by Sara Rice

This week I wanted to share a story about a Maple Tree Cancer Alliance participant from Florida that has used exercise as a means to curb a chronic disease, lose weight, and stay active during their chemotherapy. We always preach that exercise is medicine, to stay active during treatment and after surgery and stay active long after a diagnosis as well. But to see an example of exercising truly being the one factor in someone’s life that has improved a pre-diabetes diagnosis, improved treatment tolerance and coherence and the one thing in life that one can control, it’s truly inspiring! This is why I want to share Diane’s story. Diane came to us already exercising, committing to walking 5 or more times a week, joining a local gym that offered exercise classes she enjoyed, and overall making exercise and healthy eating a part of her everyday life. For her, this wasn’t a “fad” , this wasn’t something to do for a couple of months leading up to one event, a wedding, a vacation, events we all try to look our best for, and then stopping. Exercise was a commitment she made in order to enjoy her life to the fullest. 

What better way to tell her story than to read her own words:

“Up until two years ago, exercise was a hit and miss for me.  I typically included exercise as part of a weight loss journey only to let some life event impede and eventually halt altogether any exercise routine I had going.  When I retired three years ago, my most important goal was to live healthy and enjoy my retirement.  That meant losing weight, incorporating a daily exercise routine, and then maintaining.

I started out slower than I intended.  After one year, I had lost only 18 pounds and walked only occasionally.  The labs for my annual physical showed my A1c reached 6.5 which meant I was diagnosed with diabetes.  That was quite the blow considering I had lost weight!  But boy did that give me the wake up call I needed.  I reduced my daily carbs by 25% and committed to walking a half hour every other day.  I joined our local YMCA so I could use their treadmill to ensure I got my walks in even during the hot and humid Florida summers.  A month later I added Zumba classes upping my exercising to six days a week with a restorative yoga class on the seventh day.  Four months after the diabetes diagnosis, my A1c had dropped to 5.5!!  I was excited.  A year later, I finally hit my weight loss goal (a total of 62 pounds lost), I maintained my daily exercising while increasing it from 30 minutes to an hour daily, and I kept my A1c level between 5.5 and 5.7.  All of this during the pandemic too!

In February 2021, I had one of those life events that could have derailed my “live healthy” goal – I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  After the initial shock and digesting the overwhelming amount of information I was presented with, I realized reaching my weight loss goal six months earlier and maintaining a consistent exercise routine put me in the best position I could be in health-wise to deal with the cancer.  Since the diagnosis, I’ve had a mastectomy with 14 lymph nodes taken out, four rounds of chemotherapy and I’ve just started my hormone therapy.   I’ve managed through everything so far pretty well and I attribute that primarily to my consistent exercise routine.  I was back exercising (albeit with less intensity) four days after my mastectomy and I kept my exercise routine throughout my chemotherapy adding a weekly cancer exercise program with Maple Tree Cancer Alliance that helped me with range of motion, flexibility and strength.  I appreciate even more how important exercising is to my health and well-being and now that I am on the backside of my cancer journey, I am continuing to enjoy my retirement.”

Maple Tree Cancer Alliance helps accommodate and modify exercises in order to continue the routine after surgery and during infusions/radiation. They were able to lower intensity when needed, and help give the extra push needed when feeling better. Diane never had to stop her exercise commitment, just modify and push forward. 

Even with our most active participants, the cancer journey presents challenges in physical activity that those who exercise regularly may have never experienced before. Having an Exercise Oncology Instructor to help modify exercise, lower intensity, amplify movements, and be present during all the ups and downs, can really make the difference between exercising during cancer treatments and halting it all together. 

Diane started with Maple Tree  right after her mastectomy and right before beginning chemotherapy infusions. Diane maintained her BMI and flexibility, 15% increase in cardiorespiratory fitness, and 12.5% increase in muscular endurance – all DURING chemotherapy infusions. 

The most important thing is to keep moving! Find what works for you and your body and continue! Exercise IS medicine!