Young breast cancer patient shares tips for staying active during treatment

Most bike accidents don’t lead to a cancer diagnosis, but that’s exactly what happened to me in August 2016. I was 32 years old, and more than half way through a 300-mile bike trip—three days, four states, and 15,000 vertical feet climbed; it was life-changing, in more ways than one. A bike wreck with 100 miles to go led me to my primary care doctor to treat some bruising. I thought I was in for the usual “rest and ice” post-injury routine, but instead, my doctor performed a routine breast exam, and I was hit with a life-changing diagnosis: stage III invasive ductal carcinoma—breast cancer.

My previously high activity level went way down during treatment, along with my energy levels, which was a tough blow. Luckily, though, my medical oncologist at Dana-Farber, Wendy Chen, MD, MPH, encouraged me to do anything I felt well enough to do—and I took full advantage of her encouragement! While I wasn’t biking hundreds of miles anymore, I still went on occasional 10-mile, slow rides throughout chemo, walked to and from appointments when I could, and made trips to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts for leisurely strolls. I had to stay off my bike for a year after surgery, so I looked for alternatives, and spent an entire summer doing hot yoga and kayaking with my sister.

While everyone’s treatment regimen and energy levels will be different, I found staying active to be an effective way to help myself both physically and mentally during treatment. I’ve been impressed by the resources available to Dana-Farber patients, especially through recovery, from exercise classes at the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living to the numerous fatigue-related clinical research studies. Dana-Farber doesn’t just heal your body and remove a tumor, they heal your soul too. I’ve been lucky to participate in the Institute’s Facing Forward after Breast Cancer support program, where I made some new “cancer-friends” and even started a podcast with one! Through the podcast and my life, I encourage other patients to stay as active and involved in their care as they can, and will be participating in Jimmy Fund Fit Fest presented by Reebok on September 29 to further this mission of getting cancer survivors to see what they can still do and what cancer couldn’t take away.

Activity during and after treatment made me feel better physically and mentally, and gave me a chance to rebuild in my “Life 2.0” after treatment. It can be frustrating when your ability level changes, but incremental progress is still progress; it’s okay to take it slow and easy.

If you’re looking to get back out into fitness after a cancer diagnosis, I hope you’ll join me and team Thanks Cancer! at Jimmy Fund Fit Fest.

Leanna House
Guest Blogger