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My Journey toward Survivorship

Mary Dolbashian wrote about her journey in our April newsletter.

I am finally at the tail end of my journey through the treatment of Stage 3 breast cancer. On one hand, it seems as if the process has taken a very long time, but on the other hand, it has flown by as so much has happened since I was diagnosed. The way I think has changed dramatically while going through this process and my relationships with people have shifted. Very few things cause me to feel anger and when they do, I let it go very quickly. I have come to believe that stress and anger cause illness. Believing that makes it very easy for me to take a deep breath and rethink anything in my life that produces negative emotions. Due to my new perspective, life actually seems much more pleasant to me now then it did before I was diagnosed.
As I wrote previously, the actual process of chemotherapy was pretty horrific. I can only assume that most people have NO idea that it is going to be quite as rough as it is—I certainly did not. I can also only assume that for many it can become a financial nightmare since more than likely they will not be able to work the way they could before chemotherapy; this was true for me as well. For those that are out of shape and not physically active, treatments take an even tougher toll.
Luckily, because of my level of fitness at the time, radiation was a piece of cake for me compared to chemotherapy. I was told by the doctors that I was going to feel like a 90-year-old woman by week two, but that never happened to me at any point during radiation. I am convinced that was because I taught Spinning® classes throughout my treatment and rode my Spinner® bike when I wasn’t teaching. It is extremely important for us to find a way to get oxygen to our cells in order to stay healthy and energized throughout these taxing treatments. Aerobic exercise is the only way I know of to make that happen and the only way that you could possibly know if you are exercising aerobically is by wearing a heart rate monitor. So heart rate training, in my mind, is the only way to go if you want to stay healthy.
As I started feeling better, I started doing lots of sit-ups and exercises to help my arm from being tight from the mastectomy. Cording, or painful tightness that extends down one’s arm, is a very common problem for women after having a mastectomy and stretching is important in order to avoid this side effect. Core work is important as well because your belly is a harbor for disease. One day I was inspired while exercising. I thought to myself, “I wish Washington Sports Clubs would have a program for women going through these treatments.” I believe that there are important fitness facts that all women facing cancer treatments should have at their disposal at fitness facilities.
The following week, Rick Marshall, the regional vice president of Washington Sports Clubs, was in the Dupont Circle club and I told him about my idea. He became excited about the program idea immediately. I told him that women going through treatments might be unable to afford it and he decided right then that this program should be free. As a result, on Sept. 7, 2010, we started a free program at the Washington Sports Club Dupont Circle location for women that are currently going through treatments. It is a 35-minute Spinning class that is done as an endurance ride with heart rate monitors. Along with that we do some post-surgery stretching and core work. The total class time is one hour. My goal is for Washington Sports Clubs and their affiliates to become Pink Ribbon Clubs! I have a vision of my class being the first of many that are designed to help women get through this process of breast cancer treatments in such a way that they are able to actually come out of this situation better than ever physically and mentally.
Many people hear the word cancer and automatically think death sentence. I say that the diagnosis is NOT a death sentence; it is merely a wake up call! My program gives participants the opportunity to learn how to take on their life in such a way that they can feel better and get into great shape. They will learn how to do what we do in class on their own as well. It is a fact that one has a much higher rate of survival with exercise. My doctor told me that the way to keep my cancer from recurring was to take Vitamin D3, exercise, and eat healthy and avoid alcohol. I am really hoping that any and every health club would consider this program for cancer patients everywhere. Despite the pain and discomfort of my journey, I feel as if it has also opened up the possibility of a much more fulfilling life for me. The idea of actually having a positive impact on the rest of someone else’s life truly gets me excited.
I am currently teaching six classes a week as I begin the last leg of my treatment process: reconstruction. Oct. 8, 2010 is my scheduled surgery for the first part of a three-part process. I am looking forward to this process and plan to be back to normal by the year’s end. On Sept. 20, I had a mammogram on my other breast and they found a new lump! Fortunately it was benign, but it told me just how important it is to make sure we go to our doctors on a regular basis. Visiting both your primary care doctor as well as your gynecologist a couple of times a year is so important—it could save your life!
I want to leave you with this thought. I believe another key to my success throughout this treatment was learning what I call letting it in. During my treatments, family and friends reached out to help me in a way that I had never experienced during my entire life. It was amazing to say the least. I had pretty much been in sole control of my own life up until that point and found it difficult to accept help. One of the best things about my experience was allowing people to contribute to me. It helped me be able to do what I really needed to do, which was heal and take care of myself. It made me realize just how many wonderful people there are in this world! The people in my life are what pulled me through this experience in a way that would have not otherwise been possible and I am so grateful to each and every person that touched my life. THANK YOU!
Mary Dolbashian





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