Looking to hear from runners/other fairly fit people - *still* trying to recover fitness 2 years on


I’m looking to hear from other people who were reasonably fit before their diagnosis, and who struggled to regain that fitness after treatment. I was diagnosed and had surgery (mastectomy) in March 2020, didn’t have chemotherapy and had the one-week course of radiotherapy in May 2020. I now take Tamoxifen. I was reasonably fit when I was diagnosed (ran three half marathons in 2019 and was training for one when I was diagnosed). I am still struggling to get my old fitness back.

In 2020 I didn’t mind so much, because obviously I’d just had the treatment, and my mum also died that summer so it was a lot to take on. I got back to running, slowly, and didn’t bother about pace but just did the distance. I did do a half marathon in November 2020, six months after I’d finished treatment. It was the slowest one I’d ever done but at the time I wasn’t bothered, I wasn’t expecting much at that stage.

What I *was* expecting was for 2021 to be, in fitness terms at least, some kind of return to ‘normal’. I found in harder to train, mentally, than I used to - I think partly because I had less extra resilience left over to do anything difficult. I would get so downcast and upset about how slowly I was going compared to what I used to do, but also I get physically exhausted by basically any hill. The nurses kept saying ‘Oh well it can take six months to recover, it can take nine months to recover …’ and I am now way outside that window.

I’m aware of course that I am still fairly fit by many people’s standards, and I don’t want to be ungrateful or throw it in the face of anyone who would be very pleased to do what I am currently doing, but I feel as if a large part of my identity has been taken from me. I think my breast care team don’t really ‘see’ it because their stance is ‘well if you’re doing any exercise that’s great’, but I want to recover my own level of fitness.

Is there anyone else out there who a) was reasonably fit and b) found it much harder than the radiographers/nurses suggested to get their fitness back? Any tips?

Hello @Bellis Coldwine  

I was diagnosed last July, had a WLE and rads which finished in October, since then I’ve been looking to regain my fitness through running (10k is my favoured distance but I have done 3 half marathon distances), so I’m not quite at the point you are at as yet. 
I’m still trying to find a “new” normal having returned to work last month and I’m adopting a new approach to my running: I have joined a running “club” (not something I’d previously done). I have a friend who is a triathlon coach and she runs the running sessions around a track (that has massively helped my running “confidence” as I don’t have to think about how long? how far? will I get back home? plus the other people in the group are so lovely and supportive it really doesn’t matter how far or fast you run) 

Previously I had been coached by her for 3 months with a plan, which massively helped my running endurance through specific structured runs, this might help bring a new/different focus to your running?

I know what you mean when you talk to the BCN’s however I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be able to guide you, without doing anyone a disservice breast cancer doctors and nurses aren’t fitness experts (nor for that matter nutritionists, mental health practitioners or other “health” experts), once upon a time I was experiencing some abdominal pain when running and sent for an ultrasound for a suspected hernia: by the time I got the scan the pain had gone and when they asked what they were looking for and I said “the reason for pain when I run” the response “well don’t run then”

It sounds as though you’ve had a couple of tough years and understandably you are looking to rediscover something of your life pre-breast cancer, however I think sometimes we have to let go of dreams and memories and look for new ones: maybe some new running goals or challenges? I am finding that a lot of things in my life have changed and not just because of having had breast cancer, not all changes are positive but I keep looking for the ones that are :relaxed:

AM xxx

I am definitely interested in this question. I am 65 and I had a hip replacement 7 months ago. I had been a keen runner until the arthritis made it impossible, not fast, not long distances, but something I enjoyed and something that helped my mental health. Just about everyone except the actual surgeon said find something else other than running. I took the surgeon’s view, and once I felt the hip had had enough time to make a stable bond with the implant, I restarted running, This was January, coincidentally the same week I had my routine mammogram. Then I got a recall from the mammogram, and a breast cancer diagnosis. I managed to build my running back to 5k in the period before my WLE / SLNB. I then adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach with the breast care team and went running very slowly around 10 days after surgery. It was fine so I have subsequently gone back to running normally. I will be having radiotherapy. I don’t yet know whether I will be having chemo, but if so, want to try to continue running during my better weeks. 
Exercise definitely helped me recover from hip surgery and it has helped me mentally with this latest challenge. I think doing what you can is always better than worrying over whether you should. 

HI: for me, it was a dawning realisation that my marked loss of fitness has been due to tamoxifen.

It is both physical and mental, and seems to be related to the ‘endurance’ nature of the exercise: the time I can ‘endure’ is hugely reduced, even though I ‘think’ I can manage more!  It’s horrible, and I’m still not good at managing it 3 years down the line…  (my joints are still problematic, but far less so: I used to feel like the Tin Man)

Interestingly, I have found some of the Long Covid fatigue stories that pop up quite striking: they could be describing the nature of my fatigue.  Indeed, on a bit of digging, the oestrogen receptor also pops up in that pathology.

A few tips from someone still working it out:

  • Read up on post exertional malaise - might help.  Graded exercise is the key for managing this.

  • Listen to your body.  Really listen.  Before I could push on through during a workout (and enjoyed doing so): if I do that now, I am wiped out for 1-2 days after

  • It frequently sneaks up on me: I will feel absolutely fine during the day at work/ wandering around, but then NO petrol in the tank…

  • Weight training turned the initial corner for me: I should probably switch one of my jogs back to a second session of light weights, but I like being outside!

  • I need carbs!

  • and sleep… (walking holidays are now slower, and basically consist of a walk and then HOURS of sleep)

  • getting exhausted by long intense days at work can also wipe me out physically

  • it still pisses me off, but I have decided to continue the tamoxifen; and ‘accept’ the new normal

Hope this helps