Since 1985, October has been known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) as a way of promoting the awareness of breast cancer issues. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women, and about 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life (ACSM). That is a slightly scary statistic.
NBCAM is a collaboration of national public service organizations, professional medical associations, and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness. Today, many organizations, groups, and individuals across the country share the goals of public awareness, public education, knowledge sharing, and greater access to services in the fight against breast cancer.
I think most people have some sort of connection to breast cancer. For me, my first exposure to it was when I was a senior in high school. My math teacher was diagnosed very early on into the school year. She lost her battle a year later. She was a great teacher, and even though she was in and out of school a lot, she always did her best to make sure we learned the material. She was the reason I decided to join Colleges Against Cancer when I was a freshman at Ithaca College, which was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Through my four years working with CAC and the American Cancer Society (ACS), I learned so much and met so many amazing people. I was on the Programs committee in CAC, and eventually became Head of Programs, which meant I planned most of our events including Relay for Life. Every October, our big event for NBCAM was the Pink Ribbon Ball, which was a dance to help raise funds for breast cancer and ACS.
After I left school, one of my goals was to eventually work with cancer patients, helping them stay healthy through their treatment and after their treatment with exercise. I am still working towards this goal, as new research is discovered every year on why exercise is so important for cancer patients. My next step is to receive the Cancer Exercise Therapist certification from ACSM, which I am currently working towards.
So-why is exercise important for cancer patients?
The “old” recommendation for people with chronic diseases such as cancer is to rest and reduce physical activity. If movement causes pain, increased heart rate, or shortness of breath, this is good advice. However, new research has shown that exercise is safe and possible during cancer treatment. Too much rest can lead to muscle weakness, loss of body function, and reduced range of motion, not to mention reduced quality of life and increased dependence on others.
Many cancer teams are now encouraging their patients to participate in physical activity not only after their treatment, but during and before. During treatment, regular activity can:
- Keep or improve physical abilities
- Improve balance and lower risk of falls and broken bones
- Prevent muscle wasting
- Lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis
- Improve blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots
- Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
- Help control weight
- Improve quality of life
If you exercised before treatment, try to keep your routine as normal as physically possible. You may need to adjust the time and intensity of your workouts. Your plan should be based on what is safe, what works best for you, and what you enjoy doing.
Exercise after treatment is just as important as exercise during treatment. New evidence shows that being physically active may help reduce the risk of a second cancer as well as other serious chronic diseases. Slowly increase your time and intensity of exercise as you get stronger post-treatment. The ACS recommends:
- Taking part in regular physical activity
- Avoiding inactivity and returning to normal daily activities as soon as possible after treatment
- Aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week
- Include strength training exercises at least 2 days per week
Of course, always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, and remember to listen to your body and only do what you feel up to doing. Work with a trainer if you need help. Look for someone who has experience working with people with chronic diseases and someone that you feel comfortable with. Even a little exercise can have major positive impacts, and can make your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery better.
For more information on breast cancer, visit the following sites:
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign
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