“Introducing. . .Breast Cancer PREHAB.”

It was time to cry uncle.

Over the long Labor Day weekend I was not physically idle for a second (sleeping doesn’t count), and neither was my mind.

I’d been chewing on an issue that just wouldn’t leave me alone – the question of how to wrap my mind around all of the scientific information on breast cancer nutrition, fitness and lifestyle, package it up neatly, and present it to women who need it most in a timely, orderly, succinct yet engaging, ongoing message of love, support and inspiration. You’d think that would be fairly simple to accomplish, yes?

Ambitious, yes. Simple, no.

While writing my weekly blog over the last few months, sifting through topics relevant to the breast cancer community and working to develop content for my “still-in-progress-new-website”, one thing became excruciatingly clear. All of that scientific information is exciting and relevant, yet the sheer volume is enough to overwhelm, stymie forward motion, and bury me alive.

So what to do?

Well, go to the Morton Arboretum and run laps, of course. It was Saturday morning, and somewhere around the third mile I had the aha moment I’d been searching for.  

PREHAB.

That was it. Breast cancer PREHAB.

Shortly after my diagnosis I read this exact article in CURE magazine and remember thinking, “THIS. RIGHT. HERE. This is what women need to know about and take action on. This will help them.”

I also recalled the two most common challenges shared by the 140 survivors I surveyed on breast cancer and nutrition; and they both occur at the time of diagnosis:

  1. “I want to know what I should be eating and how I should change my diet, but I don’t know who to trust. Online sources give conflicting information, and my doctor said: a) nutrition doesn’t matter, b) you can eat anything you want,             c) he/she doesn’t know enough about nutrition to help me.”
  2. “What should I eat (or not) to reduce my risk of recurrence.”

My survey asked nutrition questions only, yet in the time since gathering that feedback I’ve had multiple exchanges with members of the breast cancer community about exercise and fitness; specifically, how best to use physical activity to improve treatment outcomes and yes, that hot topic. . .reduce risk of recurrence.

So there you have the eureka moment those running endorphins churned up for me;  focusing my efforts and work on the PREHAB space, an area of breast (and other) cancer interest currently in its infancy, yet steadily gaining ground.

So What Is Breast Cancer Prehab?

The idea of prehab as a proactive approach to avoid pain and injury is a familiar concept in the world of physical therapy, not yet so much in the breast cancer world, which makes education on what prehab is, its value and benefit, and what can be gained from taking action at the time of diagnosis imperative. Breast cancer prehab isn’t so much about avoiding pain and injury, but more about building physical resilience and strength to better withstand the rigorous demands on the body (and mind) of breast cancer treatment; surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are all trauma to the body, so the concept of prehab posits that the more resilient one is going in, the better the outcome.

While “prehab” may conjure up only a physical component, nutritional counseling and education, and even psychological support have also shown to contribute to positive outcomes.

Another thing I love about breast cancer prehab is that the concepts translate far beyond the time of a diagnosis to support a reduction in risk of recurrence, survivorship, or living with metastatic breast cancer. The guidelines for prehab – education on how to uplevel nutrition and fitness to build physical resilience – apply even for women who haven’t been diagnosed as a focus on prevention.

675 women PER DAY are diagnosed with breast cancer. The collateral damage (to use a phrase coined by Dr. Susan Love) in terms of physical limitations, psychological impact, and negative outcomes on energy, stamina, immune system health and a host of other physiological issues post-treatment is colossal. The opportunity to help lessen that burden with actionable tools and services is exciting and humbling.

My blog will continue to address a wide variety of breast cancer nutrition/fitness/lifestyle topics, all supporting the idea of taking action; which I hope I’ve convinced you is especially important at that critical time of diagnosis.

Stay tuned, big things are coming!

“Even before treatment starts, you can help the healing process begin.”                                                                            – Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD

If you’d like to learn more, these are good places to start:

  1. “Patients Do Better After Surgery If They Do Prehab First”
  2. “Cancer Prehabilitation Important Lessons From a Best Practices Model”
  3. To Boost Patient Health, Rehab Sometimes Starts Before Cancer Treatment