Medical Minute: Exercise After Breast Cancer

“I was 44 at the time of diagnosis. I said, ‘Oh, I don’t have breast cancer, do I?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you absolutely do.'”

Bonnie grant is a survivor.

Bonnie says, “Honestly, at first there was a vanity thing going through my head. Does this mean I have to lose my breast? Does this mean I have to lose my hair?”

Her worst fears were confirmed. She had 10 rounds of chemo, a radical mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, 30 radiation treatments and 18 lymph nodes removed.

“Almost a year to the day of diagnosis, my treatment was complete.”

Five years later, she’s still fighting. Now, it’s to stave off a condition called lymphedema.

Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist, says, “Lymphedema is one of the most common late effects of breast cancer treatment.”

Removing lymph nodes can cause this swelling condition. To prevent it, survivors are told not to lift more than 15 pounds, ever. Now, University of Pennsylvania Dr. Kathryn Schmitz is challenging that.

“I cannot imagine it being acceptable for a doctor to tell a woman that she cannot use her arm fully for the rest of her life.”

In a study of 86 women, Schmitz found lifting weights left survivors stronger, more fit and not more at risk for lymphedema.

“They felt like they had their bodies back, like they were really capable again.”

Bonnie says the weightlifting has given her physical and mental strength.

“I exercise every day. I live with a 78 percent chance, I think they pegged me at for recurrence; I don’t even think about it.”

Her message to women like her is to keep fighting.