Saturday, 25 April 2015

Prescribing exercise?

I am very lucky - I've been treated for my breast cancer by a hospital that takes exercise seriously.  Twice a week, throughout my treatment, I have attended an exercise class with other women in various stages of their breast cancer treatment.  But today I heard that the course might be under threat because the hospital cannot get funding.

That raises the question: Should exercise be provided as part of the prescribed treatment for breast cancer?

The science is certainly there to show that regular exercise reduces the chances of breast cancer recurring.  I have to admit, however, that there is little scientific about the class I attend at hospital: we do some abdominal and weight exercises and use the cardio-vascular machines in exactly the same way as most Bums and Tums classes and workout regimes.  So should the hospital provide something that could be found at any regular gym?

I strongly believe that the answer is 'yes' and it's less about what we do and more about the environment.

First, it is deeply reassuring to have physios overseeing our exercise routine.  I didn't need to have specific appointments with a physio after my mastectomy because I was seeing my physio twice a week at my exercise class anyway.  And she was still there to advise me a couple of months later when the problems with mobility in my left arm resurfaced.  She was there to reassure me that it was fine to take part in the exercise for my arms without worrying about lymphedema and she told me how to keep going when I was in the middle of chemo and just looking at an exercise bike sent my heart rate through the roof.  Now that I have finished the active treatment and headed into a period when it is known that women often suffer from depression- she's still there with her bounce and enthusiasm to encourage me on my way.

Meanwhile, I have also done the journey alongside a good crowd of other women going through the same process: we compare the hair appearing on our bald heads, encourage each other when times get tough and keep each other going when the slog all seems too much.  After all, if they could keep going through chemo, then I knew I could too.

Yes, I could have joined a regular exercise class and doubtless met another great crowd of women.  But would I have been brave enough to take my bald head to a class of gym bunnies with nice hair, to keep turning up when the exhaustion of chemo meant I couldn't really keep up, to try arm exercises when I was terrified of lymphedema or to reveal my lopsided shape under a gym T shirt when my radio-burnt skin meant I couldn't wear a bra?

Probably not.

Whereas now, I am physically more confident, my hair is regrowing, soon I will be able to wear my bra again so no-one will know my curves are not my own and I've even got some muscle in my arms.  I've learnt to love my bi-weekly exercise hit rather than seeing it as a necessity and, when my hospital course comes to an end, signing up for a regular gym will be a priority. 

So, as a result of my relatively inexpensive hospital-organised class, I am much more likely to incorporate regular exercise into my regime which will reduce my chances of having to come back for expensive chemo and radiotherapy treatments by an amazing 25%.

That's got to be a good investment, hasn't it?

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