Weight control and exercise

Tips for post-rehabilitated breast cancer survivors.

As we all know, weight control can be difficult for any person, regardless of whether one is a cancer survivor or not.  However, we as survivors, have had (and continue to have) a few more obstacles to contend with than a person who is cancer free.

The way in which cancer manifests in a person is as different as the individual leaves on a tree. Nevertheless, there are common experiences that have been shared by all cancer patients and survivors. These include the initial detection, decisions about strategy, counselling, medications, surgeries, reconstruction, rehabilitation and much more. Once these areas have been addressed one might think that the most difficult stages are behind us, but that is often not the case.

One of these issues is weight control. This can become a problematic area for a number of reasons. Reasons include post surgical depression, dealing with conflicting dietary advice, denial versus acceptance of one’s current status, family and spouse acceptance, and the realisation of the presence of a foreign body whether due to a prosthesis or resulting from nerve damage. Other areas that have to be dealt with are chemotherapy and hormonal medications such as Tamoxifen and other oestrogen risk-reducing inhibitors. Unfortunately, drugs such as Tamoxifen, chemotherapy, steroids and even surgical stress can cause early menopause, which can lead to weight gain that might not have been anticipated. Thus, in order to regain a healthy and happy life, the issue of weight control needs to be addressed with a realistic dietary and concomitant exercise program that is within reach of a sensible personal goal.

The key to weight control, despite one’s genetic predisposition, ethnicity, menopause or any other intruding conditions, in my opinion, boils down to INPUT VERSUS OUTPUT. If one is going to consume a certain amount of calories a day, one must expend more calories than those ingested in order to lose weight. In other words, output must be greater than input. However, I am not implying that one should consider only the daily caloric intake, regardless of whether this is achieved by eating chocolate cake or mountains of broccoli, but rather that the caloric input and output should be based on sound dietary advice from a professional nutritional advisor or registered dietitian. I like to use the analogy of blowing up a balloon. The more air that is blown into the balloon, the larger it grows. To optimise the size and durability of the balloon, the ideal amount of air must be measured. Likewise, in a person, the consumption of solids and liquids also needs to be measured and monitored.

Having looked at the dietary aspect of rehabilitation, I now turn to the issue of exercise. What better way to regain one’s life after surgery and physical therapy than with regular and consistent exercise? Walking is an excellent and gentle way to begin. Once fully rehabilitated and having regained mobilisation in the upper body, swimming and Pilates can be terrific post-rehabilitation options. Afterwards, the field should be open for individual preferences. Remember that each exercise program will differ from person to person. Consider what exercise level (if indeed there was one) had been attained before the cancer was diagnosed, and also take into consideration your age group and the length of time away from exercise during your treatment periods. Again, to compare one’s body to a balloon, the older the balloon or the more exposed it has been to the elements, the more gently it must be handled. The newer the balloon, or the younger the person, the more roughly (or toughly) it can be handled.

To sum up, weigh the input (from calories) and the output (from exercise) and make this a new way of life.


Heidi Wright is certified in Pilates Mat, Allegro, Studio and Post Rehabilitation with Polestar Pilates and Pilates elder Lolita San Miguel. She is also a member and certified instructor with Pilates Method Alliance and a Post Rehabilitation practitioner with Pink Ribbon.