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Strong Women: & # 39; My life expectancy is tragically short, but I am not bound by it & # 39;

What does it mean to be strong?

It's not just about muscles, not even when it comes to sports.

In our series, Strong Women, we celebrate women who show their strength in all sorts of ways and how active their lives are shaped.

A study by Sport England found that 75% of women say that fear of judgment prevents them from being active.

So it's more important than ever for women to regain their definition of strength and find ways to make fitness a part of their lives.

Every woman can find their strength, love their body and be physically fit – regardless of appearance.

Rebecca Willcox was dignosed with cancer and told it was terminal. Fitness, specifically yoga, has been a lifeline for Rebecca – reconnecting her with her body in a way she didn't know was possible.

Rebecca & # 39; s cancer has recently been intensified and spread to her bones and vital organs (photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

Tell us about your diagnosis

It was August 2016 when I had a sudden pain in my right breast. I immediately went to my doctor, who gave me an urgent referral.

It seemed overly cautious: I was fit, had no other symptoms and no family history of breast cancer. However, after a biopsy and ultrasound I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I already had three areas with breast cancer on my right, as well as a little cancer in the lymph nodes under my arms.

My medical team agreed that I could handle an aggressive treatment plan well, with the goal that I would be cancer-free by the end of treatment and never have to think about it again.

I had a breast amputation and a lymph node clearance, along with 18 chemotherapy sessions and 15 fractions of radiotherapy on the chest wall.

I received all the treatments I could have received at the time, and I came out with the reassurance that there was no detectable cancer left in me.

The final treatment was tough – many people assume that you are now & # 39; good & # 39 ;, cancer free and back to your old self, but I didn't think that was the case at all.

For me, the possibility that the cancer would return was always at the forefront of my mind.

The emotional challenge only started when the most important treatment stopped.

I received a 10-year treatment plan, taking pills daily and receiving regular injections and checks. This was meant to prevent cancer, but I also thought I should do what I could to minimize the chance of recurrence.

Rebecca never expected her cancer to return within six months (photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

I became involved with the incredible charity for breast cancer. I started researching how I could best help myself in my new world after cancer.

I realized that I had to give myself time and space to get used to my new body – which was properly drawn and beaten as a result of the treatment – and to accept my revised way of thinking that we should cherish every moment that we are on earth.

I was a fitness nut for the cancer and returned to my long-distance run and in December 2017 I went on a fresh winter day for a wonderful 11-mile trip along the Thames. Halfway through I developed terrible back pain. I thought I had pulled a muscle.

My oncology physiotherapist treated me regularly on this point, so I went straight to her for help. She diagnosed a dislocated rib and a bit of bad luck.

However, when the pain did not disappear, she contacted my oncologist and arranged an MRI to ensure that it was no longer sinister. Unfortunately it was.

What happened when the cancer returned?

I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. It had spread from the original site to my bones, backbone and pelvis.

A secondary diagnosis of cancer has many names. It is also known as a diagnosis of metastatic cancer, stage 4 cancer, terminal or incurable cancer.

Rebecca says that the people in her life give her a reason to keep going (photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

Because it is now past the primary site, doctors think it can be anywhere in your body, even in microscopic form. That is why they say it cannot be removed, poisoned or irradiated as with primary cancer, and you will never really get rid of it.

These are really hard ideas to deal with, and I could not believe that it would only have taken me about six months before my cancer returned.

Secondary cancer requires a whole new mindset, and I found it difficult for one.

Unlike primary cancer, where you have a treatment plan with an end date, the secondary cancer treatment includes the daily management of the symptoms caused by the cancer. You have established a long-term management plan to extend your life where possible.

Like many secondary cancer patients, I had to accept that my health would deteriorate little by little from the time of diagnosis, which would require an increasing dependence on painkillers and palliative care.

Of course miracles happen and some people can live for years without secondary cancer without much effort, so I live in hope even though time is ticking.

I have received a revised life expectancy, which I have not shared with many people. It's tragically short and I don't find myself bound by it.

Instead, I do everything to work with my medical team and ensure that my symptoms are kept to a minimum.

I find it frustrating that I can be relatively good one day and crippled with nerve pain the next. What this has taught me is that I don't have to wait to get sick: if I feel good right now, I get up and go outside.

Every minute that I am symptom free, I can enjoy life and I do that.

Tell us how yoga helped you

Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had never really considered yoga. However, as soon as I tried a yoga session for people with cancer, run by the Trekstock charity, I became addicted.

Yoga movements are customizable, so you can physically challenge yourself, or just enjoy the idea of ​​& # 39; being present & # 39; in your own body.

Rebecca loves yoga because it is adaptable depending on how strong she feels (photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

On days when I feel good, I will focus on twitching my muscles and maintaining a strong posture – vital when the strength in my spine and core is affected by the cancer in my bones.

But when I'm weaker, I'm more likely to pause and just focus on my breathing.

This allows me to feel more connected to my body, so that I can detect new symptoms and problems. I've become pretty good at identifying when a new pain is just a normal trait, as opposed to when it feels like there's an underlying, more insidious cause.

I recently developed acute pain in my hip that looked like the rib pain that first warned me about secondary cancer.

Several scans later and I find out that unfortunately I am the right one: the cancer has spread again and intensified in my bones and vital organs. This is certainly bad news, but I am happy that my connection to my body, mainly made possible by my yoga practice, helped me prepare for the diagnosis that I knew would come.

Yoga also offers a fantastic mental escape.

More: Health

At these moments you do not think about your next scan, your previous diagnosis, your upcoming medical treatment or the prescriptions you need to order. No. You only think of your breathing. I am not a scientist, but I am sure it should be good for my overall well-being, blood pressure and so on.

When I take a deep breath, I imagine that my inhalation is the fresh air of a beautiful beach, while my exhalation is the black smoke of cancer leaving my body.

It is clear that this visualization did not cure my cancer, but it always makes me stronger and more positive, and this in turn should definitely be better for my overall health.

Yoga is also wonderfully non-judgmental. No one has ever fought against me because I have chosen a few minutes of the child to catch my breath.

Yoga is manageable on a practical level and this is important. I used to participate in fantastic energetic gym classes – circuits, HIIT, Step, spin – but nowadays I would struggle to complete the warm-up. When I attend a lesson, I imagine that I quickly become demotivated by how much my physical strength and endurance have deteriorated.

As much as I would like to return to running over long distances, my bones are now a bit too crumbly due to the cancer.

Why is it so important to keep your body fit?

Time and again my medical team told me that I could handle the primary treatment regimen for cancer because of my already existing level of fitness.

Part of the chemo in particular was terribly difficult to face, causing long periods of nausea, and yet I managed to maintain a good fitness regime during the time I was undergoing treatment.

Rebecca has not shared her life expectancy with many people (photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

Cancer treatment inevitably means that you are pumped full of medicines and I believe it will help your body enormously if you have a system that is flowing and active. It seems to me that if you are generally stronger and fitter, you will be more inclined to deal well with some of the stronger treatments.

I am proactive in my treatment and care, and have attended many medical conversations about cancer treatment, recurrence and so on.

I feel that if I expect my medical team to do everything in their power to keep me well, the least I can do is try to maintain good blood pressure and heart rate, even if I am no longer working on marathon creatures.

What does the term & # 39; strong woman & # 39; mean for you?

A strong woman is someone who perseveres even in the most challenging circumstances. Despite crosswinds, bad luck and adversity, she maintains her position and eventually overcomes adversity.

I think there are elements to be a secondary cancer patient that makes me strong.

Every day I live in the knowledge that I may not be in the area much longer and that the rest of my life can be taken with treatment, hospital visits and doctors. Getting out of bed and continuing with that burden that hangs over my shoulders every day is quite a challenge, so I think I am strong in that regard.

However, I am having a little trouble responding when people kindly tell me that I am so brave because I undergo all treatments, scans, bad news, etc.

I think these are just an essential part of cancer treatment, and I don't see how brave I am about getting a nurse or a doctor to sit or lie down.

How do you maintain your positivity?

My husband, my family, my friends keep me going. I am so blessed to have a life with it, I cannot bear the thought of letting go.

I chose to undergo treatment for my cancer and I choose to continue, even though the cancer continues to spread aggressively.

Secondary cancer has given me a whole new perspective on life that I actually find very blessed.

I no longer worry about the small things and I try to let go of as many negative feelings as possible, because they just don't help.

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I try to drown myself metaphorically in exciting, fun and beautiful things that make life worthwhile: a nice meal with a loved one, a walk in the park, a phone call with an old friend, a manicure. It doesn't matter what it is, it's just everything that reminds me how good life can be.

And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy because the more fun I discover in the world, the more I'm convinced it's easy to find once you start looking.

Strong Women is a weekly series that is published every Saturday at 10 a.m.

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