Alison has recently taken part in our RENEW classes and she is here to tell you how she found it.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer three years ago and completed my active treatment just over two years ago. I had a DIEP reconstruction which involved using fat from my stomach and when I was sewn back up my stomach was so tight I could only just stand up straight; standing up was something I had needed to work on after chemo left my legs so heavy it was painful to stand long enough to brush my teeth.

Four months after the surgery I took part in RENEW and learned that gyms weren’t completely terrifying, not all exercise is as traumatic as school PE lessons, and that I could get some strength back in my battered body. I joined my local gym and almost started enjoying my workouts. When I went back to work full time I carried on going to the gym at the weekend until I had another operation and side effects from my medication got worse. Work got even more stressful than usual and the exercise stopped happening as there just wasn't time. Then Covid-19 happened and suddenly I was at home with all the free time in the world, but nowhere to go, so when I saw that RENEW would be happening virtually I was lucky enough to be allowed another go.

Session 1:

Today was the first session and the first time “meeting” everyone. We went through the exercises from the booklet to record our baseline starting scores. It turns out 1 minute is a really long time. I was okay with squats and wall push-ups, but burpees and planks were horrendous. At least anything will be good progress from 0! A good thing about virtual sessions is that you can only see the PT on-screen and hide everyone else so you don’t get distracted.

Session 2:

This week was easier as I knew what exercises to expect, but harder because of the mini heatwave. It was SO hot! We worked through a circuit of exercises, twice, and then agreed that was enough in the heat. The PT gave us (well mostly me) different options for the exercises - my wrists are bad so I used a chair when we did push-ups, and since I can’t manage a sit-up I did reverse crunches.

Session 3:

I’m getting used to the sessions now and I’m not aching for as many days afterwards! I’ve made a good playlist to listen to during my exercising during the week. I’m managing a session or two on my own during the week now, although I don’t do as many circuits on my own as I do with the “peer pressure” of the group; the PT asked if we wanted to stop and I definitely didn’t want to be the first one to say “yes please!”

Session 4:

This week we redid the activities from session 1, which was really motivating. I’ve improved at everything and it felt good to see results. I found it really interesting to see how much my balance has improved, even though we haven’t specifically done any balancing exercises. I'm not sure I am noticing a rush of endorphins after exercising, but I'm definitely feeling pleased with myself and glad I've exercised. Big improvement from pre-cancer when I would (very rarely) go along to a class with a friend and have to try not to cry in frustration.

Session 5:

I’ve been waiting for the hit of endorphins and the moment when I suddenly love exercise so much that I choose it over Netflix and cake but it isn't happening. Instead, I've decided that I just have to accept that exercise is something I need to do whether I like it or not. After talking to my oncologist about my meds and the side effects I realised that the side effects of exercise (sweating, the effort and giving up an episode of Netflix) are actually better than the effects of my medicines (menopausal hot flushes, joint aches, more sweating all day, every day) yet I still take them because I know they will reduce my risk of my cancer coming back. So who cares if I enjoy exercise, I just have to get on and do it.

Session 6:

Happy Birthday to me! No going easy on me because it was my birthday, and it was actually a longer session than usual. We did 30 + 30 seconds sets and TWO 45 second sets. Exhausting! It was tough but I kept up, and I am feeling proud thinking how much more I can now do.

Session 7:

I’ve been feeling really low this week and it was a struggle to even get dressed for the session. The group are really supportive and understand the ups and downs, especially when shielding. Doing exercises I could feel I wasn’t doing it at my usual pace or energy level, but I kept going for the whole session.

Session 8:

Serious heatwave!!! I’ve already had to have an extra shower this morning because I’m so hot, so midday exercise will be tough! Luckily we just did the exercises for the record sheet, with plenty of time to cool down in between, and then chatted about future steps for keeping up our exercise. After 8 sessions I can hold a plank for 14 seconds longer and do 11 more wall press-ups and 5 more burpees in a minute!

Doing the sessions remotely has actually worked well for me because when you can do everything at home there is no excuse not to get on and do it - no travel, no class schedules, I just need some floor space and a sports bra. My group made a WhatsApp group so we can check-in and encourage each other which has helped my motivation in between sessions.

Of course, lockdown and shielding totally sucks, but it has given me the gift of so much free time to be able to continue working out between sessions. Hopefully, I've built enough good habits to be able to continue the good work when things get a bit busier.