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What does Get Your Oomph Back include?

Blog post written by Carolyn Garritt, author of ‘Get Your Oomph Back – A Guide to Exercise after a Cancer Diagnosis’,  now officially launched.

 

There are many tools described in the book. Often the best starting point is simply to walk – outdoors if possible. Walking mindfully and seeking out nature (in an urban environment as well as the countryside) can feel really soothing and, as long as the walk is brisk, it can help to restore physical fitness as well as a sense of wellbeing.

If you’re not able to stay on your feet for long, then marching in a chair, and chair-based exercises in general, can elevate the heart rate more than many people imagine. You can get properly out of puff at home if that’s what you need to do, for now. There’s a chair-based cardio routine in the book.

In the book I also talk about Nordic walking – using poles – which I boldly describe as ‘perfect exercise’. It is very clever – it elevates the heart rate, gives the lungs space to work, improves the posture, protects the joints, strengthens the bones, supports the balance (pain and numbness in your feet is a common side effect of chemo). It helps reduce the risk of, and manage, a condition called lymphoedema, helps rebuild upper body strength and uses 95% of your body’s muscles.

And yet – perhaps most importantly – it feels really nice. The poles propel you along, so walking can feel more manageable. The fact that it’s outdoors, in nature, it’s low-cost and highly sociable, just seals the deal. Possibly my most used and useful type of activity.

Strength training

In the book there’s a lot of information about strength training – often overlooked, and definitely one aspect of exercise that folks are unsure about. Strength training – using weights, resistance bands or our own bodyweight – can help us to feel less tired after cancer treatment. Most people feel they lose some strength while they’re on the injury bench, and if we’re out of action for a while we can lose muscle mass.

Building (or rebuilding) stronger muscles is known to reduce our risks of cancer returning. It can also make everyday activities seem more manageable. Many of the people I’ve worked with (regardless of their age) have found that they can’t climb stairs as easily as they could before. There’s some specific information in the book about how to tackle stairs.

Do what you enjoy

One important theme throughout the book is that we should, I believe, do what we love when it comes to exercise. If you don’t love any type of exercise at all, there are some suggestions about how you might find acceptable, even likeable forms of activity. In my mind, nothing is out of the question – I’ve trained people to play croquet and to tackle ultra-marathons. And pretty much anything in between.

There’s definitely scope to get into, or return to, team sports, such as football, rugby and/or basketball, after a cancer diagnosis, and there are now organisations that run group-based activities specifically for people with a cancer diagnosis, such as the wonderful Active Ostomates.

Parkrun

In the book I also talk about parkrun which is, in my view, community, grassroots exercise at its very finest.

Running (slowly) is without doubt the exercise I love most. There’s a ‘couch to 5k’ running or walking programme that incorporates a monthly trip to parkrun.

Boxing

Boxing features too because it is a superb stress-buster. It helps sharpen our hand-eye coordination, which can be a bit foggy after treatment, and if done properly it works the whole body. (You don’t have to spar or hit actual people – I’m talking about using pads, mitts or a punchbag.) You do have to really think on your feet and stay light on your toes, yet it can be for anyone. My oldest trainee boxer is 84.

Combining boxing with using a skipping rope is one way to push ourselves and strengthen our hearts, lungs and bones as we go.

Yoga

Yoga, particularly restorative yoga, is another tool described. It’s important for people to find ways to relax (not easy, I know) and also to stay flexible as this can help deal with some of the aches and pains associated with taking cancer drugs.

Making time

Too much? I know that the idea of exercising can feel overwhelming. Fair enough. If you know you’re short of time or energy (or enthusiasm), then the book contains several cunning ways to incorporate movement into your daily routines. It can be as simple as getting off the bus a stop early and then walking, or taking the stairs rather than the lift. These actions can all add up to a more active day.

How am I doing?

And so, 18 months down the line, how am I doing? I know I’m not as fit as I was before, but I’m working on it and I’m doing my own strength training rather relying on what I do for a job to keep me strong. I’m less anxious about the cancer coming back, for sure. The drug I’m going to take for 5-10 years (tamoxifen) does make me tired and achy but I’m figuring out ways to minimise that.

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How to Get Your Oomph Back by Carolyn Garritt

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.

 

The diagnosis

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!

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What Survivors of Major Illness can Teach us

Blog post written by Dr Jerry Thompson, author of newly released Curing the Incurable: Beyond the Limits of Medicine.

Could we have underestimated our ability to heal ourselves from even the most serious of diseases? Could our innate powers of recovery be far greater than we realise?

This book examines healing from an unusual angle: it looks at those remarkable people who have recovered against the odds? I believe they have something absolutely crucial to tell us. Whether we have a serious illness or we just want to keep illness at bay they have information that can make a profound difference.

But how did they succeed? What did they do after their doctors told them they had an incurable disease?

I have been fascinated by these people that I call “survivors” for years. This book explores their stories and what they did. Recovering from a life-threatening illness is no small feat and you can be sure they did not get better by chance. They achieved it by following certain fundamental principles of health. And it is these fundamental principles of health that this book explores.

They used four main strategies, typically in combination. The book covers each one.

Few will be surprised that one of those principles, eating healing foods and avoiding harmful ones, was a popular and successful strategy amongst survivors. Combining information from case studies, research on the effects of food extracts on cancer cells and population studies this section gives us a useful guide on using food to heal.

Many know that our minds can powerfully impact on health but can mind power cure a life-threatening illness? In fact it can and there are many examples using many methods. We can use our mind to up-regulate our immunity, to go into healing mode or to create health. The case histories in this section are some of the most extraordinary in the book. The methods may surprise you and many are simple to use.

Mainstream medicine largely ignores toxicity but survivors cannot afford this luxury. How many carcinogens and neurotoxins do we meet in an average day and where do they come from? Which are the most dangerous? How can we reduce our and how can we excrete our accumulated chemical load. All this is covered in the book.

Changes in our energy field precede disease. They also precede healing. So understanding energy makes sense.

Again the stories could surprise: cancers the power of groups to bring about extraordinary healing, how lethal cancer can be cured from thousands of miles away, cancers disintegrating in minutes, and energetic blocks to healing that could prevent a good treatment working.

What emerges from these many remarkable accounts of recovery from major disease are basic and powerful principles of health and healing. Using them can make the difference between health and disease and many of are surprisingly easy to put into practice.

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Understanding BRCA: The breast cancer gene

BRCA (pronounced ‘bracka’) stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene. There are two BRCA genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes function as tumour suppressors, helping to prevent the formation of cancer. When either of these genes carries a mutation, a woman has a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and men with these mutations are also at increased risk of breast and prostate cancer. Mutations in these genes have also been associated with a small increased risk of several additional types of cancer.

At the age of 35, I was found to carry a harmful mutation in the second breast cancer (BRCA2) gene and statistics suggested that I had a 45-85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 10-30% risk of developing ovarian cancer during my lifetime, which is much higher than in the general population.

Finding out that you carry a BRCA mutation is hard, and if this happens to you, you will have a great many questions that you will feel desperate to find the answers to. I felt overwhelmed and scared of the future that lay ahead. I desperately wanted to connect with other women who were going through the same thing as me and to find answers to my many questions. I looked for a BRCA support group locally, but there were none. I also looked for a book but none seemed to offer what I was looking for. I was eager to meet with the consultants that I had been referred to, but this process takes time and it was frustrating waiting for these appointments. I hoped they would be able to answer all of my questions but, in reality, even the consultants didn’t have all the answers as we do not yet fully understand the BRCA genes and their impact.

I felt very frightened, alone and frustrated that there seemed to be so little help and support and I wanted this to change. I decided, therefore, that once I had come through my own journey, I would write a book with the aim of helping others.

This book aims to improve your understanding of BRCA gene mutations and the various ways in which a carrier can manage his/her mutation, including screening, risk-reducing surgery and chemoprevention, with reference to relevant research. In the last part of this book, I share with you my own personal journey of undergoing risk-reducing surgery, including the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes (known as a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, pronounced oo-for-ek-tuh-mee) and the removal of my breast tissue while retaining my nipples (known as a bilateral, nipple-sparing mastectomy).

I detail, openly and honestly, the emotions I felt before, during and after my surgeries, along with the physical experience of undergoing these operations and the surgically-induced menopause which follows the removal of both ovaries. I will share the effect, if any, that these operations have had on my body image, identity and sexual functioning.

This book aims to answer the many questions that I personally had, including those that you may feel are simply too uncomfortable to ask. I felt anxious about so many things but, having come through my own journey, I realise now that I needn’t have worried anywhere near as much as I did. I really wish I had known then what I know now; it would have spared me a lot of fear and anxiety.

If you have been found to carry a BRCA gene mutation, I hope that by sharing my journey with you, you will see for yourself that this journey, albeit very tough, may not be as terrifying and as insurmountable as you may be feeling right now. You will get through this – I did and you can too. And, while I appreciate you may not be feeling this way now, you may even be nicely surprised by the positive ways in which this journey may change you as a person.

I am an Advanced-level Human Biology teacher and have experience of teaching both GCSE and Advanced-level (A-level) Human Biology. I also have experience of medical writing and have drawn from both of these skills throughout the writing of this book. My desire to help others has inspired me not only to write this book, but also to set up a website to offer my support to women and men worldwide who have been found to carry, or who believe they may carry, a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

 

This blog was taken from Clarissa Foster’s new book Understanding BRCA: Living with the breast cancer gene is now available on the Hammersmith Health Books website.