'Exercise Helped Me Beat Breast Cancer'

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor’s Note: When our staff recently reviewed some recent exercise guidelines for people with cancer, Beth, a SparkPeople employee and cancer survivor (pictured with her family, left), felt compelled to share her own story with our readers. This is what she wrote.

We all have certain dates that stick in our mind for reasons good or bad. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Holidays. Deaths. The day you got your job. The day you lost it.

Like many Americans, September 11 is one of those days for me—but for more reasons than one.

On September 11, 1993, I married my wonderful husband (now married 17 years strong).

On September 11, 2001, the world watched in horror as suicide terrorists attacked the United States.

And on September 11, 2007, I learned I had breast cancer.

As most 40-year-old women do, I had my first mammogram a few weeks prior. I thought nothing of the call I received from the doctor’s office shortly after my appointment. I called them back while driving to work, thinking it was a routine call. I wasn’t even thinking about what they might say; I was considering my to-do list for the day—work deadlines, getting my daughter to soccer practice, shopping for an upcoming party. Never did I think that I would have bigger things to worry about in the days and months to come.

The nurse asked if I was driving and I replied, “Yes." She asked that I pull off the road. Then she shared the life-changing news that I needed to come back for a follow up reading. That was the moment I knew that I had some form of breast cancer.

A typical type "A" personality, I approached the news as I did any other problem: Get the details, develop a plan and work the plan. Unfortunately, I learned that treating cancer is not quite the same as tackling your to-do list at home, school or work. Throughout my diagnosis and treatment plan, I quickly learned that much of my next year would be in the hands of other, much more capable folks. However, they were not my hands and I was not completely in control the way I liked to be in other areas of my life, and that left me with added anxiety and concern.

I knew that I needed something to help me through this challenging journey, so I turned to exercise. Throughout my life, working out had always been an outlet for me, both physically and mentally. I found myself increasing my exercise, always making sure to fit in at least 30 minutes each morning before my family got up. It gave me time to focus on me and it gave me the energy I needed to tackle the everyday activities coupled with various doctor appointments. It helped me deal with the added anxiety that this disease weighs down upon a person.

Having two very active daughters, it was extremely important to me that I maintain energy, inner and outer strength, and a positive outlook while taking on the disease. Exercise was the answer! I found that I not only refueled my body physically, but with each workout, I recharged my mental outlook on how I was taking on my cancer!

My family, especially my daughters, saw how important this was to me, and a week after my first surgery, my daughters asked if we could participate in the upcoming “Making Strides" breast cancer walk. Morgan, my eldest daughter said, “I know how great you feel after you exercise—just think how great you will feel once we complete a walk that fights that nasty disease you had." So instead of resting that day, we all got up early that morning and walked with thousands of other survivors and family members! It was by far one of the best days of my life!

Beth with her daughter, far left, at the family's second annual Making Strides walk.

In an effort to help others who are going through the same battle, I started counseling other women who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after my own treatment was completed. My first piece of advice always talks about the importance of exercise. “If you are an active person, that is great. Keep it up and don’t let the appointments and treatments keep you from your daily workouts! You need exercise now more than ever," I tell them. “And if you are not active, it is time you start some sort of workout routine. You will find so much strength in giving back to yourself!"

Now, almost three years later and still cancer-free, I find myself continuing to fight the fight with exercise and healthy living. I continue to work out every day in some way and know that it really makes me a happier and healthier person! And, in the back of my mind, I know that it is helping me fight a disease I don’t ever want to come back!

Has exercise helped you through a health crisis or other difficult time in your life?

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MYDIETINFO1 11/28/2019
Hats off to you. Such inspiration to me as I start my battle of thyroid cancer. Thanks. Report
PATRICIA-CR 9/23/2019
Hats off to you, Beth!! Cheers! Report
RYCGIRL 8/21/2019
thank you Report
thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thank you for sharing - very inspiring! Report
I love your spirit! Keep it up! Report
Good work. I am impressed with the breast cancer information that you have provided on this topic
what a great story. you seem to be very strong. congrats on all of your progress. I wish you the best. Report
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Report
great story! Exercise is really so important :) Report
Thank you for sharing your story. It was a great way to remind people the importance of exercise.
Good luck. Report
I am a 3x BC survivor, SP helped me get throguh the 3rd and worst time. I am now cancer free since march 2009! Exercise helps so much. Good luck to you! Report
What a great story!

Recently I had a breast cancer scare. Right now we are just watching and being cautiously optimistic. Ironically, my birthday is 9-11-67. Report
I tore my ACL in 2003 and had knee surgery in 2006. If I hadn't exercised, my physical therapy and recovery would've been a nightmare. I'm so thankful to be able to say my knee is stronger now than ever before, because I work hard at it every day. :) Report
Thank you for taking the time to share your journey and story with us. Report
Although I do not have cancer, I do walk to keep my blood pressure down. I do this religiously now because it helps. I also take my blood pressure medicine daily but I am hoping one day that my doctor will take me off of it. Report
Thank you for sharing! I too was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2007. It of course was a very scary and difficult time, but thank God for his strength and power in my life to get me through it. I also have worked out most of my life, but in the last year I decided to try running. That has been my emotional and physical medicine. I was able to even run the 4 mile road race at our annual community celebration! It was a rewarding experience! Report
Thanks for sharing. It goes to show that you must have the mind to do what is right and need for yourself. Yes, you may have felt weak, but you just tell yourself, "I am going to do this". As we use to say, "just put one foot in front of the other and move".

You are Blessed!

Thanks for the blog. My husband has CLL(Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia). We walk daily, and it has helped him with his current remission, and all during the chemo treatments for the past year. We are very fortunate, and exercise was an important ingredient to improve and maintain his recovery. Report
Before I quit, I was working 70+ hour weeks. In 8 months, I had two days off - one of them was Christmas. Exercise saw me through this overwhelming time. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I didn't have the stress relief I got from my daily exercise. I'm in a much healthier situation now and loving life - but exercise is still very much a hunk of that good life! Report
I really believe that exercise helped keep me out of depression last year when I lost my job of 36 years. It gave me energy, focus and a routine that helped with the transition. Exercise isn't just for physical fitness... it is also a factor in emotional fitness. Thanks for sharing your story and all the best to you on your continued journey. Report
This is very inspiring, need to tell my mom about this. She had this annoying cysts that keep reducing-increasing size. She's nearly 60 and it's so hard for me to push her into doing exercises and I though if I do workouts at home, she will feel motivated. Well, she did say she envy of me consistently exercises, haha. Report
This is such a great story and gets me the inspiration to go out and walk today.
My grandmother died of breast cancer at 60. I was born that year and mom said she at least was able to hold me. Awwww My mom also was diagnosed with breast cancer and had one breast removed and later the other one was removed. So mammographies are extremely important!! I haven't been diagnosed (knock on wood) and I'm 55. My sister is 66 and she hasn't either.

Exercise IS important. It helps cleanse the soul. Doing the MAKING STRIDES walk is the best thing to do.

I applaud you!! Report
Thank you for sharing your story. Report
i love success stories. I am a three time cancer survivior. Hang in there MENEW135, One of the cancers I had was hodgkins and you will make it, but I can totally relate to how you feel. I also agree with Anne202, part of my recovery always included God. i have been clear now 10 yrs. good luckto all who is still recovery and God bless Report
I know that exercise & eating healthy is important, but I was sorry that God wasn't part of your recovery program. I can't even imagine not praying to Him during a major illness. Report
What an inspiration you are to all of us Beth! Thank you so much for sharing your story, and CONGRATS to you!! Report
Thanks for sharing your story. I'm also a breast cancer survivor, it will be five years this September. From being so sick I decided to make changes in my life, I've always exercised but now I really have a passion for it. I love to bike this past Saturday I rode in an event to raise money for cancer. I ended up biking 42 miles. I'm so greatful for each and every year we are all cancer free!!!!!!!!!!!! Report
Although I did find your story inspiring, I am so confused. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at age 35 (just this last December-Christmas Eve to be exact) & I had lost my mother who was my best friend to kidney failure not even 6 months before that. I am overweight, diabetic, & have many other health issues. I have been on this site for at least 2 years but have yet to start any dieting or exercise progeam. Procrastination is my biggest problem usually, but with going through chemo, I cannot imagine how you found any energy to exercise! I can't even find energy to get out of this computer chair most days, or fix something to eat, etc. I know all chemo treatments are different & they tell me that the one I am having is one of the harshest but it really isn't the chemo that has gotten me so down, it has been all of the major side effects that came with it. So, as sick & weak & tired as I am, I just can't imagine doing what you did as far as exercise. I bought a brand new recumbent bike/rower right before I got sick & have gotten to use it only once. I am looking forward to using it as soon as I can, but for now, congrats on beating the cancer & for exercising through it. I just don't know HOW you managed to do it! Good luck to you & your family & congrats on being cancer free for 3 years! Report
Congrats on your three years as a cancer survivor and for all you do to help those dealing with this awful disease. Report
Your story is such an inspiration to all. September 11 is also special to me as it's my birthday (it was a very rough 29th birthday in 2001). And my name is also Beth. I also decided to use breast cancer as my inspiration for exercise. Not because I was diagnosed, but because friends of mine have been and I want to help advance the research of treatment for breast cancer. I am walking in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure 60 mile walk this year in Philadelphia in October. It requires a lot of training and fundraising, but when I read stories like yours, I remember why I'm doing this. Thank you. Report
Thank you Beth for sharing. Keeping a positive mind-set (and exercise is part of that) has been shown to make a difference in treatment.
The fact that you are working with and supporting others traveling that same path just shows how very special you are.
Thanks for sharing your story though I have not had cancer exercise has helped me with my health I have Rheumatoid arthritis it was very painful to move or do anything since I started to push myself I have musch less pain and flair ups Exercies is a wondeful medicine Report
What a beautiful story! So many of us are affected by cancer directly or know someone who has been touched by cancer. I will be sure to remind those the importance of exercise. Plus is sure is a motivator for me to keep up the exercise on an ongoing basis.

I wish you continued good health and joy. Report
This is a wonderful blog, Beth... I find exercise relaxing. As a result, I've managed to lower my stress and maintain my good health. knocking on wood. If I ever find myself in a situation like yours, I do plan to continue regular exercise for as long as I can. I think it does help keep improve our well being.

A beautiful story, Beth. May you continue to be healthy and happy.
We share that anniversary date of Sept. 11 with you. This year will be our 56th wedding anniversary and our older son will be married on that special date.
On our 40th anniversary our younger son was married, so 3 of us celebrate on the same date. (Our daughter is only one with different date and we don't want that to change.) Report
wow how inspirational Report
Great story Beth! Thanks for sharing, and all the best in your active journey through life! Report
What a fabulous inspiration you are to your daughters and fellow women and men on the Spark people journey.

I hope you continue to be healthy and well Report
Although I have never had cancer I have had to go through with chemo because of problems with my kidney due to long term steroid use associated with prendisone for one of a few conditions that I have, in this case Lupus. Sometimes I want to give up but I never do, just not in me to give up. My sister in law did that and killed herself. I just couldn't do that to my family and want to be a part of their lifes for as long as humanly possible. Report
Wow - thank you for sharing your message. Exercise has saved me too. Report
Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are an inspiration to others. My Mom has had breast cancer so your story hit me, with her. I am glad you are doing well and I will pray that you stay that way! Thank you again for sharing your corageous story!! Report
With severe RA since age 6 1/2, exercise of some form or another is all that kept me from winding up in a wheelchair. Making sure I exercised before and after helped me to recover much more quickly from multiple surgeries. I always feel better moving than sitting on my butt. My joints feel way better too. For people with arthritis the best pill you can take is exercise! So keep moving! Report
After losing my mom and brother in a short period of time (5 months apart) three years ago, I quickly fell into a depression that kept me from living life to its fullest. I spent my days going through the motions of life, but watched as the weight packed on. I had been active prior to these losses, but now found I had not energy for much else. On the weekends I stayed in bed and didn't feel like much of anything else. My house took a hit (I am still cleaning dust out of places that I didn't know could be dusty), my family took to caring for themselves, and everyone seemed to leave me alone. Until one day I mentioned to a friend how much I disliked how I felt. My clothes were tighter, I felt lousy most of the time, and had no energy. This friend got me moving, at first just for 30 minutes. We spent all last summer walking just about every day. Then fall came and I returned back to work. My days were spent in my classroom and little on me. When spring came, that friend was back on the phone telling me it was time to move. Since then we have walked every day that we could. My friend even got me into the gym. Along with the help of a nutritionist/dietitian and registered nurse, I altered my eating habits and am seeing results for the first time in a long time. In 12 weeks I have lost 16 lbs and 8 1/2 inches overall. Motivation can be difficult to maintain at times, but with the help of a good friend I have been getting stronger every day. (No naps lately either.) Exercise has given me back my life. There are still days that I feel sad and want to stay in bed, but I don't. I want to get out and move! Report
I loved your story! I love supporting the cause to fight breast cancer because people like my aunt, you and many other individuals affected by this are so much stronger than they think. Report
I'm coming up on my 5 year breast cancer diagnosis anniversary and you are right. We now have studies showing that exercise improves outcomes and reduces recurrence rates in addition to lowering the risk of getting cancer in the first place. Exercise has been instrument for me in my journey, and thanks to BC, I joined a dragon boat racing team for BC survivors. What agift that has been.

Stay strong! Report
Regular exercise keeps my chronic depression at bay. Through exercise, I become more aware of my body. There are subtle changes that occur physically as well as mentally that signal a depressive cycle coming on. If I pay attention to these signals and am very careful to exercise daily, I can avoid a serious bout. It has taken me nearly 10 years to figure this out. Report
Your blog brought me to tears because I was diagnosed with two cancers, melanoma and parotid, within a week of your diagnosis. Unfortunately, I wasn't exercising then, so I missed out on that as a stress-reducer. But no more! I now exercise at least an hour every day. Spark People has helped me change over to a lifestyle of healthy eating and exercise. I've lost weight and feel great. I eat organic, whole foods and drink lots of water. I consume a healthy amount of fiber and antioxidants. I am determined to never allow cancer back into my life. The change in me has been so dramatic my primary care physician joined Spark (he's lost about 35 pounds!) and my oncologist took the Spark info I gave her and copied it off for all her nurses! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us- it was so inspiring to hear that what we are doing is really helping!