Exercise can be daunting; it can be especially challenging following a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Though working out may seem difficult, research has shown that staying as active as possible before, during, and after treatment is beneficial. The American Cancer Society has encouraged people dealing with breast cancer to exercise as a way to boost mood, enhance independence, maintain a healthy weight, and increase energy levels. Additionally, exercise can improve overall quality of life and, perhaps most importantly, reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Just three to five hours a week at a brisk walking pace can reduce the risk of recurrence, and exercising outdoors during the sunny months provides vitamin D, an important anticancer vitamin.
For many women, an essential part of coping with breast cancer is learning how to feel comfortable with and get accustomed to their body, which may have been significantly altered by surgery and chemotherapy. It can be an arduous task finding attire that flatters the figure while not drawing attention to the bust line. Some women are very self-conscious about the loss of one or both breasts, and active wear that is specially designed for breast cancer survivors can potentially help them feel more confident about embarking on their road to recovery and post-breast cancer fitness.
The Brobe (thebrobe.com), a company that designs robes with a built-in bra for personal and medical use, was founded by Austinite Allison Schickel. She devised the Recovery Brobe for women who are dealing with breast cancer or breast reconstruction after being inspired by a conversation with a friend: “She was explaining to me the difficulties of finding a post-op garment that was functional and comfortable. After she showed me what she wore after she got home from the hospital, I was appalled. My initial reaction was, ‘If my mother, sister, or friend just had her breast removed, I would want something that was comfortable, attractive, and functional for them.’ I wanted to give women dignity in an otherwise hard and traumatic time,” explained Schickel. What makes the Recovery Brobe different from standard robes is its construction; pockets in the inside of the built-in bra can hold a prosthetic breast(s) or icepacks. There are additional interior pockets constructed to hold the weight of fluid in drains. The material is also lightweight and soft, so that comfort is never an issue.
Jennifer Ferguson, a fitness enthusiast in Portland, Oregon, founded Handful, a sports bra company. Handful’s sports bras (an X-back and an adjustable strap model) and workout tanks(shown above), all made with soft, moisture-wicking material, come equipped with a generously cut pocket and a set of color-coordinated removable pads. Women with tender skin that has been affected by radiation or surgery will appreciate the absence of any hardware on the sports bra, which has light compression and offers a more comfortable fit. For those who have range-of-motion issues, it’s possible to step into the Handful bra and pull it up rather than raise the arms up to pull it down. Because it is an approved mastectomy garment, purchases of bras, tanks, and pads can be billed to insurance, too.
Swimming is another highly recommended form of exercise for breast cancer survivors. However, finding stylish and functional swimsuits can often be a big hurdle to overcome for water workouts. Thankfully, there are several swimsuit lines and products that are designed to meet the needs of women who’ve had breast cancer. Nicola Jane (nicolajane.com), Amoena (amoena.com), Anita (anita.com), Jodee (jodee.com), and Hapari (hapari.com) all offer a variety of swimsuits, bikinis, and tankinis for women impacted by breast cancer (and several of these sites offer other apparel as well). Nicola Jane’s swim prosthesis is uniquely designed with clear silicone to provide a natural shape. As an added bonus, they come with a two-year manufacturing guarantee and can be used in hot tubs, saltwater, and chlorine.
Getting back into a fitness routine following breast cancer can seem like an intimidating task. It’s helpful to know that exercise is a wonderful way to relieve stress and that taking steps towards activity can potentially increase health while decreasing the likelihood of recurrence. Each new day offers the wonderful opportunity to get stronger and healthier, leaving cancer a step, a leap, and, eventually, a journey behind.