"Twenty years of running may not have prevented me from getting cancer, but it did make treatment easier than expected."
Words by Ruth.
Ruth was diagnosed with stage 2 Breast Cancer in November 2019. The only way she got through both her cancer treatments and the pandemic, is through intensive exercise to get her match fit ready for the physical challenge caused by medical treatment and to work out the emotional pain going on inside her.
Ruth has always been a physically active person, running in her early twenties, often getting up at 5 am to go running around a freezing and dark park. Like many, she hated it at first, but it was the only way she could get physical activity into a long working day. After a while, she began to love it and eventually her Friday evening run was the only thing that could relax her into the weekend. It began to be the only time where there was space in her head just for herself; the Devil and the Angel on her shoulder came out and went to war. It was the only time she felt she could be free from judgement.
In her mid-thirties, Ruth joined the gym, discovered Body Combat and never looked back. Body Combat is an aerobics class based around kickboxing and mixed martial arts. She completed 2 or 3 classes a week and absolutely loved it. Looking around the gym studio on a Saturday morning, seeing the same people who slowly became her friends. This became her crew. This was her time.
Then a Doctor told her she had cancer.
The bottom dropped out of her world.
'No, this can't be happening to me', were her immediate thoughts. The whole reason she had started exercise was to stay fit and healthy and now a doctor was telling her that she was seriously ill. Anger took root; if living a healthy lifestyle lead to a cancer diagnosis, then she would become unhealthy. Her automatic thoughts were to go out and do everything bad; sit on the couch, eat junk food, drink a bottle of vodka every day and go find every illegal drug she could get her hands on.
Instead, SHE WENT TO THE GYM. To clarify, why the capitals. Ruth spent 3 hours exercising every day for the whole month of December 2019. Combat classes, Pump (weight-lifting) class, Balance and Yoga classes. She would then come home and do a 3 mile run around the park. The only way she could get through cancer and the pain going on in her head was to exercise. Nothing else gave her peace.
By February 2020, within 6 weeks of her surgery, she was back at the gym and doing a class every day. Push-ups were difficult, but she persevered with everything else. Then people started to talk about Covid. She started to get scared. She moved to virtual classes at the gym, like many she missed everyone, but it was the only way she could keep going. She had just been told she needed chemo, at the start of the first lockdown. No immune system and a pandemic. Great.
Then the gym closed.
Of everything she had to go through this year, this has been one of the most painful things for Ruth to deal with. Even when it was open, she was too vulnerable to go. She missed her Saturday morning combat classes more than anything and can't wait until I can go back.
Straight away, she signed up to Les Mills online. Trilogy has been amazing in their online support. Keri's combat class got her through chemo. Not allowed to go out of the house at all for 3 months, she found not being able to run the hardest thing to cope with. Eventually, after 2 months, and three quarters of the way through chemo, she had to go out. Ruth felt she wasn't coping at all without any exercise; she was losing her sense of identity. She woke up at 5 am, watching the sunrise over the park, running with the feel of the cool air on her bald head. Words aren't enough to describe the joy this gave her. Once home, she fell asleep for 3 hours; it had been months since she had been this relaxed and happy.
After going 'stir crazy' from the experience of chemo during lockdown, Ruth obtained a car park pass to local country parks and now, at least once a week, she watches the sunset over Sywell or walks around Pitsford Reservoirs. Amazing.
In an effort to improve her mental health, she set a self-imposed challenge of completing as many walks on the Northamptonshire Walks website as possible. There are some amazing and beautiful places in our county that she didn't know even existed.
9 months on, Ruth has gone running or done an online body combat class every day. She has taken up candlelit yoga in the evenings at home, so relaxing and something that she never would have done without either Cancer or Covid-19. This will be something she will do this regularly for the rest of her life. She joins the online Zumba classes provided through the Breast Friends group, such fun. These are the things that are getting her through her cancer treatment during a pandemic. Ruth is looking forward to the time when she can go back to the gym; her time to shine.
Ruth would urge anyone reading this to go out and do exercise, any exercise. It is clear that she has found treatment less difficult than the doctors expected. She puts this down to her healthy diet and lifestyle. Twenty years of running may not have prevented her from getting cancer, but it did make treatment easier than expected.
About Breast Friends Northamptonshire
Breast Friends Northamptonshire is led by Leonie, Lucy and Jules who started the charity whilst undergoing breast cancer treatment during 2017.
The local charity provides practical and emotional support for people that are based in the Northamptonshire and surrounding regions that are affected by a breast cancer diagnosis. The charity offers support from diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment and also for people living with secondary breast cancer.
Breast Friends Northamptonshire aims to improve participation in physical activity by organising well-being events which give members the opportunity to participate in activities they may not otherwise have the chance to do to improve both physical and mental health, whilst also benefitting from peer support from others who have been through or are going through similar treatments.
Using Sport England's 'Tackling Inequalities Funding', managed by Northamptonshire Sport - Breast Friends Northamptonshire were able to extend their physical activity offer. This included weekly pilates classes by Lucy Pringle of Aligned Pilates, who is a Pink Ribbon certified Pilates instructor, weekly chair fitness and Zumba classes, and twice-weekly yoga and meditation sessions by Debbie Botterill of Om Yoga Studio. These sessions were tailored specifically for people with secondary breast cancer, who are among the most vulnerable members of the charity.
For more information on Breast Friends Northamptonshire, including news events and activities, please visit the website, click here or social media channels.