One of the reasons I wanted to create a fitness blog which focuses on improving your mental well-being as well as your physical well-being is because my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of last year. My mum has had a lot of things wrong with her health over the last few years with breast cancer just being one of many. She is always very upbeat and tries to make a positive out of everything (a bit like me) although sometimes you can’t help but get very down and depressed about things.
Just getting up and about really improves her mood. To begin with, mum had to stay inside and couldn’t do any exercise at all and I did notice her getting very down. As soon as she was able to move around a bit more and get back to walking and doing Pilates there was certainly a change in her mood.
I wanted to ask my mum a few personal questions about her diagnosis to let others know that you are not alone and how you can improve your mood even with the gentlest of moves. When someone gets diagnosed with cancer or any other illness, everyone is often very sympathetic at the time but you forget that this ‘diagnosis’ doesn’t go away after surgery, it affects people for the rest of their lives, from the food they can eat to the clothes that they wear.
How did you feel when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
A cancer diagnosis is devastating – ‘cancer’ is such a frightening word. You feel like your life has ended even though you don’t know if this will be the outcome. You have a lot of uncertainty about the operation, treatment and outcome. You are worried about how you will look and feel afterwards. Positively many people now survive breast cancer but you are worried about what your quality of life will be if you survive and worry that this cancer may come back or spread.
How did you feel after surgery and how did exercise improve this?
After surgery you experience ‘fatigue’ which is more extreme and unpredictable than normal tiredness. Gentle exercise is supposed to improve this but you don’t really feel like doing much. Motivation to exercise is very important.
You are given arm exercises to do after surgery. These appear simple and easy to do but require a surprising amount of effort. You have to remind yourself all the time of the benefits of doing these as they can be quite painful. I worried about not exercising because I knew this was not good for me but summoning the effort to exercise was difficult. I like to walk at a reasonable pace to get my heart going but doing this was very tiring at first. You begin to think you will never be able to do these things again.
You don’t feel in control of your body when you can’t do things which you would either like to do or feel you should do and this can make you depressed. I am not an exercise fanatic but know that exercise is good for me and do feel better after I have done some exercise and see an improvement.
Having cancer also makes you feel ‘out of control’ – ‘why did I get it ?’, what have I done wrong?’, is there anything I can do to prevent it coming back or is it all pointless? Low mood comes presumably as a result of having the cancer but also as a result of the treatment and medication which most women have to be on for 5-10yrs.
You are prescribed medication for 5-10 years and this medication often brings with it depression/low mood so motivation is a problem for a long time. The medication often makes you put on weight, gives you hot flushes which affects your sleep pattern, gives you aches and pains in your joints and can give you osteoporosis so this is a reason to keep active and mobile.
How does exercise help you?
You are definitely more conscious about your body and its shape after surgery. Walking and exercising also makes you feel ‘more normal’ and energises you -but you do often have to remind yourself that its good for you as motivation because of low mood can be a problem. The more fun and enjoyable the activity the more likely you are to join in. Seeing an improvement in your mobility has positive effects. As you get older you worry about how you will look, feel and cope – having a cancer diagnosis heightens this fear of the future and how you will cope with things. It magnifies the fear that life is slipping away from you.
Anything else you would say to women with breast cancer?
Having a cancer diagnosis, having surgery and then being put on medication for a long period of time is life changing. You no longer feel ‘you’ which could be a combination of the diagnosis, surgery and medication. Remaining positive and healthy is a constant challenge but is something you are in control of and can help you are so much on those down days.
Thank you Mum for sharing such personal feelings with MaMo, love you xx