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Voices: Empowered with Exercise

December 10, 2005

Voices: Empowered with Exercise

By Joanne Cabello

A commitment to health and fitness has been a constant theme in my life. From age four through college I trained as a dancer and competitive athlete. As a personal trainer my clients ranged from pro athletes to celebrities to senior citizens. Another constant theme in my life has been the presence of breast and ovarian cancer.

During the years my mother was shuttling me between dance class and gymnastics practice she began dealing with cancer. She was first diagnosed with melanoma. Soon after, she learned she had stage III breast cancer.

Ten years later, a second breast cancer followed. One of many family members who faced cancer, Mom had fears, but she never seemed to doubt she would make a full recovery. Approximately thirty years after her first occurrence, she is cancer free. Her courage definitely made an impression on me.

Shortly before her second breast cancer, Mom learned about a risk management program at a local cancer center. It seemed interesting and she liked the idea of being proactive. She volunteered and asked the family to participate. Learning I shared Mom’s BRCA1 mutation, I familiarized myself with my options and later began early mammograms.

At age forty I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). A lumpectomy was suggested. Thanks to Mom, I was prepared. I used her experience as motivation. Given my gene status, it seemed unlikely this would be the last time I would confront breast cancer. I opted for prophylactic bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction followed by a prophylactic oophorectomy. This proved to be a good decision: the pathology from the surgery revealed bilateral multifocal DCIS, most of which had not been revealed by mammogram or MRI.

Even after deciding on surgery, I had my doubts. Being a healthy role model was a big part of my business as well as my self image. I worried about how I would look and whether people would perceive me differently. Then I realized this was my chance to prove the benefits of fitness to my clients and to myself. I intended to come through the experience fit and healthier, lowering my risk by arguably up to 95 percent. Inspired by Lance Armstrong, pre-viving became my proudest achievement.

After surgery, I learned how much a healthy lifestyle and exercise influenced my ability to meet the physical and mental challenges of surgery. As an athlete I was used to dealing with injuries. More importantly, following an appropriate exercise regimen throughout recovery provided great psychological as well as physical benefits. I regained a sense of control over my body, reconnecting with feelings of strength and power. Exercise does lower the risk of cancer. It can also provide a much-needed sense of wellbeing for cancer patients, survivors, and those at high risk. Having a set of physical tasks helped me focus on recovery and avoid dwelling on the negative. I knew I was taking appropriate steps to regain my strength and flexibility. I was also taking back my life.

I am so proud, thankful and yes, lucky, to be my mother’s daughter. Thanks to her foresight I prevented invasive cancer. Hopefully future generations will have even better options.

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