October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone knows someone whose life has been impacted by breast cancer.
A diagnosis of breast cancer is devastating and fraught. The diagnosis may begin as just a suspicion; a small red blotch, an inconclusive mammogram, a family history or genetic predisposition. For many women it is just the beginning of what is typically a long, stressful and lonely journey.
Many women of course survive breast cancer today. Increased awareness of prevention and early detection, as well as medical advancements in cancer treatments have meant there are more survivors every year.
The medical community’s focus is survival. And that’s a good thing! Survival is the all-consuming goal. All choices are made based on that ultimate necessity. But survival does not mark the end of the journey. Survival is one thing. Recovery is another. Recovery is forever.
For many women, the recovery phase can be difficult. In unexpected ways. The emergency is over. The fire is out. Things should get easier. In the best-case scenario, the cancer is gone and recurrence is not expected. In other cases, the cancer is in remission. The threat of recurrence, no matter how remote, is constant and pervasive. Awareness of what is needed for a successful recovery is often not prioritized.
What is necessary for a successful recovery? Recovery is an immensely personal and individual reality. Many survivors agree recovery requires a renewal of their relationship with their body that is positive, accepting, and forgiving. Many women report the medicalization of their body in treatment and the cancer itself to be profoundly alienating. For months or even years, they may have felt their body has betrayed them. Healing that relationship and feeling empowered and emancipated in their body again is a slow but vital process.
This is how Pilates or other mind-body exercise can be immensely helpful to recovery. Finding a supportive environment to renew our relationship with our body is crucial.
Movement heals. Specific, gentle, full body movement will increase strength, mobility and proprioception. It can enliven sensory receptors that have been long dormant increasing our awareness and encouraging physicality and acceptance.
Increasing thoracic and shoulder mobility eases upper -body tension and tightness. Building shoulder girdle strength makes our upper body more capable and daily activities easier. Focusing on core strength and postural stability helps us feel empowered, confident and sexy.
Underlying this mind-body movement experience is the ever -present focus on breath. Our heart and lungs are housed in our ribcage the muscular attachments of which are directly impacted by breast cancer treatment. The relationship between breath and recovery could not be more intimate. Mindful awareness of breath eases stress, and helps to propel us on the journey to recovery in all its complex connectivity to our physical and mental wellbeing.