Exercising after breast cancer means different things to different people. For some of us, it means being able to swim laps again. For some, to go for a walk or bike ride. And for some of us—especially during those first post-surgery weeks—it means just being able to achieve a functional range of motion in our limbs.
What’s normal? What’s safe? What can I expect? When will it stop hurting?
Those are all questions you might have. Unfortunately, the answers vary among patients, even if they experience the same treatments under the same physician or surgeon. So we cannot give you an exact answer. However, we can help to dispel myths and provide encouragement.
Sound Advice and Instruction for Breast Cancer Patients
Doreen Puglisi, the founder of the Pink Ribbon program, joined us to help dispel myths and offer sound advice for easing into movement during or after treatment, and after surgery. Pink Ribbon instructors guide breast cancer patients with movement, helping them to reach their fitness goals.
Puglisi is a former college professor and Pilates instructor with a Master’s Degree in exercise science, and was once a breast cancer patient herself. She created the program to help breast cancer patients reach their personal fitness goals, whether they’re new to exercise or have an athletic background.
Exercising After Breast Cancer: Dispelling Myths
Myth #1: I can get back into my regular group fitness classes right after treatment.
Fact: This may be possible, but it may not be. Most likely, there will be some adjustment time. Puglisi stresses that the most important thing to do is to start moving safely and under the direction of your physician, with the specialized help of a Pink Ribbon instructor if desired. Regarding exercising after surgery, most physicians agree that as long as everything is going fine, you can start a regular exercise program. However, you’ll probably need to take things very easy in the beginning.
Myth #2: Now’s the time to start over in life by finally getting in shape and trying new kinds of exercise.
Fact: While research shows that exercise helps with physical healing and emotional well being both during and after treatment, Puglini stresses that now isn’t the time to try new types of exercise. She says that most patients benefit from doing more than the few exercises listed on paperwork they receive from the hospital, but they should be relatively familiar with the types of activities and sports they undertake. Use caution even with fitness classes geared toward breast cancer survivors if the type of exercise is new to you. Sometimes it’s best to avoid them due to the possibility of injuries or discouraging experiences.
Myth #3: I shouldn’t swim, lift weights, or do resistance training.
Fact: Chemo ports don’t allow water to leak in, so you’re safe to swim if it’s something you enjoy. Also, although the medical community used to advise against lifting for breast cancer patients, it now realizes the benefits of this type of exercise—if done gradually. Ask your physician or a Pink Ribbon program instructor for guidance. Swimming, moderate weight lifting and resistance training are excellent ways to work on your range of motion and strength, and it’s unfortunate that many breast cancer patients avoid them due to unnecessary concerns.
Myth #4: I’m better off being extra cautious. The longer I wait and rest, the better for my health.
Fact: Puglisi stresses the importance of being proactive and taking that first step toward movement. She understands how scary it can be. However, she’s witnessed (in herself and in many others who’ve sought mobility and fitness after breast cancer) the joy of obtaining a good quality of life after treatment. And it won’t happen if you don’t start. She emphasizes the benefits of moving beyond feeling stuck as a survivor, to actually thriving in life again or maybe for the first time.
More About the Pink Ribbon Program
When to Call a Pink Ribbon Instructor
Pink Ribbon instructors have received special training in working with breast cancer patients—post-op patients in particular. Patients may begin working with them during treatment, though. Breast surgery patients can usually begin working with them by six weeks after surgery, but can start over a year later. It’s never too late to start.
Pink Ribbon instructors have a variety of backgrounds, but they all have a background in movement, whether that be as a certified fitness instructor, for example in Pilates, or as a personal trainer, or a clinical background such as physical or occupational therapy, or nursing.
How to Find a Pink Ribbon Instructor or Learn More About Safe Post-Op Movement
Pink Ribbon instructors are located in several different countries, with most in the United States). Altogether, there are over 1,000 Pink Ribbon instructors, and you can find them here. If there are none in your area, you can still call or email one for advice, or you can join the online program (3 months for only $19.95!), or order the DVD ($14.99). The online program and DVD can be found in the Pink Ribbon Program store here.