Let me start this post off by stating the obvious: I am NOT a doctor, nor am I (currently) fitness-certified. Everything I have to say is my opinion based on my experience. Before starting any new exercise program, or if you have any questions or concerns, always speak to your doctor.
If you follow me on Instagram, then you probably know I am a huge fitness enthusiast. My passion for fitness and exercise stems from my many years of dancing in my youth…although the real passion of mine is running, which really started my senior year of high school during honors gym. Honors gym…yes, that is a real thing! Anyway, the final for the class was to run for one hour straight…and the rest is history. I’ve used running to attempt to treat many ailments. Hangovers, the “Freshman 15…err 20’ish”, breaks ups, pregnancy side effects, postpartum anxiety…and so, when I received my cancer diagnosis, I was intent on continuing my exercise routine during the process. I knew it would help me in many ways.
Like I said, I am not a doctor…but if you want the facts, I love this article. Although this is just one article among MANY: “It is well known that exercise during chemotherapy can lessen treatment-related side effects, such as fatigue, pain, and nausea,” said lead study author Anne M. May, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands. “Our study is the first to show that people who are physically active during treatment maintain higher levels of physical activity in the long run, and this is really important for their health and well-being.” Since I’m not completely through all treatment yet (writing this on my 11th day of radiation treatment, still have 17 to go!), I don’t want to jinx myself. But, speaking from experience, my fatigue was minimal during chemotherapy treatment. In fact, on my last half of treatment (8 treatments…first 4 are A/C – Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide, last 4 are Taxol) I experienced minimal fatigue. My nausea wasn’t great for the first 4 treatments, but I do believe it was better than it likely would have been if I wasn’t working out. Everyone kept telling me it would happen, that I would be fatigued as the chemotherapy was cumulative in your system…but it never happened.
From the very beginning, I made a very conscious decision that this cancer diagnosis was going to impact my life as little as possible. I didn’t want to change who I was or sacrifice anything I didn’t have to because of this stupid disease. With four young kids at home and moving to a new city also on my plate, I felt like I didn’t have a choice in pushing myself between treatments. And pushing myself is something I do regularly…at times it has been detrimental to my physical or emotional well-being, but a lot of times I think it works in my favor. I can tell you that I have never regretted a workout. And I now truly believe that movement, especially exercise, is a privilege. Being in and out of several hospitals and cancer care centers over the last 7 months, I have seen a lot of tough stuff and don’t take my ability to move and to continue being active lightly. Running is meditation for me and it’s taken me a lot of years to figure that out. Sweating rids my body of the anxiety that it’s holding on to and lets my mind go to its happy place. When I am done working out, I always feel more grounded and centered…and I am confident it’s what has helped me stay focused on being positive throughout this entire experience. Running and working out also comes relatively easy to me, after 22 years of doing it regularly…so in the middle of everything that feels chaotic and completely out of my control, I can always rely on running to bring me a sense of calm.
I am not here to tell you that you need to exercise during cancer treatment to have a successful outcome, because you don’t. I’m also not trying to make anyone feel lazy if you choose a couch day over a workout…because I’ve had those days myself. What I do want you to know (especially if you came to this blog looking for an answer to “can I workout while I am going through treatment for cancer?”) is that cancer and treatment for it, doesn’t need to put an end to your fitness goals. You don’t need to let cancer control every aspect of your life right now. You may need to make some tweaks here and there and you need to allow your body to tell you what’s right each day…but exercising during cancer treatment is completely doable and highly encouraged. Cado on!