Photo: Caitlin Kiernan
I always knew that my breasts would be collateral damage after a mastectomy. What I did not realize was that all subsequent treatments and anticancer drugs alter the rest of my body My waist, hips, hips and arms – forever – cancer was hard stuff, but I knew it was just as shitty, something that was harder for me – and something I was not prepared for – was mine I was no longer recognized.
Before I was diagnosed, I was slim and slim 2. When I ate a few pounds too much wine and pizza, I was able to attend for a few days Salads stay and throw off the extra thing After the cancer, it was a completely different story, and to reduce the risk of recurrence, I was given tamoxifen, an estrogen-blocking drug There are also some pretty brutal side effects. The big thing is that it put me in the "chemopause" chemically induced menopause. And with that came hot flashes and weight gain. (Related: These influencers want you to embrace the things that you dislike about your body.)
Unlike earlier, when I was able to lose weight quickly and easily, menopause proved more challenging. The estrogen depletion caused by tamoxifen causes the body to hold on and store fat. This "sticky weight," as I like to call it, takes much more work, and staying in shape proved difficult. Two years ago, I had gained 30 pounds that would not move.
I hear survivors talking about how stressed and depressed they are about cancer because of their body cells. I can tell it. Every time I opened my closet and saw all the cute size 2 clothes hanging there, I was seriously disappointed. It was as if I was staring at a ghost of my former thin and stylish self. Eventually I got tired of feeling sad and decided that it was time to stop complaining and regain my body. (Related: Women turn to exercise to help them recover their bodies after cancer)
The biggest hurdle? I hated sports and healthy eating. But I knew that if I really wanted to change something, I had to accept the torture of everything. "Hold or shut up" as they say. My sister Moira helped me start my lifestyle transformation. One of her favorite workouts was turning, which I had done years ago, and, well, hated. Moira encouraged me to try again. She told me why she loved SoulCycle ̵
These days, I train three times a week and make a mix of Physique 57, AKT and SoulCycle. I also train once a week with a trainer to get some stressful exercises into the rotation. Sometimes I will take a yoga class or try something new. Mixing my workouts was the key. Yes, it helps to avoid boredom, but it has an added benefit that is particularly important for menopausal women: it prevents the muscles and metabolism from settling. When you change it, the body does not get a chance to adapt, and instead it stays in a responsive state that allows the body to burn calories and build muscle more efficiently.
Changing my diet was also a challenge. They have heard the phrase "80 percent weight loss is diet". For women in the menopause, it feels more like 95 percent. I've learned that when the body starts to store fat, calories can not be equated to calories. The fact is that it is very important to know exactly what and how much you consume. It depends directly on how easy or difficult it is to achieve your goals. For me, cooking high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods for the week on Sundays was a new way of life, along with keeping healthy snacks like almonds and protein bars in my desk to quench my afternoon cravings. (Related: Portable high-protein snacks that you can make in a muffin tin)
But by physically moving my body to the healthiest body through diet and exercise, something unexpected happened in that process: I was in able to take care to be healthier as well. In the past, when I was training, I would be sulking and moaning all the time. It's no wonder I hated training! I made the experience miserable and exhausting. But then I started to change my attitude by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones as soon as they showed up. In the beginning it was really hard to change that pattern, but the more I focused on the silver situations, the more I started to think positive without enforcing it. I no longer had to actively monitor myself. My brain and body were aligned and worked in tandem.
My personal health and fitness journey led me to partner with two other cancer survivors and an oncology nurse to launch the Cancer Wellness Expo. It's a day of yoga, meditation and panel discussions with oncology physicians, breast surgeons, sexual health experts and beauty professionals – to help women who have conquered cancer or are still in treatment. (Related: How fitness has helped this woman cope with blindness and deafness)
Am I back at size 2? No, I'm not – and I will never be. And I will not lie, that was one of the hardest things to do with survivors. I often find it difficult to find clothes that suit my body, to feel confident or sexy in bathing suits or in intimate situations, or simply to lie in my own skin. But my fitness groove helped me to see how resilient I am. My body endured a deadly disease. But when I found fitness, I bounced back stronger. (And yes, I find it ironic that getting well in the form of a curvier, softer silhouette is today, thanks to the body-butt movement.)
But to be a witness to what the body can endure and then accomplish has me allowed to be grateful and accepting moments of grief. It's certainly a complicated relationship – but one that I would not trade. My curves and wobbles remind me that I have won the fight and are fitter and keener than ever – and a sense of gratitude for the second chance I get in life.