Breast Cancer Q & A: The Power of Fitness
Angie is a 44 year old breast cancer survivor who lives in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area with her husband of 16 years, their many chickens and outdoor cat. She was named the 2011 Team New Balance Member of the Year, which is awarded to a survivor in her community. She has spoken at Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, and modeled at several fundraising events including Plastic Surgery Associates and Cabela’s. Angie is the author of Beyond My Boobs: A Survivor’s Story of Breast Cancer, My Dream Girl Is Me: Fitness Journal and BreastFriendForever.com. She also recently founded Tap, Rack, and Cure© to raise funds for breast cancer research.
How were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
“I was looking to get a breast augmentation at the Plastic Surgery Associates office with Dr. Aitken because I was big into fitness and wanted to possibly compete someday. I had lost size and shape and was looking to fix that with an augmentation. Dr. Aitken told me I had to have a mammogram before the surgery, something that was required for all breast augmentation patients, though I had not had one before due to my age.
After my first mammogram, Plastic Surgery Associates called and said that there may be some fatty tissue spots and wanted to order an ultra-sound. At the ultra-sound appointment I just had a funny feeling something wasn’t right. Dr. Aitken again called me and wanted to send me to a cancer specialist who she did reconstruction for to see if I should have a biopsy. After that appointment and a biopsy, It was told to me that I had five tumors on one side. Stage 1 and Stage 1B. Per my follow up with Dr. Aitken she informed my husband and I about reconstruction and that she would still be my plastic surgeon and walk me through it all.”
How old were you?
“I was diagnosed at the age of 36.”
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life?
“First, I thought about it every day. That slowly dwindled as I was reconstructed and starting to look normal again. Over the seven years of surgeries, I lost all willpower to work out. The change in my body was too much for me. I struggled. I can look back now and say my outlook has changed as I want to experience as much as I can. I don’t want to hold back anymore or have a doctor tell me I can’t or I shouldn’t. I want to prove it can be done and inspire others along the way!”
What advise do you have for women battling breast cancer?
“Make sure you have a great foundation of support. That you only surround yourself with those who can help take care of you, listen to you, and push you to do more and be more. Staying positive is the best and hardest thing to do but it’s the greatest thing for your mental health. And make sure you ask a LOT of questions and demand answers from the doctors. Have a plastic surgeon that wants to do the best they can for you and uses the best technology as well as bed side manner. It can all be overwhelming and confusing so use your support system. Take them with you to appointments so they can ask questions that you may miss.”
What inspired you to continue your fitness journey after being diagnosed? What kept you on track?
“I honestly didn’t stay on track at first. I felt beat up and my body wasn’t responding to even the slightest movements. After my fourth surgery removing the scar tissue and replacing the implants, I had a lot of my movement back and then looked in the mirror to someone I didn’t know. I started slow with walking then dancing on a treadmill every morning. I gave up food that I didn’t make. Just eating healthy home cooked meals and moving again helped me kick start the journey. I started with small weights and tried to forget where I was seven years ago. I slowly progressed up to being able to do everything minus pushups and chest flys, which I have learned I can live without. Listen to your body but also push it a little more every day. Staying on track is easy when the change starts to come and your mind feels like the old you again.”
It is shown that eating right and exercising can offset anxiety and depression. How did fitness help you through difficult times? Do you think it made you mentally stronger?
“It for sure has changed me. I don’t think about the cancer very much anymore. Every once in a while I feel something shift or change and fear comes in. But then I knock it out right away. The mental is huge. You feel like you can do anything again, and over time, the cancer seems like a distant memory. Without being able to workout I feel I would slip into depression again very quickly. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and is so easy to do at home without a fancy gym membership. Simple moves and light weights can change your body in a matter of months, It just takes dedication. I won’t ever stop. It’s what gets me up in the morning. Literally. I work out first thing in the AM and am energized for the entire day!”
What can others in similar positions do to continue their fitness or even start regular exercise and healthy eating through diagnosis and treatment?
“Remember to start small. Start with just the movements so your brain and your body connect. You will feel different. Your chest won’t move like you want it to and it’s ok. Tell yourself it’s not from the pain of the cancer but the pain of not working out. Then add 3 – 5 pound weights. Slowly increase as your body allows you to. Pick up a heavier weight when you start your routine and just check to see if you can. And if you can’t, that’s ok. Stay at that lighter weight until you can. Overtime it will come. It has changed me so much. I want to reach every cancer survivor out there. I looked and looked for someone who was weight lifting and hitting the gym after reconstruction and it was hard to find. So I want to be that little voice that says “You can do it. Just try.”
I just finished writing a fitness journal called “My Dream Girl Is Me.” (by Angie Christine; available on Amazon) because when I think of who I wanted to be like the answer was always just me. But, the future me. This journal will help anyone track their workouts, movements/weights, food/diet, as well as places to journal your feelings through it all. It was the one thing I did every day to get me to this point, six months later, toned and 22 pounds down!”
You can find Angie’s Fitness Journal, My Dream Girl Is Me at https://www.amazon.com/My-Dream-Girl-Me-Fitness