Social Support & Exercise
Each, on its own, is so powerful and necessary after a cancer diagnosis.
Put them together, and … Wow! It’s a powerful combination.
I’ve been working on marrying social support and fitness for almost five years, since my friend Ilana and I first sat down to better understand exercise after cancer. Based on our own cancer journeys, we sought meaningful ways to help other women with cancer reap the benefits of exercise and social support that we had experienced ourselves. Voila: 2Unstoppable was born!
But it was last weekend, almost five years later, when I arrived at a 2Unstoppable Walk-n-Talk, that the power of this combination, for the cancer community, really, truly hit me.
I had just endured one of those “cancer scares” – a routine follow-up appointment with my surgeon, which led to yet another MRI, with the urgent instruction to “do it sooner rather than later”. That’s all it takes to send me to that place, the paralyzing scanxiety that so many cancer survivors know all too well. The waiting. The fear. The 0-to-60 thinking. The desperate seeking of an explanation – to create order out of the chaos in my mind. The questions: What did I miss? Should I have gone in sooner? What is this test going to show? Is this the one?
We all go there, and it never (really) gets any easier.
I made it through the scan, the waiting, and the phone call. The results – this time – benign.
After I got my results on a Friday afternoon, I couldn’t wait to be with fellow 2Unstoppable members at our Saturday morning Walk-n-Talk. To be with women who get it. Who understand what the past few days had been like. And to move with them, to feel normal, to feel empowered, to release the tension and anxiety that had – literally – taken over my life for two days.
I realized then the true power of social support and exercise. Movement and Connection.
It’s a reciprocal relationship in every way. It’s the social support and accountability that got me out walking that day (I was exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on and could have easily curled up in bed) and it was the physical activity that opened me up to connect further with the other women. In her book, the Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal posits that “regular exercise may lower your threshold for feeling connected to others – allowing for more spontaneous feelings of closeness, companionship, and belonging, whether with family, friends, or strangers.” Further, “the link between physical activity and social connections offers a compelling reason to be active. It also serves as an important reminder that we humans need one another to thrive.”
We sure do.
Michelle Stravitz is the co-founder of 2Unstoppable, a Sharsheret partner resource and a non-profit organization which helps women with a cancer diagnosis incorporate exercise into their lives. Michelle was diagnosed with stage 2 Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in June 2015 and serves as a Sharsheret peer supporter. For more information about 2Unstoppable, please visit www.2unstoppable.org.