I was a professional New York musician when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37. I had a mastectomy and reconstruction. Because of the high number of positive lymph nodes I had chemo, radiation, and then more chemo.
In the beginning of my cancer experience I exercised because it’s something I enjoy, and I needed as much enjoyment as I could get. I had a fierce determination to return to all the activities I love, including playing music, climbing mountains, skiing, and windsurfing. However, in 2001, there was little information about exercise and cancer; most books talked only about rest and proper nutrition during treatment. Whenever exercise was mentioned, it was done so cautiously. I actually had to ask my oncologist if I was allowed to continue working out. Exercise had always been a regular part of my daily routine; I wanted my life to remain as normal as possible in spite of my disease. And I wanted to be strong enough to fight!
What I discovered was that exercising helped me feel better and manage the side effects of my treatment. It wasn’t always easy, but it was empowering. It energized me, gave me a sense of control and strength to fight my disease.
When I finally finished treatment, I started training hard to return to climbing. I was anxious to get back to climbing, but also needed a goal to keep me focused on the positive things in life. I also wanted a way to do something useful in the face of this disease. Just one year after finishing treatment, I climbed Mt. Rainier, 14,410ft, to raise funds for breast cancer research. Summit day was, in fact, the two-year anniversary of my surgery. I followed that with trekking through the Himalayas, and climbing Cerro Aconcagua (22,841’), the highest peak in the Western hemisphere.
From my experience, I came to believe so strongly in the benefits of exercise, both physical and psychological, that I wanted to do something to encourage other survivors to stay strong. I got certified as a Personal Trainer (ACSM) and Cancer Exercise Specialist, and eventually launched Life-Cise.com, an online fitness resource specifically for cancer survivors.
I am passionate about the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors. I understand the difficulties as well as the tremendous benefits of exercise during all phases of treatment and beyond. I create personalized plans for each client, no matter what his or her current fitness level or treatment phase. I advocate setting goals, making a plan, and striving forward.
Besides my personal work with clients, I reach a wider audience through writing, workshops, and guest appearances. My articles on cancer and fitness, body image after breast cancer, survivorship, and empowerment, have been published in Coping with Cancer Magazine (May/June 2010); on GalTime.com, an online women’s magazine; and other online outlets. In addition, I blog frequently at Fitness for Survivors, the Life-Cise blog. I was featured in Fitness Magazine (Oct. 2010), and have also appeared in All You Magazine (July 2009). In 2010, Fox News iMag asked me to speak about my experience with breast cancer, and invited me back to shoot a video of exercise tips for breast cancer survivors.
In my workshops, I try to impart a sense of hope and empowerment. I provide people with practical tips and useful information that can be applied to their daily routines. I make them laugh; I make them cry; I make them lift weights. Through other speaking engagements, my goal is to inspire and educate. Drawing on my experience with breast cancer and the empowerment of exercise, I speak about cancer, survivorship, empowerment, goals, and, of course, the benefits of exercise. I have spoken for survivor functions, panel discussions, and on several internet radio programs.
2011 marks my 10-year cancer anniversary. In honor of that milestone, I set myself a new fitness goal. To celebrate 10 years, I attempted an epic 50-mile race. In May, I ran – and finished – the North Face Bear Mountain 50-Mile Endurance Challenge. I had so much fun with that race that I continue to run ultra marathons. You can read about my exploits and the next big thing (whatever that is) in my series, Run, Julie, Run.
But above all, I remain dedicated to helping other survivors stay fit and strong.