I have always participated in some kind of form of physical activity.

I was a gymnast when I was young, loved the fact I could walk on my hands, do the splits, back flips etc. When I was at school, I did netball and rounders and was on the team.  At secondary school I did more netball, rounders and the high jump but then you leave school, and you do not focus on your physical health.  I met Jeff when I was 15 and it was holidays, drinking and having a good time.

We married young when I was 21 and I started doing some aerobics twice a week, going to a class and even then, helping out on the stage showing people what to do.  I was always ok with exercise.  And it fitted a need, to eat and drink more you needed to burn the calories off. So, I did.

I started running when I was in my mid 30s and got, the “bug”. The adrenaline high that you get and developed this into longer runs getting towards 11 miles and more.  I thought about a ½ marathon, but I wasn’t competitive, that wasn’t in my mind, it was still a means to and end, the benefits that running gave you.

When I was pregnant with Regan, I kept running for quite a while, it got uncomfortable with the big belly and I dropped back to the aerobic exercise.  I was still doing the aerobics 2 weeks before I gave birth to Regan, I knew I wanted to “bounce back” from pregnancy without the extra weigh gain that it gave and I did.  I was back into running not long after.  Little did I know that breast cancer was growing.

After Regan was born, we did want another child.  Both were planned, he was a fantastic baby.  Sleeping through at 8 weeks old.  “Breast is best” and I breast fed him of course.  And the same happened with Faron. A fantastic baby, breast fed, sleeping through. The shock came after she was born and at 5 months old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Our world fell apart, and I went through a radical latissimus dorsi breast reconstruction, chemo, radiotherapy, tamoxifen for 5 years and spat out the other side feeling just awful, not in any great condition and not like myself.  I realized that I needed to listen to my body like I had when pregnant and continued doing the physical activity that I craved and needed.  At this point I was cycling with a friend as well, so I got back to it and started to feel better as well as running.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, people tell you to take it easy.  Yes, chemotherapy is hard but from the recent reports such as ‘Exercise as a treatment for depression’ this sitting and doing nothing can be the wrong thing to do.  Your wellbeing has so much to do with both your physical AND mental wellbeing. I know cancer affects everyone differently but physical activity, I believe, does help with your physical wellbeing, and gives you a focus and a buzz to get out.  The mental wellbeing that it can provide is an immense help as a patient.  It’s also a vicious circle, we are ill, we eat, we put on weight, we get upset about it.  If you are in this circle, you’ll understand the scenario.

I was talking to a friend the other day who has gone back to work in a high powered job, and she said how much her brain has switch on and become much more sharp (she’s already sharp) but again, it’s using the brain which is a muscle and when you do that you give it a work out.  It’s why I work doing advocacy work, I keep my brain healthy too!

The scenario after Christmas; gyms are full of people starting out on New Year’s resolutions to keep fit, but this must change. We must think about physical activity as a way of life.  If we are not doing it, why are we not doing it?  You MUST make time.  There are so many different things to try, there is something for everyone, it’s just a case of working out what’s right for you.  The NHS recommendations for adults are to undertake ‘at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week’ and strength exercises for major muscles.

Everyone who knows me sees how energetic I am and asks how I keep exercising? My answer because it helps me hugely. There is research now that explains that it helps to reduce the risk of recurrence from primary breast cancer but there’s much more that it helps with, from diabetes, to heart problems, to cancer.

There’s interest in how to support people with bone metastasis and living well with metastatic breast cancer but this study is showing that recommending aerobic and résistance exercise has beneficial impacts on QOL in patients with MBC.

PERSPECTIVEs on supervised exercise programs in people with metastatic breast cancer- a qualitative study in four European countries – PubMed (nih.gov)

What a better reason to do physical activty than to try to help risk reduce cancer or a recurrence?

It truly is a way of life and I have applied this without knowing to my life since before breast cancer. But it’s easy not to do it and you have to look at the bigger picture; to motivate yourself and help you find something that you may want to continue for life and reach whatever goal you may have.  Mine is living well with MBC.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is tough. You may feel like you will never be your old self again but if you can find the motivation, you can become stronger; mentally and physically.  And I would say try to get family and friends on board with this.  Supporting a patient in their fitness, is a really effective way to help people to recover and deal with the lasting side effects of cancer. When I was diagnosed with MBC, I upped my exercise from running, cycling and yoga to cross fit.  I did a 62-mile bike ride in between chemo 4 and 5 – the Manchester to Blackpool bike ride.  I did this with 26 others supporting me and raising funds for Christie’s hospital and metastatic breast cancer.

I did this challenge another 3 times for The Christies and enjoyed the team effort. I feel that physical activity gives me lots of motivation, strength, support, getting out in the fresh air, as well as specifically less side effects to the treatment that I was having with less fatigue, better sleep, better bone health, less joint pain, more energy, helps with the effects of depression, heart health, lung health, better concentration.  The list goes on.

And being an advocate for physical activity who walks every day to support my own physical and mental health wellbeing (certainly no jogging anymore…) I wanted something that was supportive to my health not just pounding the streets.  I still occasionally go on my bike but Nordic Walking with my music on is my thing.  I really feel that this has helped me dealing with the long term ongoing side effects of my disease and I’m thankful that I can still do this.  But you have to adapt and that’s what I’m good at.  If I can’t do what I’m doing now, I will find something else.

But remember there is no room for shaming people and I see this on Instagram and social media, just because they have eaten a piece of cake or had an alcoholic drink you know what, that won’t make their cancer come back.  Life is for living and this is really about how to manage your anxiety and the fear of cancer return as well as how you can support yourself living well with having constant treatment every 3 weeks or whatever the schedule is that you have with your drugs. I know keeping “fit” has helped me also to be in the best health when I have had a specific procedure as I know I wouldn’t have been able to recover as well as I did with the 14 different surgeries and radiotherapies that I’ve had.

And not everyone is as able bodied of course.  Bone mets can really cause problems with your mobility and ability aswell so you have to adapt to what you can do, what are your limitations, maybe just a walk around the block or chair exercises or some gentle stretching or yoga or meditation but there’s something and not one size fits all.  This is where professionals can get involved and advise and support you so ask for help and what is signposted out there to local people, to local groups that you may not know of.  There IS support out there and you may need to seek this out in different ways from different people.

And one thing I have seen with other poople in this senario is that I don’t want a surgeon to look at me and tell me that I may not be able to have supportive surgery for the metastatic disease I have because I’m not fit enough.  That feels like they are taking the choice away from you.  I want options so that I can think about my longer term survival not just something that has more longivity to a drug instead of treat and move onto the next drug because it didn’t work.  Maybe it did and a small area just needs addressing.  Surely maximum benefits of the drug should be what patients are looking for instead of being pushed through lines of treatment to the end of treatment without further options?

I hope you are able to get the support you need an physical activity enhances your life like it has done with me.  You’re never too old OR too ill to start doing something today!

Jo runs motivational exercise retreats for primary and metastatic breast cancer patients in her local area in Saddleworth

And also she has Instructors around Greater Manchester that deliver Nordic Walking FREE for primary and metastatic breast cancer patients to support them with the effects of cancer and lymphoedema.

You can find these both on After Breast Cancer Diagnosis