights, etc.) reminded me that my body was healing and functioning. I am happy to say that now, approximately 18 months after my diagnosis, I feel exceptionally well and am satisfied with the level of fitness I have achieved. I am certain that I could not have said that, had I not been dedicated to the exercise and nutrition program that I followed throughout the course of my journey.

Along the way, I was lucky to meet some incredible people (both patients and medical professionals) who encouraged me to pursue helping other women with breast cancer to feel well throughout their own journeys. To this end, I have designed my in-home Journey to Wellness exercise studio, where I can help women on a one-on-one basis, and have also been teaching an exercise class for cancer survivors twice a week at a local community center. I continue to look for ways to bring health and wellness to others and hope to inspire people to stay fit and strong, even as they face the challenges of cancer and cancer treatment.

If you keep an open mind about exercise and nutrition as you recover, you may be surprised to find how much you can empower yourself and enhance your feeling of well-being during these difficult times.

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