Using Exercise to help aid your Breast Cancer Medication

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Saturday morning. I dutifully haul myself out of bed at 6:30 a.m., sleepily fill my thermos with ice water, gather my gym clothes, and head off to spend an hour working out. It’s routine. I’m used to it. I exercise every day; sometimes with a 3-mile walk around the neighborhood, sometimes on the treadmill, twice a week lifting weights. But this morning, as I doggedly put the time in on one of those elliptical machines, I wonder, why am I doing this? Is it to be healthy, to feel energetic and fit and positive? Because I KNOW exercise puts me in a good mood, ready to take on the world (once I’m done sweating!) Or am I exercising for vanity? Because I don’t want to gain weight (again) and feel the waistline of my pants digging into my belly (again) and look like a somewhat overweight middle-aged woman (which, basically, I am)?
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    I look around the gym, at all the people vigorously burning all those calories, and think, what a lot of different reasons we all must have for being here on a Saturday morning. Some are pretty obvious: three teenage boys in high school football T-shirts spot one another as they lift weights: muscle building. A white-haired woman, thin as a blade of grass, walks on the treadmill; an older fellow makes a circuit through the weight machines. Eventually they leave together, two people in their 70s who know the secret to feeling good as you age: never give up.

    But what about the majority of folks at the gym–what’s our story? Truth be told, I’m thinking most of us are here because we want to look good. American society says thin is good, so thin is our goal. It becomes an ever more elusive goal as the years go by, but we refuse to give it up. We’re assaulted by society’s vision of beauty every day–in ads, in movies, on TV. So we emulate those “beautiful people,” even at the cost of sweating in a gym on a beautiful autumn day.

    When you have cancer, working out can be a challenge. That’s what I’m facing now. I’m taking Arimidex to keep the cancer at bay. It attacks my joints and muscles, making me feel like I’ve been run over by a bus. Another side effect is weight gain. (OF COURSE: with hormonal drugs, when is it ever weight loss?) Interestingly, exercise is the only thing that makes me feel better; not Ibruprofen, not rest, nothing else. While I might be tempted to tiptoe into the day gingerly, gradually getting the bod up to full speed without TOO much pain, I find it’s better to burst out of the starting gate at a full run. Kind of like jumping off the diving board into the icy lake, rather than wading in. So off to the gym I go.

    In the end, I DO enjoy the post-exercise high. I also exercise simply because I know I’m supposed to, hard though it often is. And as for weight control, and how I look–ultimately, I can’t control that. I’ve recently put on 5 pounds despite my best efforts at diet and calorie burning. Losing weight is a losing battle, for as long as I take drugs. But that’s OK. Cancer has taught me to embrace the benefits of exercise beyond weight loss. Even if I’m not thinner, I feel better–emotionally, and physically. And that’s even better than fitting comfortably into a size 10… well, most of the time!
Published On: October 10, 2007