One size fits all

I’ve been out shopping before and noticed a “one size fits all” label on the size tag. Usually, my mind goes to “yeah well let’s see about that, I’ve got weird shoulders so this probably won’t fit right.” Or if it’s a hat it’s “ha! my head is way bigger than people realize, so this has a 20% chance of fitting my head.” I know I’m not alone in the “yeah, but” mindset when I hear “one size fits all.”

Cancer treatment is certainly not a “one size fits all” approach. It used to be, but thanks to medical advances through research, we know now that it absolutely is tailored specifically to the patient. Because of this tailoring, treatments are more successful, and cancer survival rates are generally improving.

Now let’s switch to a controversial “e” word - exercise. Think of it as a “treatment.” Exercise is a stimulus that your body responds to. How your body responds is dependent on a lot of different variables - some you can control (sleep, hydration, nutrition) and some are just part of your make-up (genetics). If this is true (and it is, because #science), why would we treat exercise with a one-size-fits-all approach?

Look at the fitness industry, in general. Think of ads on TV, magazine articles, and social media that are fitness related. How many headlines do we see of “Exclusive access to Jennifer Aniston’s/*insert any celebrity’s name* workout routine.” or “Celebrity workouts to shed 15 lbs in 14 days.” The expectation that articles like these set is that if you were just following a workout plan that a celebrity follows, you’ll look like said celebrity. These also send the message that it’s possible to lose 15 lbs in two weeks, you’re just not trying hard enough but here’s the answer finally. And what are these workouts typically? A lot of high-intensity, complex movement is common. Unfortunately, high-intensity and complexity do not always support longevity and sustainability.

With anything in life, it’s important to have realistic expectations. If expectations are too high, you’re left feeling defeated, discouraged, and disappointed. If expectations are too low, you’re left feeling unmotivated or like engaging in a particular behavior isn’t worth it. It would be unrealistic to expect that anyone will get their arms to look like Jennifer Aniston’s or lose 15 lbs in two weeks from working out. Exercise and physical activity are powerful, but only with the right expectations.

What works for you may not work for someone else. If you’ve completed treatment for cancer or are undergoing it, your body is responding and recovering in all sorts of ways that are likely completely different from how someone else with your same diagnosis is responding. On top of all of this, your body may feel completely unfamiliar with all the changes happening. There’s the whole concept of “new normal” that you are adjusting to, and the resources you have for getting moving again are likely more discouraging than anything.

Not only can the fitness industry’s media be overwhelming and misleading for the “general” population, but it’s particularly misleading for someone who has a cancer diagnosis. It’s truthfully just irrelevant in my opinion, and that’s because that media is not geared towards someone with a cancer diagnosis. There’s minimal information available to someone who has a cancer diagnosis about how to get active or stay active through treatment.

My goal is to help bridge the gap between research and the resources available. My goal is not to be someone that you feel you need to rely on forever, and that without me you can’t be active. My goal is to help you develop strategies for yourself to sustain being active when you don’t feel like yourself. My goal is to develop sustainability and realistic expectations with effective ways to meet your goals.

Tailored cancer treatment brings better outcomes and increased chance for survival, which is a fantastic improvement. However, depending on which treatment you undergo, different parts of your body may be affected. In particular, certain organs like your heart or your muscles can be adversely impacted. Thankfully, being active can help mitigate this impact, and there is constantly research going on to identify how to more specifically tailor exercise and physical activity to these changes your body undergoes.

Be patient with yourself and know that you don’t have to follow a celebrity fitness regimen to be healthy. While cancer treatment adds some complications to the mix of life, being active is actually a lot more simple than it may seem. More research needs to be done, but I feel that there is enough to get started. We know which chemotherapies are associated with adverse heart changes, and we know that certain areas of the body are impacted by radiation. With this information, we know whether to prioritize aerobic activity or resistance/strength-building activity. It’s important that you choose activities that you like to do, and not what a trainer who Jennifer Aniston pays likes to do.

I am here to teach you how to decipher what is safe/unsafe for you. I am here to help identify what is likely to be sustainable or realistic for you, and give you the tools you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Sarah Roberts