Cancer Research UK tells us that 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. You might have heard that if you regularly exercise for half an hour five times a week, then you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by up to 20%. What many people don’t know is that physical activity can also help to ease symptoms during breast cancer treatment, such as fatigue and lymphoedema (tissue swelling) and reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after treatment. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Jo who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26. She is a wonderful example of an active woman who is using the power of physical activity to optimise her health and to give her the energy to help others affected by breast cancer too.
Tell us a bit about yourself Jo
My name is Jo and I live with my husband, one cat, one rat and one fish. I’m a Head Veterinary Nurse having been nursing for the past 14 years now.
Back in 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 26. I didn’t feel a lump but more an uneveness to my breast. I was lucky that I had always checked them and equally fortunate that my doctors took me seriously.
I ended up needing a mastectomy and removal of my lymph nodes, six rounds of chemotherapy and weeks of radiotherapy. I am now on hormone therapy for the rest of my life.
I became a media volunteer for Breast Cancer Care during treatment and did a few interviews for national magazines. I also became a lingerie model for a mastectomy bra company. Things I would never have done beforehand!
Currently I am a patient representative for my local hospital and have helped to fundraise for, design and open a new dedicated Breast Care Unit by appearing in local newspapers, magazines and even being on the local radio. I am extremely proud of this achievement.
I also play an active part on Twitter (@cattyfizzle) and am part of Breast Cancer Chat Worldwide (@Bccww). We chat every tuesday night 9pm GMT about a variety of topics and also try to meet once or twice a year. Anyone can join in, it’s not just for patients.
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
I started climbing regularly in 2005 as my boyfriend (now husband!) went regularly and persuaded me to go along. I carried on climbing throughout my treatment for Breast Cancer in 2011 but sadly stopped two years ago due to a change in work location.
My husband had started running during my treatment and is now participating in ultra marathons. Needing something else to keep me active I decided to try and start running and going the gym instead.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
Rock Climbing, Ice Climbing, Via Ferrata, Running, Kayaking, Long Distance Walking, Kettlebells, Cycling, Nordic Walking to name a few!
Climbing is by far my favourite- it’s a whole body and mind workout!
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?
Treatment for Breast Cancer and subsequent long term side effects have been my biggest barrier. I have to be careful with what I do as I have lymphoedema in my arm which can be quite painful and peripheral neuropathy in my hands and feet so have little sensation in them. I have also become asthmatic.
It can be very frustrating when I feel like I should be able to do something but can’t. I have had to learn to not be so hard on myself and to rest when needed.
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
Only when I fractured my ankle climbing! My family were naturally concerned and would rather I didn’t do such crazy things.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
Last year I aimed to run a 10k which I completed for charity in September. This year I have increased the distance and my target is a half marathon in my home town in October, again running for charity.
I have signed up for a variety of runs and races and am hoping to do 12 events in 12 months.
I’m also hoping to get a sub 30 minute parkrun PB.
What benefits has being active brought you?
Weight loss and strength are the main two. It has also definitely helped keep my lymphoedema under control.
I’ve found being active helps with my mood and stress levels. I sadly lost my Dad to cancer last year and also had unsuccessful IVF treatment. Running allowed me space and time to go out and clear my head when I needed to.
Having joined parkrun I’ve also met some lovely friends along the way who have really encouraged me.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
Don’t be afraid. Start wherever you can with whichever activity feels most comfortable.
I joined my local parkrun two years ago and did a Couch to 5k program. I’ve become a regular volunteer and recently I have been helping to get people running by helping as a pacer for a walk2run scheme.
I have also invested in a personal trainer so I can have someone plan appropriately for me, motivate me and to make sure I am doing things correctly! This has been so so helpful over the years.