“You had me at fatigue.”
When I was undergoing chemotherapy for Triple Negative Breast Cancer three years ago, my oncologist was clear with me: “The more you move, the less fatigued you’ll feel.” It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true! There is nothing quite like cancer-related fatigue, and I figured that anything that might help with my almost constant feeling of exhaustion was worth a try! So I took her words to heart, and whether it was a brisk walk with a friend, a gentle yoga class, or an exercise class at the nearby “Life With Cancer” Center, I tried to move as much as I could throughout treatment. More than just fighting fatigue, cardio exercise helped to lower my anxiety and de-stress, and yoga classes reminded me to stay in the moment and helped with flexibility. It also helped me feel more normal.
As I moved beyond active treatment and into that murky post-treatment phase, I attended many classes and webinars on a variety of topics – chemo brain, the emotional rollercoaster of survivorship, nutrition and healthy living, emotional well-being, and more. Do you know that every single one of them told us to exercise? It really amazed me.
The more I looked into it, the more I realized that exercise has been shown to improve cancer outcomes in many ways. Regular exercise has been demonstrated to significantly lower recurrence rates and increase survival rates for women with breast cancer. Exercise helps fight so many side effects that I learned about and experienced throughout treatment, and many that I didn’t even realize until after treatment was over – including lower bone density, lost muscle mass, new feelings of anxiety (even PTSD), tight tissue in my arms and chest area, balance, notable chemo brain, potential heart damage, and lingering fatigue. In one class I attended, I learned something about our muscles that truly shocked and mobilized me. All other things being equal, we normally lose about 3-4 pounds of muscle mass over 10 years of aging; we lose the same amount of muscle mass in just 6 months of chemotherapy! That fact alone got me to barre or another exercise class on many a morning! … and never mind the emotions that kicked in after treatment!
The more I learned, the more I decided to make physical activity a priority in my life – finding what worked for me, but trying to address each of the different side effects. My personal routine includes active yoga, barre, cardio exercise classes, brisk walking, and even a bit of running. I’ve also tried belly dancing, cardio drumming, and Qui Qong. And I can’t say I regretted a single time that I dragged myself out of bed or out of the house to exercise. It has helped me tremendously, from fighting fatigue and chemo brain to building back muscle and confidence.
And truly, if exercise only fought the cancer-related fatigue … that would certainly be enough. Seriously, “you had me at fatigue.”