Get Moving: Reclaiming Your Body After Breast Cancer
Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer is not the “good” kind of cancer (as if there ever were such a thing). Beyond active treatment, many people experience PTSD, body dysmorphia, depression, sexual dysfunction and so many other unexpected responses to their breast cancer journey commonly referred to as collateral damage.
With mental and physical wellbeing at the forefront of this year’s Breast Cancer ACTION month, we decided to tap our Baddie Ambassadors and our friends at Handful to share how fitness can help Breast Cancer Baddies reconnect with their bodies after a diagnosis.
"Pretty soon I realized my body was changing and I liked it."
To be quite honest, I was never very happy with my body. Having five kids did a number on my stomach and boobs, especially. The DIEP Flap surgery where they took my abdomen fat and used it to make my breasts seemed like the best option for me. After surgery, I was disappointed I didn’t magically have this banging body I was hoping for. And I felt very weak — chemo and being bedridden made me feel older than I was.
I first began working on my body image with a Weight Watchers membership. It really helped me to not be so hard on myself and see my body for what it was – a machine. I started losing weight, which gave me confidence to try things I might never have tried precancer.
A very good friend convinced me during a wine fueled conversation to join the local Komen race.
I was terrified!
I thought it would be a bunch of die hard runners (there were) with no room for newbies (there was). The year I finished treatment was the year Hurricane Harvey hit, so my first Komen happened in January 2018. Once I walked it, my girlfriend Jessica and I decided we would run the upcoming race that October. I ended up joining two exercise/fitness groups for people who’ve had a cancer diagnosis called Active Living After Cancer and LiveStrong at the Y. They taught us that making time during your day to move took baby steps. It takes some time to build up good habits if you’ve never had them (and I never did).
I stepped foot in a gym for the first time in my life. Jessica and I began running at a local park on the weekends and before I knew it, I was bitten by the bug. Pretty soon I realized my body was changing and I liked it. I also felt strong and accomplished. I was proud of the things I could push my body to do! Having a sweat session where I end up completely drenched is the best feeling. I went from going to not being able to walk to becoming someone who runs for fun. I am definitely embracing Miranda 2.0!
Dancing. There are many forms of dancing, romantic, ritual, hip-hop — most of which I learned about from watching Dancing with the Stars.
And then there is pole-fitness dancing which often has a stigma of stripping attached to it. But why? Is it because it does not force a woman to suppress her sexuality like society says we should? Pole fitness dancing dares a woman to feel confident and sexy while performing this amazing art of strength. The female species has a lot of power which is why society tries to control the amount of sexiness we release.
I’ve accomplished a lot in life and I’m proud of the woman I have become. Do I really care what people think of me? I will answer it this way: I do not let people’s opinion define my character. I care more about what I think of me. I am living my life to the fullest and unapologetically.
I’ve experienced self-esteem issues like most people, especially after being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 30. I lost what I thought made me beautiful. My hair, my breast, my man, my confidence. What I learned through my cancer experience is that even when I healed, my hair grew back, and my breasts were rebuilt, the one thing I was missing was my confidence!
With all of the surgeries, radiation and medication I had to endure, all I saw were scars, rapid weight loss and gain, I hated being other people’s inspirational stories and not my own inspiration. I was limited in what I could do physically and there was a point when I could not even dress myself without assistance. I was truly missing something and felt that was as good as it would get and life would never be the the same.
Dance is my cardio toning bestie. There is nothing stopping me from having Beyoncé – level confidence! I must admit life after cancer has simply become a goal of strength building for my mind body and soul. I hate the gym, running, and yoga, yet I desire to be fit like I do all three.
Dance is simply my way of explaining my feelings, building my muscles and toning my confidence. When I’m in class not only do I want to look good in my workout gear but when I hear the sound of music, it translates into beautiful movements of strength for me.
To be honest, I never had a problem with body image until about three years after my stage IV cancer diagnosis.
I was always into fitness and being active. I come from a very active family. I didn’t have a mastectomy, and instead had a breast sparring lumpectomy, and even that was okay to me. So I would be lopsided — it didn’t bother me.
Body image started to become a thing when I was catapulted into menopause because my cancer is hormone driven. The goal of treatment for hormone driven cancer is to eradicate estrogen, which helps with metabolism. It was slow at first, the weight gain, but then as I started to get older myself, the weight gain started to increase faster.
Now eight years into my stage IV diagnosis, I am 35 lbs. heavier. I never stopped moving my body. In fact, I increased my activity and took up hiking, long distance backpacking, and climbing mountains.
Though I became an outdoors woman because of the healing component of nature, I always hoped in the back of my mind that maybe the weight would come off as well. But so far…NO.
I am still hard on myself at times; however, fitness is still a large part of my life, because of how it makes me feel, regardless of what the scale says.
I am strong. I can carry upwards of 42 lbs. on my back for long stretches of time when backpacking. I often think how fast I would be if I was 35 lbs. lighter with 42 lbs. on my back, but the thought quickly disappears as I am out with mother nature, taking in alpine lakes and majestic mountain sunrises and sunsets. The bigger bonus is that “I AM STILL ALIVE.”
Fitness has been a part of life since I can remember. I fell in love with fitness like Sidney and Dre did in the hip hop movie Brown Sugar. Just like them, I came to realize that my true life passion would only be fulfilled by remembering what I learned during my many years as a health and physical educator.
Breast cancer brought me to a place where I couldn’t do or be who I used to be. It took a lot of my physical strength, but I learned to take my time and use all the skills I had been taught and had been teaching. I knew I didn’t like the body cancer created, so I did something about it. I laced up my kicks and started walking. First making myself accountable for steps, minutes and then miles.
Next thing I knew, I was rock climbing in the Adirondacks. My next venture is becoming a cancer exercise specialist to help men and women affected by cancer find their way to or back to fitness.
No matter where you are in your breast cancer journey, it’s never too late to get moving. For the cutest fitness gear and a 30 percent lifetime discount, sign up today for Handful’s Breast Friends program.