Can You Achieve a Transformation After Cancer?

‘Once you get over the shock, the real question is this: how do you want to live whatever time you have left?’

A cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event in anyone’s life, with earth-shattering consequences for both the individual as well as their loved ones.

From the obvious uncertainty about the future to simply managing to make it through each day, cancer brings a whole new set of challenges to life.

But while a cancer diagnosis is devastating, fitness can provide a positive and healthy focus to anyone going through an undoubtedly tough situation.

As our first look behind the scenes into the world of U.P., we spoke to two clients who have survived cancer (not to mention achieving some amazing results). We wanted to learn about their unique take on approaching a transformation, the challenges they faced, as well as what they learned during the process.

Of course, surviving cancer is a deeply personal and sensitive subject. Their experiences are so powerful, their words speak for themselves. We hope you will be just as inspired as we were by their incredible journeys!

 

What were some unexpected/expected challenges you were presented with during your transformation due to your history of cancer?

Helen:

Actually, none. It’s not impacted my training or been something we’ve had to work around.

In October 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine scan. In the face of such challenging circumstances, every person’s journey is individual. I’m extremely grateful that mine was found early and that after surgery and all the testing was completed, I received a positive prognosis.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this experience triggered in me a heightened self-awareness and levels of reflection, and it led me towards a mindset I may be otherwise wouldn’t have got to.

Over a period of time, I have made better lifestyle choices, so any effect the cancer had in this respect was ironically, positive. I became more thoughtful around what is and isn’t important and focused on the important parts. I wanted to be sustainably healthy, fit and strong for the long term, and there was nothing in my prognosis or physicality to hold me back from that.

A nice upside is that I can share my full panel bloodwork results with my trainer, so he has full and on-going visibility around my physiology, which helps to add another layer of insight and care.

At 53, Helen rebuilt her health and fitness after overcoming breast cancer. 

 

Alessandra:

After a mastectomy, I did not expect to be efficient at doing pectoral work. Thank God, because I chose not to have reconstruction, my pectorals were intact.

Many women who undergo mastectomies and reconstruction are uninformed about the fact that most reconstructions involve the pectoralis major muscle being stretched over an implant. Therefore, the overstretched pectoral won’t contract with enough strength.

On top of this, many surgeons cut the nerve supply of the pectoralis major muscles so that when implants are inserted, they don’t shift if there is a strong contraction. It was an unexpected challenge to face chest workouts after the mastectomy but a blessing to learn that the pectorals were intact and up for the challenge.

Battling through breast cancer taught 49-year-old Alessandra the importance of health and giving herself the best quality of life she could. 

 

What were your expectations of your transformation after a history of cancer? Did you have any worries or concerns before starting? Did you expect any specific challenges?

Helen:

I signed up for U.P. exactly two years after diagnosis and surgery. I went back to work three months after surgery and then started to struggle mentally. With hindsight I should have probably taken longer off. I had not come to terms with what had happened, nor how to manage it going forward. I’d lost confidence and wasn’t coping sufficiently.

I went to counselling for a year. During that time, I learned tools and thought processes to help me accept and to see and think clearly again. Then I gave alcohol the boot because a) it’s an unfortunate fact that it’s not good for you, and I need to fuel and nourish my body as best possible. And b) I wanted to join U.P. and knew I would not do it properly if I was wasting calories on booze and a bit hungover or unnecessarily tired in the gym.

So by the time I signed up, I had managed to regrow a positive mindset and was ready to start. I never actually thought about any limitations from the cancer (apart from checking with my oncologist before starting new supplements). My issue was more about how my 53-year-old body was going to react. Based on the results, I can confirm my body likes lifting heavy weights!

Alessandra:

I was expecting to build strength and worried about how debilitating the mastectomy had been and the whole process of undergoing breast cancer, not just physically but emotionally. I expected I would feel physically stronger, but what I did not expect was that I would feel so incredibly empowered.

What advice would you give to someone with a similar history of cancer? Both practically during the transformation and for people experience any worries or concerns about starting.

Helen:

Frankly, I can’t recommend it enough. I am healthy, fit and strong, and generally confident and at peace. Strength training is so good for total well-being, especially for women and triple-especially for older women.

Something bad happened that I had no control over, and taking ownership and action to manage my health, is empowering. I am actively contributing to preventing reoccurrence. Going down the one-to-one training route with U.P. is exactly what I needed.

I am at the gym three, sometimes four times a week, and my trainer works me way harder than if I were left to my own devices. He is like a rock, with me being accountable to him as well as myself. His knowledge and experience benefit me in and outside the gym on different levels. It’s that significant.

So, my advice is to sign up when you are ready and when you really want it. Whether you are totally recovered or still working things out, that’s up to you. My experience of U.P. is that they provide 360-holistic and humanistic support, and the goals are there to be attained.

I did not expect that strength training would become so fundamental to me and my well-being, and I am very grateful that it has.

Alessandra:

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, I understand it comes as a shock, and it’s scary and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. When you are diagnosed with cancer, the thought of dying becomes more real and imminent, but dying is very much part of life for the 7.67 billion people on the planet. Please remember that.

Once you get over the shock, the real question is this: how do you want to live whatever time you have left? The answer I gave myself was this: even if I have three months left, I want those months of life to have substance and quality. I want to be the best version of myself. Don’t delay starting your transformation. Start today.

 

Read more on how Helen and Alessandra accomplished their transformation goals alongside Ultimate Performance.

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