The road to recovery from cancer

11 July 2017 | Cancer Council NSW

Before Angela was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 she considered herself fairly fit and healthy. An early childhood teacher and self-confessed workaholic, the breast cancer diagnosis threw her life into turmoil and her exercise regime went out the door.

ENRICH, an exercise and nutrition program recommended by her oncologist, helped Angela get her life back on track.


Coping with a cancer diagnosis

“I actually had gone to my GP for something else and she noticed that there was a lump, and I was asked to do a mammogram. They found out that I had three lumps in my right breast. It was a whirlwind, you know, day-to-day teaching and all of a sudden, having to go into emergency surgery.”

A biopsy confirmed Angela had aggressive stage 3 breast cancer that had travelled into her lymph nodes. She had no choice but to get a mastectomy. Six lymph nodes had been affected, and 16 were removed. Angela’s surgery was followed by six months of chemotherapy and then 30 sessions of radiotherapy.

“Throughout my chemotherapy treatment, unfortunately, I felt really ill. I wasn’t exercising at all. I would actually force myself to walk down the local shops. The craving that I had was for a lot of salt, so I would have a lot of hot chips, because I couldn’t stomach a lot of food, and I was finding that my weight and my mood was shifting.

The side effects of the chemo debilitates you, and I think too, because I didn’t exercise, I felt a lot more sluggish, then after the 30th radiotherapy session, that just exhausts you. I found it so difficult trying to cope with everything that exercise wasn’t a priority.

Once my treatment was over I had noticed that I had gained quite a lot of weight, and my oncologist had noticed that my mood wasn’t exactly the happiest. My oncologist referred me to the ENRICH program.”


How exercise helped with Angela’s recovery

“I think up until I went to ENRICH, I didn’t know the importance of exercise. I needed to get prepared for the major surgery when I had the breast reconstruction and also rehabilitation after the surgery.”

Cancer Council’s ENRICH program is delivered by a qualified Exercise Physiologist/Physiotherapist and Dietitian, and is part of the recently developed ENRICHing Survivorship program which incorporates additional sessions of yoga and peer support to assist cancer survivors and carers to restore their physical and emotional wellbeing after cancer treatment.

Angela says that the benefits she got from ENRICH are the expertise of a qualified dietitian and exercise physiologist, “but what I particularly appreciated and welcomed was just their passion to help people. The commitment and the passion that I saw in the ENRICH program was a catalyst that actually encouraged me to go and get my health back on track.”

“Meeting the dietitian once a week, I had to keep a diary, and reflect on what I ate. It was frustrating at times, because I thought that I ate quite healthily, but it was the amount of food that I was actually eating.

The exercise physiologist helped me get into very basic training, just the treadmill, building up my heart rate.

I started doing Hatha Yoga, and the more that I did the yoga, the more at peace I was becoming. As I became stronger I was finding that the yoga was helping with my lymphoedema as well, and my well being. It’s become part of my daily routine, along with walking, you know, along with going to the Survivorship Gym at Concord Hospital once a week, it’s part of something that I do.”


Moving on from cancer


Angela (on the right)

For Angela, ongoing motivation comes from the benefits she feels, “The peace that I feel and knowing that this is part of my life. If you have been touched with an illness like cancer your life does change. You can’t expect to pick up where you were, because it is different.”

“Another incentive to exercise and to maintain a regular weight is because my cancer was oestrogen-based, my risk of it coming back is a little bit higher if I gain weight. The healthier that I am, the more that I maintain the weight, the less the risk is.

I think, in hindsight, if I had exercised through my treatment, maybe my mental state would have been a lot better, because I find exercising makes a big difference in my emotional well being. “

“I’ve often been asked what advice would I give somebody if they were recently diagnosed. There is support out there if you’re willing to take it, and I can’t stress that enough. If I was to guide others, if they had to go through the same journey, if you can incorporate your exercise, even gentle exercise, throughout, it would be ideal.

I’m in a position now where I can lead a happy and healthy life.”


Find out more

Visit our Exercise and cancer page to find exercises, videos and other resources to help your cancer recovery.

Find out about the ENRICHing Survivorship program.

Visit Life after cancer treatment to find all of our programs, webinars and other resources for people recovering from cancer.