Movement and fellowship: living well with metastatic breast cancer

We caught up with BCNA Consumer Representative Jenny Muller, who was diagnosed with early breast cancer in 1996 and then metastatic breast cancer in 1998, to talk all things exercise, wellness and staying motivated (especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic).

At what stage of your journey did you come to learn more about exercise and the role it can play after breast cancer diagnosis?

With my initial early breast cancer diagnosis, information and advice about breast cancer and exercise was fairly scarce. For me then, the Encore breast cancer exercise program was superb.

With my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in 1998, I benefited from specific rehabilitative exercise care. A complementary health professional noticed how I was weak and unsteady, and suggested a GP referral to a specialist rehabilitation doctor. This for me meant a prescribed exercise program in the hospital gym. The hydrotherapy pool made walking easier and I gradually became stronger.

Since then, I’ve understood exercise as a key to being as well as possible during cancer.

Jenny Muller

Jenny finds joy and strength in exercise

What kept you continuing to exercise once that initial program had ended?

The understanding and support of my family and the interest of my doctors helped me enormously. It was a relief for us all with me getting around more easily, able to walk for exercise and walk to the local pool.

Also it feels positive working on self-care. I experienced the pleasure that comes from the feeling of lungs expanding, muscles happy to be worked, knowing I’m helping my bones out, the sense of relaxation in between exercise sets, and the earth under my feet when I’m outside.

What does exercise bring to your life?

Beyond the benefits of working with an individual routine, the social aspects of exercise classes are both fun and, for me, good motivation to keep attending.

I find joy in moving as a group, feeling the instructor’s expertise and care, and the collective energy when people share similar reasons for attending.

You can be stood there doing arm windmills, but put the music on and there is a real sense of fellowship.

At present, we need more information to help us say how people with metastatic breast cancer might or might not benefit when they choose to include exercise and nutrition guidance in their healthcare. Through my role as a BCNA Consumer Representative, I’ve had the chance to follow a University of Queensland clinical trial designed to investigate this area.

How has your routine changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Thanks to the gift of technology and the work of many health organisations, I’ve been able to keep up with exercise classes and a support group throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I greatly benefit from the motivation, structure and purpose that comes from committing to group exercise. While I dearly miss get-togethers, exercising via telehealth has enabled me to join up with others who have similar health aims to me.

You need a little online technology knowhow for video telehealth. It was a big relief for me to have kind extra help in my first session with my exercise physiologist. Her patience, and possibly my not giving up when I constantly lost the picture or sound, gave me the confidence to seek more video-based telehealth.

What’s your advice for others living with metastatic breast cancer?

There’s an energy balance to find that’s a part of living with metastatic breast cancer. There’s such a huge variety of ways that treatments, effects and timelines can impact people. So it’s important to seek tailored plans, in line with the fitness activity and sport we enjoy, with expert assessment.

Thinking beyond just exercise is also positive. Since the pandemic hit, it’s been fun joining in to a host of other simple and enjoyable activities online; from art to drumming classes, offered by health organisations to help build a holistic sense of wellness.

There are many sources of support out there: physiotherapists, exercise physiologists as well as the not-for-profit health organisations who have put their endeavours into helping us out during COVID-19.

Phoning a hospital or McGrath metastatic breast care nurse can refresh knowledge of resources to help keep on track. A phone consultation with your GP can begin an application to Medicare for an Enhanced Primary Care Plan. Even if the first steps feel like baby steps, give yourself a tick for starting!

Right now, I’m doing my own small bit to keep myself moving. I know that starting to get active again, perhaps after a rough patch, sticking at it, and keeping in touch with experts and others in similar situations does help.

If you’d like to learn more about exercise and metastatic breast cancer, visit our My Journey online tool.

Issue 87
Spring 2020