Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getting back to exercise after breast cancer
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Fifteen months after my breast cancer surgery, eight months since my last chemotherapy treatment and five months past radiation I still have days when I am very fatigued.
When I finished the radiation in April I had the expectation that I would be back at full throttle in no time at all; running, lifting weights, riding my horses. I made plans to do some road races and even a Ride & Tie race in very hilly terrain. But, I realized that my stamina wasn’t coming back as fast as I thought it would.
Upon my next visit to my oncology doctor I found out that one of the chemotherapy drugs that I needed to take for one year had temporarily damaged my heart. This was quite a shock since my heart tested above normal before I started the treatment. It did explain why my heart rate would shoot up quickly when I exerted some extra effort and why it would take me a few days to recover from an exertion level that, before the chemo had been an easy workout.
This new glitch in my recovery plan caused me great anxiety and depression. I had to rethink how I was going to move forward with this limited capacity. I had to figure out how I wanted to spend my energy. It is a hard realization to discover that you can’t just pickup where you left off.
I’m sure many people over fifty have faced this same dilemma whether they have had cancer of not. Knowing you can’t run as fast or play as hard can feel very defeating, maybe to the extent that you quit doing everything because you can’t participate with the same intensity and results. This also happens to plenty of people under fifty too.
This is when you need to think about what gives you joy. For me it was spending more time riding my horses. By choosing my very favorite outdoor activity I not only helped myself physically but, more importantly my mental attitude improved immensely.
You don’t have to run like you did twenty years ago in order to reap the benefits of regular exercise. Try new activities or think back to what you enjoyed most when you were younger. The important thing is that you participate in some kind of physical activity not only for the health benefits, but for the mental stimulation and clarity that you will derive from aerobic exercise.
There are plenty of days left in 2007 to get out and appreciate the wonderful Santa Cruz Mountains where we are so fortunate to live. Take the time to enjoy your surrounding and boost your physical and mental well being at the same time.

What not to say to a breast cancer patient

What not to say to a breast cancer patient.
This month’s article is not going to be about fitness. I have been asked to write about another subject, cancer. Since, May 2006 I have been dealing with cancer myself. I have had three surgeries, eight rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and all the side affects that go with these treatments. So, I definitely am an expert on what is truly helpful and what can be hurtful to a person dealing with this disease or any other major health crisis.

People want to be helpful when they hear someone they know is dealing with cancer. What is important is that you be specific with what you are going to be helpful with if you offer help. A lot of people will say “call me if you need anything” even though they may sincerely mean this, most people dealing with a major illness aren’t likely to pick up the phone and ask for help. A better offer would be “I would like to bring dinner over this week to help you out. What day would be good for you?” You could also take the initiative and organize a group of people to bring dinner for an extended period. Connie Goddard did this for me. She had people from Summit Riders bring us dinner for a week after my main surgery. What a great treat that was.

Ask what days you can drive the person to their doctor’s appointments. There are a lot of appointments and having to drive while you are sick from the chemotherapy or just plain tired can be difficult. Do some grocery shopping for the person while you are doing your own. Running errands can be a big help.

Maybe you work and can’t help with cooking or driving. Do you have some other specific knowledge or service you could offer? Teresa Scagliotti CFP, another friend and mountain resident made sure our wills and financial matters were in order before I went in for my surgery. This gave me peace of mind that if something went wrong during the surgery I wouldn’t leave loose ends for others to clean up.

Just sending a card, e-mail or phone call conveying your support is very much appreciated. I have kept all the correspondence I received from people during this time and truly cherish their kind words.

When speaking with someone dealing with a major illness remember they are the same person that they always were and their personality and beliefs haven’t changed. Don’t assume that because they have cancer you should treat them differently. The last thing a person wants is to be defined as a cancer victim. The person has a disease, they aren’t the disease and you can’t catch it from them.

Letting the person talk about how they are feeling, if they want to, will give you insight as to how they are coping emotionally. By being a good listener you will hopefully take more time with your questions and responses to the person. I certainly don’t mind people asking me about how I’m feeling or what treatments are like. The more information I can share with people, if they want to know, may help them in the future.

Having a positive attitude is so important and if you have people around that are negative it can be very harmful. Here are some things you should steer clear of when talking with someone dealing with a major disease.

Don’t bring up your aunt Betty who died 10 years ago and go into detail about all of her suffering or your cousin that had cancer but changed her wicked ways and was cured. Don’t impose your beliefs or negative experiences on the person. This isn’t support and it is not helpful.

Don’t tell them to rest and take time off. The last thing a person needs is time to sit around and dwell on their illness. You are dealing with a person that has their own way of coping with illness and is probably a normal adult with normal intelligence, not a person that needs to be told how they should feel or what they should do.

Don’t compare their illness to some non-medical crisis in your life. My niece Jessica’s husband Glenn died of leukemia 2 ½ years ago leaving her a single parent of three toddlers. An acquaintance of hers compared her divorce, the death of her marriage, to Glenn’s death and actually implied Jessica was better off than she. How self-centered is that!!! It is amazing what can come out of a person’s mouth.

Fear and lack of knowledge seem to drive many of the inappropriate comments people make. One way to avoid this situation is to educate yourself about the person’s illness. There are many websites that offer information in plain English about every disease you can think of. Do some research to find out more information about the person’s specific disease if you don’t know much about it.

No one plans to get cancer or have any other major illness but it happens. Being positive, without being over-the-top cheery, staying in contact and being sensitive to the person’s personality, beliefs and feelings are the keys to being supportive and helpful when someone needs it most.

The benefits exercising during breast cancer treatment

Fitness Tip

The last time I wrote about my journey with cancer I was at the beginning of my chemotherapy treatments. I finished those treatments on December 14, 2006, two weeks later than expected because of some complications that caused my blood counts to be unacceptable to the doctor.

During the chemotherapy I lost all my red hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes. As of today my hair is growing back, but no sign of my eyebrows or eyelashes. I also knew going in that I was going to go bald and there wasn’t anything I could do about it, but I thought I could push my way through the fatigue and go on as usual with my daily activities. Not!!! I was able to keep working with my personal training clients but had to give up my boot camps. The running pretty much came to a halt except for some walking on my really good days. My weekly mileage went from about 20 miles a week to 2 ½. Some weeks I couldn’t even do any exercise.

The good news is that since January 1st I have increased my exercise and I know eventually my stamina will increase. I may not get completely back to the level I was at before the cancer but I am certain I will improve from where I’m at currently.

I do believe I handled the chemotherapy better because I was in good physical condition before I started. I also credit some of my long Ride and Tie races and marathon training with helping me handle the mental aspect of the discomforts and fatigue of the chemo.

What I have learned from all of this is that everyone needs to listen to their own body and do the best they can. I was able to walk the Big Sur Half Marathon on October 29th with three of my clients/friends. Two of the people are mountain residents Carol Lard and Kristy Keyser. It took us about 45 minutes longer because of my slower pace, but it was just as satisfying as any of the other races we have completed together.

Many people have faced situations like mine, some much more severe and other not so serious. Think of people coming back from war with lost limbs but taking up running, skiing and other sports. People diagnosed with diabetes and finally realizing that exercise and diet are ways they can control their disease without medication.

So, my advice to everybody is this; exercise to prepare for your future no matter your age, current physical ability or past history. You can improve mentally and physically. You will be better able to handle aging, ailments and stress. You may also be able to ward off diseases. This is your future. Make it the best it can be.

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Confident Clothing Company
Therapeutic Active Wear for Breast Cancer Patients

One of my main concerns after having the mastectomy was if I was still going to be able to do weight training. I knew the medical community recognized the benefits of aerobic exercise, but because lymphedema caused by the removal of lymph nodes causes fluid retention, the old wisdom was that you shouldn’t lift anything heavy. Lymphedema is a condition in which excess fluid called lymph collects in tissues and causes swelling. Lymphedema may occur in the arms or legs. This often happens after lymph vessels or nodes in the armpit are removed by surgery or damaged by radiation, impairing the normal drainage of lymphatic fluid.

My doctor told me I could do anything except put a tourniquet on my arm, which I wasn’t planning on doing anyway. But, many people have misconceptions based on outdated information that lifting anything once you have lymphedema can cause it to worsen. This is not true! The updated studies confirm that exercise which causes muscle contractions, especially in the arm and calf, help to promote lymph flow to veins in the neck region where it returns to the blood circulation. Exercise also helps the proteins in lymph fluid to be reabsorbed. Both result in a lesser severity of lymphedema.

The other benefit of doing weight training again is that it is helping me get back the range of motion in my arms. This is important to maintain, just to be able to perform daily living skills. This is similar to people with arthritis. The old wisdom was that they shouldn’t move or the pain would increase and worsen. That myth has also been proven wrong. Moving and lifting (within reason) is a good thing. Like a rusty hinge the longer you don’t use it the harder it will be to get it unstuck.

A study done by Dr. Susan R. Harris, PhD, PT, School of Rehabilitations Sciences states that “ Results of a series of case reports suggest that women who have received axillary dissection and, in many cases radiation, for treatment of breast cancer can safely engage in strenuous upper extremity exercise without developing lymphedema. Because many women who have been treated from breast cancer are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis due to premature menopause, the opportunity to partake in competitive recreational activities with both aerobic and bone-building benefits is extremely important.”

It is never too late to improve your health and fitness. Get moving!!!!
Stage Three, Grade Three Breast Cancer….What a birthday present. In May 2006 one week before I turned 50 I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer Grade 3. My main tumor that was not there 10 months before was over 7 cm, poorly differentiated, and in every part of my left breast plus the sentinel node. After an unsuccessful lumpectomy I chose to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. My Oncologist told me they don’t usually recommend the bi-lateral, but I my case, if I could handle it mentally, it would be the best. He said it was if I would develop cancer in the other breast, just when. So five weeks after the lumpectomy I had the bi-lateral mastectomy. When they performed the final biopsy I had DCIS in the right breast.

My first thoughts were that I would carry on my life as normal as possible. During chemo therapy and after hair loss, I realized that existing head coverage products made my head sweat!

A Personal Fitness Coach for ten years, I was determined to keep my business running and serve my clients as well as maintain my own well being through all the surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, I realized that I was going to need different types of exercise clothing.

I could still wear some of my looser shirts and cover them with jackets and vests, so that it wasn’t so obvious that I had undergone a bilateral mastectomy.

During one of my sleepless night I came up with the idea of cutting up old exercise tops that were made of wicking material to make caps that would be more functional. These first caps were a great improvement compared to the cotton caps that I had purchased. The caps wicked sweat away from my head and allowed me to be much more comfortable while exercising and they looked great! The Cool Chemo Cap™ was created.

The Cool Chemo Top™ was the next idea. Anyone who has ever undergone chemotherapy knows that one of the dreaded side effects is hot flashes and night sweats. After researching cancer internet sites I realized that there was no outerwear for women with mastectomies. There were undergarments, but not designed for an active lifestyle. So the idea of an active-wear top that you didn’t have to pull over your head that wicks away sweat and was flattering was the obvious next product.

The most unique feature on the Cool Chemo Top™ is the pockets that are discreetly hidden on the inside of the tops. These pockets are to hold the drains that all mastectomy patients and some lumpectomy patients have inserted after surgery and are sent home with, to collect the lymphatic fluid that results from lymph-node removal. The tops work great for reconstruction surgery too. Once the drains are taken out the pockets can be easily removed and the top can continue to worn. The tops also designed so that medical ports are easy to access and the arms are cut loose to allow for potential lymphedema.

The clothing can be used to exercise; dress up for an evening out or just wear in comfort going about your daily activities.

As Baby Boomers get older, more of us are going to be faced with cancer. I found that there are many women like me, who choose not to wear wigs and breast prosthesis. Also, more women and the medical community realize the value of exercising while going through treatment. Exercise not only helps you keep up your strength but also gives you the much needed mental boost.

While you may not have hair, eyebrows or eyelashes, women still put on their makeup to look the very best they can. It is important that your clothing fits well, is functional and is flattering whether you are exercising or just going about your normal life.

Confident Clothing Company was featured at the Monterey County, California American Cancer Society Fashion Show held March 20, 2009. We also partnered and participated in the Young Survivors Coalition in Dallas, Texas for their 9th annual conference.

The comment that I hear non-stop is “Where were you when I went through my surgery?”
And “What a great idea, I’m going to pass this information on to my surgeon.”

My passion is to provide inspiration and comfort for all women going through the breast cancer journey. It is a long haul and any way to make it easier is a step in the right direction.