Fitness gives breast cancer survivors in the Valley power to recover

(Photo by Jean Henrique Wichinoski via Creative Commons)

By Brooke Pettet

Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., Marci Edmunds teaches a special exercise program for breast cancer patients called “Yoga for Recovery.” This program is provided on behalf of the John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center.

“It’s not about the pose, it’s about taking care of your body,” Edmunds said. She said going through chemo, radiation, medication and more creates obstacles such as dizziness and balance issues. Throughout the hour-and-a-half class, women are taken through meditation and yoga postures.

Through different types of fitness, physical therapy and classes like “Yoga for Recovery,” women are embraced in a community where they can better themselves physically and spiritually and encourage one another.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a study found that women who exercise moderately after a breast cancer diagnosis “had approximately 40 percent to 50 percent lower risks of breast cancer recurrence, death from breast cancer and death from any cause compared with more sedentary women.”

Most patients are fatigued during treatment, according to the American Cancer Society, and the tiredness does not improve with rest. Aerobic exercise programs can be prescribed as treatment for the fatigue.

“While I was doing chemo, I still went to pilates every week,” said breast cancer survivor Melissa Strohmeyer. “I’m very athletic so I needed to keep up. I wouldn’t have made it through if I hadn’t had the fitness aspect during the time.”

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Melissa Strohmeyer, breast cancer survivor, is a pilates instructor and physical therapist. (Photo by Brooke Pettet/PIN Bureau)

Strohmeyer is also a physical therapist and certified pilates instructor. After having gone through the hardships of cancer and the recovery process at a very young age of 37, Strohmeyer started a cancer program at 360 Physical Therapy in Scottsdale where she works. She is also a certified instructor through the Pink Ribbon Program, which is a therapeutic exercise program developed for survivors to help regain mobility and strength.

“Once you are in the community, you are IN the community and everyone is very supportive,” Strohmeyer said. “Survivors don’t realize how they can or cannot move, until they start moving and focus on their fitness.”

Strohmeyer finds it imperative to continue physical activity to better the overall recovery process. She found it to be the one thing that helped her feel like herself again.

“I wouldn’t have made it through without it,” Strohmeyer said. “The fitness aspect still made me feel like me, and that I wasn’t just a science experiment the whole time, because that is kind of how you feel being pumped with drugs.”

Strohmeyer explained how it does not have to be much; basic stretches were crucial to her recovery. Opening the chest to help get her shoulder blades moving made a huge difference in the way she felt.

According to Breastcancer.org, in 2017, about one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. That’s 12 percent of the women in the United States. An estimated 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 63,410 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States this year.

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In Arizona in 2013, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer ranged from 105 per 100,000 women to 118 per 100,000 women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Physical therapy “helped my strength and range of motion,” Colleen Lewter said. Lewter, who was diagnosed with stage 3A lobular breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, said physical therapy helped her find motivation, too. “I was able to reach up again and do everyday things like my hair.”

Lewter said fitness helped reduce the pain and aching in her legs while she walked because the pain of going through numerous treatments affected her entire body.

According to Breastcancer.org, after having a lumpectomy, mastectomy or lymph node removal, armpit discomfort including pain, swelling and a feeling of fullness or numbness is likely to occur.

For Ju Busch, who was diagnosed in March of 2014 at the age of 37, fitness not only impacted her, but it impacted her 17-year-old daughter as well. “She’s always been very athletic. She plays volleyball and something about after I got diagnosed made her get very serious about her fitness and her health,” she said.

Busch said she was self-conscious to go to the gym and workout, and her daughter encouraged her. And it has only been for the better. “You never know what’s going to happen, so I don’t want to be regretful and say that I didn’t try to help myself,” Busch said.

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Breast cancer survivor Ju Busch’s fitness journey during her recovery inspired her daughter. (Photo by Brooke Pettet/PIN Bureau)