One reality of surviving cancer is that getting back to “normal” is often a long and difficult journey. Recovering from the whirlwind of diagnosis and treatment creates a new set of physical, mental, and emotional challenges for survivors. It’s hard to explain or understand unless you’ve experienced it. In some ways, life after cancer can feel even more isolating and lonely because so much of the everyday support patients receive from friends, family, and doctors seems to come to an end once treatment is over.
After six months of treatment for breast cancer—including appointments, scans, ultrasounds, biopsies, surgeries, and 16 rounds of radiation—Survivor Fitness participant Suzanne Gaulden found the empathy and understanding she needed from her family and trainer Ainsley at Rise Fitness in Mount Juliet, TN.
“Picking Up the Pieces” with Someone Who Understands
Suzanne was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in April of 2022 at the age of 38. Suzanne managed her treatment plan while working full-time and taking care of her family. Like most cancer patients with a young family, her own mental health and exercise took a backseat to everything else during treatment. After six months, she wanted to take steps toward recovery but wasn’t exactly sure where to start.
“For me, the hardest part has been picking up the pieces and dealing with the aftermath of having cancer, “ Suzanne said. “I was in survival mode from April to September. When all my treatments were finished, I was finally able to begin dealing with everything that I had gone through.”
That’s when Suzanne learned about Survivor Fitness from her oncologist. The idea of working with someone who knew what cancer treatment does to a patient’s body and mind was a key factor that inspired Suzanne to start the program.
“Working with a trainer is one thing, but working with someone who understands everything we have gone through is completely different,” she explained. “It made such a difference working with a trainer who gets when I was having a rough day, understands why I have a limited range of motion in one arm and recognizes that I’m not trying to get out of doing an exercise when I say that something hurts.”
Like many Survivor Fitness participants, Suzanne enjoyed an active life before her diagnosis. Part of her treatment plan included medically-induced menopause which, along with her medications, caused Suzanne to gain weight in a way that was new for her.
“The hardest part of recovery has been learning to love this new version of me and to value my strength and not judge myself for not being the same size I was a year ago,” she said. “It’s a huge hurdle that I am still working to overcome.”
Gaining a Friend While Regaining Strength
Through the program, Suzanne regained just as much mental strength as she did physically. She found a tremendous amount of comfort in working with a trainer who understood the impact of cancer treatment, encouraged her to decelerate when she wasn’t feeling 100 percent, and challenged her to push herself when she could.
“I feel more confident in the gym and have a whole new set of exercises to pull from,” she explained. “But even more than that, I didn’t have to be in a good mental place when I was there.”
There were many days when Suzanne felt like she had to “hold things together” through treatment and often felt like she had to present as if everything was great when it wasn’t. Through Survivor Fitness, she found strength and motivation by showing up—just as she was, with whatever she had to offer that day.
“I got stronger, faster, and I feel fitter. But more than anything, I made a friend that I will have for a long time. Ainsley was the perfect trainer for what I needed at that time in my life.”
Looking for Inspiration and Encouragement on Your Recovery Journey?
Suzanne is a great example of the community and encouragement that can be discovered through Survivor Fitness. If you or someone you know is a cancer survivor looking to regain health and wellness after cancer treatment, we’re here for you!
Connect with us today to learn more about the specific ways Survivor Fitness can support you on your journey to regain health and strength after cancer.