THE BLOG

Breast Cancer and Running

11/14/2011 11:24 am ET | Updated Jan 14, 2012

I have been following a number of breast cancer patients, survivors, health care professionals and organizations over the past couple of years. I follow them mostly on Twitter, but also on Facebook. There is a very interesting conversation occurring on Twitter at #BCSM. Last week they were discussing lifestyle changes.

Many breast cancer survivors undergo all sorts of changes following their medical ordeals. Some change careers or hobbies, others start exercising more regularly and clean up their social contacts. Many of us get involved in any way we can to help those unfortunate enough to follow in our footsteps. This means that we may get involved in fundraising activities, volunteer at cancer centers or hospitals or write blogs similar to this one.

We all have our story to tell, and not one of them is the same. That is the beauty of it. There is so much information at our fingertips now. With social media use on the rise, there are many sources of information, both professional and social, that can be accessed in an instant.

Last Monday's Twitter conversation highlighted an American woman that went through breast cancer followed by a recurrence. She was the mother of a pre-teen when she went through her first bout of breast cancer. Following that she started running. It has turned out that running has sustained her through a recurrence, as well as a variety of treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation.

I felt an immediate closeness to this woman, as my story is similar. My girls were 13, 11 and 7 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. All vulnerable ages. I chose to be very open with them, and we talked a lot, and were very close. I had also started running the year before my diagnosis. This, above anything else gave me the physical and mental fortitude to deal with my operations, treatment and emotional stress. Had it not been for running, I would not have had the same experience going through the quest for my cure.

Patients, survivors and doctors took part in this Twitter conversation. All of them had their particular stories to tell and experiences to share. It was interesting to see the variety of services available to patients with regards to where they lived. But the one thing that jumped out at me was the discussion about the importance of exercise. "Exercise is the clearing house for estrogen," this survivor said. How true is this?!

For women whose pathology revealed that they were estrogen-receptor positive, such as myself, the importance of exercising and keeping the weight off takes on a whole new dimension. It could literally be a life or death decision. The higher your BMI is, the more likely you will have more estrogen in your body, and the more prone to getting cancer, or a recurrence, you will be. As I was already a runner, there was no need for the medical professionals dealing with my case to talk to me about the importance of exercise. Looking back to my twenties and thirties, however, that would have been sound advice.

Eighteen years ago, when I was already going through my first of three pregnancies, I gained the weight between all three, and tried my best to exercise. I registered for aerobic dancing at a place that had a childcare option (something that was rare, if impossible to find back then). I walked religiously, and even went to see a dietitian to help me get the pounds off. It worked, but I still carried around that ten to fifteen extra pounds that I would have been better off losing.

When I started running the pounds were shed, I felt great, and was at my healthiest weight. if only they had those jogger strollers around when my kids were young! Although nobody likes to be told that they're overweight, it would be highly beneficial for this discussion to be worked into any medical appointment today. It can be relayed to the patient in a compassionate way, and, properly articulated, might prevent some diseases from occurring in the first place.

So I have yet one more reason to lace up those running shoes. I need to keep my body at a healthy weight that will enable me to maintain appropriate estrogen levels as well. And for those of you that are not like minded. Have no fear. There are plenty of other ways to get that heart pumping. The important thing is to practice your preferred sport regularly, and maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet. Not rocket science. It may not keep cancer away, but can go a long way to preventing it!

Changes are what cancer survivors are all about. Like the old adage, we've been there ... done that. As a result we have modified our lifestyles, and we have also learned quite a few things along the way. And this knowledge, some which comes with experience, is what I want to pass along to you ... straight from the heart.