Blog post written by Carolyn Garritt, author of ‘Get Your Oomph back – A Guide to Exercise after a Cancer Diagnosis’, launching on 25th November. Available for pre-sale now.
At the start of the pandemic, I was working as a personal trainer specialising in exercise for people with cancer, a job I had adored for more than seven years. I was fit, and mostly worked outdoors, one-to-one or with groups. As the realities of coronavirus became clear I knew I wouldn’t be working much, but I imagined I’d use the time to update my website, do the bookkeeping, and finish that book (about exercise and cancer) that I’d been writing for, well, ages.
And then, three weeks into lockdown, I found a breast lump. Quite by accident, after I had been shadow boxing, holding weights, with a couple of clients online. I thought I had just inflamed one of my pectoral muscles.
I was wrong.
Going through a cancer diagnosis felt odd, almost dreamlike. Doing it at a time of global crisis just made the whole thing even more surreal, and it felt incredibly strange to be facing decisions as a cancer patient after years of working with them. It was suddenly happening to me too.
I was very lucky as I already had a network of support through my work. I was also fortunate because I knew a great deal about the side effects that I might encounter, and I knew what I could do to promote my own recovery.
Why exercise is so important
Research has shown – convincingly – that being active after a cancer diagnosis is really, really helpful in aiding rehabilitation and in improving our outlook for the future. In fact, exercising after cancer can help reduce the risk of it coming back by between 30% and 40%. That’s huge, and it has often been said that if exercise was a pill, it would be prescribed to every patient. For those living with secondary or advanced cancer, exercise can help to slow down the cancer’s progression, again, just as drugs can.
More immediately though, exercise can help us to feel better. Clinical studies have shown that exercise can help combat most of the commonly experienced side effects of cancer treatment:
Fatigue – Anxiety and depression – Hot flushes and night sweats – Weight loss / weight gain – Pain and joint stiffness – Bone thinning – Lymphoedema
Exercise to improve treatment side effects
Cancer treatment can be completely debilitating, and the side effects often drag on for months. Research shows that 95% of people find that they experience fatigue. For those living with cancer, life can become cyclical, as you go through endless treatment cycles and experience the associated ups and downs.
There’s also the anxiety – will it come back? Did the treatment really work? Will my next scan be okay?
Why my new book?
The reason I started to write my book was because I found in my work that increasingly people knew, or had been advised, to try to be more active after a cancer diagnosis, but they were often unsure what to do. What would work, what was safest, and when, during their cancer ‘journey’, could they start? Get Your Oomph Back aims to answer these questions and more.
There is a solid and growing body of evidence to show that exercising can help alleviate some of the anxiety, tiredness, pain and body changes that frequently accompany cancer treatment. In many ways it made writing the book very easy as I could find loads of really helpful, robust knowledge to call upon.
I’m really pleased to say that my book is being published in November. I still haven’t caught up with the bookkeeping!