With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and #So2Grateful (Member Appreciation) month, one O2 Fitness member shares her experience through a Breast Cancer diagnosis, and how she believes regular exercise here at O2 Fitness aided in her recovery.
As an artist and communications consultant, Joyce Watkins King finds that regular exercise helps balance out stress, and along with a healthy diet, keeps her in good shape. She’s even been a member of the O2 Fitness Seaboard location since it was first opened. However, in spite of the attention she always paid to her health, in 2012 Joyce was diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 3 Breast Cancer that she found during a self exam.
“I knew there was a chance based on my family’s history of breast cancer, (3 members of her family had breast cancer including her mother) but you’re never fully prepared to get that news.”
The silver lining? Because Joyce was already so healthy and in such great shape, her doctor recommended to put her on a very aggressive treatment regimen of chemo and radiation. Plus, through the approval of her doctor, she was able to continue exercising with her O2 Fitness family.
“I was still able to participate in more intense classes like BodyCombat and Zumba during the first few rounds of radiation. I felt like I had a huge support team helping me fight this battle. From my family and friends to my church and fellow artists to my exercise buddies at O2. Several members said to me that I inspired them to push themselves in their workout. They would say to me ‘If you can do it, even while undergoing treatment, I can too!'”
Soon into her treatment, Joyce’s immune resistance became too low to exercise around others, so she moved her routine home. Using a TRX system, she’d been introduced to at O2 Fitness, and gentle exercises, she still kept up her motto of regular exercise. “Every few hours, I would just do what I could, even if it was a few stretches.”
“I was still able to participate in some demanding classes like BodyCombat and Zumba during the first few rounds of radiation.”
After 18 months of chemo, surgery, recover and radiation, it was time to rebuild her energy and her strength. She began working with a physical therapist who specializes in lymphedema to regain flexibility in her right arm (the tumor had been near her armpit, underneath her right arm) and knew she needed some extra help with exercising. She began working with Jason Abraham, a personal trainer at O2 Fitness Seaboard. Joyce was instantly impressed with Jason.
“Even though I was the first person he had worked with who had breast cancer, he was incredibly proactive, reading about my symptoms and cancer to come up with the best plan. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to lift more than 2 pounds. Jason put together great routines for me that helped with loss of balance due to neuropathy, a typical side effect of chemo that causes a lack of feeling in extremities, and also gaining strength and flexibility in my arms. We also created a plan for at home with the TRX equipment on days when I was too tired to come into the gym”
My diagnosis really forced me to slow down. I suddenly realized, some things just aren’t as important as I thought they were. I had to learn to let stuff go. It’s been a real gift.”
Jason noticed that her can-do spirit and willingness to push herself to her full capacity was instrumental with the program he created for her. “I wanted to create workouts for Joyce that were enjoyable, while still working within the parameters of the capacity in which she could safely work at the time. I came up with a suspension training workout which she seemed to enjoy that addressed balance, building greater endurance, and expanding her movement capacity. Another part of Joyce that Jason was impressed with? Her attitude during their sessions. “Joyce would always approach each session with an open mind and a willingness to receive the approach I was implementing with her. She always asked questions and wanted to do more. It was so encouraging to see her continue to progress to greater capacities after we finished our program. I’m thankful to have worked with her!”
Joyce kept up with her routines created by Jason and her physical therapist, while alternating short cardio workouts until she finally felt ready to go back to her Group Fitness classes. Patience was something she was really tested on. “At first I would go to half a class and then do my flexibility exercises. Gradually, I worked my way up to attending full hour classes again. Now I’m back in the gym, back to my regular routine and loving it. I know that regular exercise was extremely helpful with my recovery. It’s just as much about the mental health as it is the physical health. I’ve got to make the time to have regularly scheduled exercise in order to give everything I can to the other areas of my life.”
“Several O2 members said to me that I inspired them to push themselves in their workout. They would say to me ‘If you can do it, even while undergoing treatment, I can too!'”
Since her last treatment in December 2013, Joyce says she is feeling better physically, mentally, and spiritually than ever before. “Nobody ever wants to get cancer, but it surprisingly changed my life in a lot of positive ways.” She said she’s learned many life lessons along the way, one of which is something we all struggle with. “My diagnosis really forced me to slow down. I suddenly realized, some things just aren’t as important as I thought they were. I had to learn to let stuff go. It’s been a real gift. The truth is, everybody will find themselves facing some sort of challenge. It may not be cancer, but it will be difficult. We have to learn to give ourselves time to slow down and heal.”
“Don’t forget to get regular check-ups!”
Now, Joyce finds herself going back to school (at the age of 58) studying to get her Masters in Fine Art, and being a new grandmother. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career and in my life if I didn’t have cancer.” Joyce hopes to help those who find themselves fighting the cancer battle. “As someone who has been through the tough days and the good ones, I can reassure them that they can get through it, if they allow themselves the time to slow down and take things one day at the time, staying focused on getting well and accepting help from friends. Also, don’t forget to get regular check-ups!”