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Having a ball Hoffman Estates breast cancer survivor finds empowerment, inspiration in exercise

Not much slows Kathy Musial down.

Even a 2006 breast cancer diagnosis didn't keep the active Hoffman Estates mother of three from pursuing her recreational sports passions.

Kathy Musial of Hoffman Estates says exercise helped her better tolerate the effects of chemotherapy and radiation following a 2006 breast cancer diagnosis.
Kathy Musial of Hoffman Estates says exercise helped her better tolerate the effects of chemotherapy and radiation following a 2006 breast cancer diagnosis.

"The physical benefits of exercise probably helped me tolerate the effects of chemotherapy and radiation better," speculates the 51-year-old runner, soccer enthusiast, park district softball outfielder and basketball player.

"At a time when various drugs and treatments were assaulting my body, I wanted to do something to feel good. Exercise became that escape and allowed me to be just me."

Shock, awe and fear

Musial, who has been married 27 years and is a certified public accountant, says shock, awe and fear were her initial reactions after finding a lump just two years ago.

"It used to be hearing a cancer diagnosis meant you were going to die," says Musial, whose two aunts faced breast cancer more than 30 years ago. "That's not the case any more. I consciously made the decision that cancer wasn't going to control my life. I wanted to continue doing everything possible to be as healthy as possible."

That commitment served her well during her lumpectomy, mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, eight rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

"I continued to workout and exercise throughout treatment, taking only four weeks off from running following surgery, and missing some basketball and softball games since I didn't have the necessary range of motion to be an effective player," she reports.

Musial, who averaged 35 hours at work a week during treatment, says she modified her sports regimen temporarily when chemotherapy drugs left painful calluses on her feet and when fevers left her exhausted and drained.

"Thursday nights I focused on playing in my weekly recreational soccer league games, right after chemo treatments," says the three-mile a day inspirational runner.

Taking charge

Colleen Larsen, a registered nurse and breast health educator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, says Musial's experience isn't unique.

Colleen Larsen
Colleen Larsen

"Breast cancer treatment often means changes in body awareness and a loss of control," Larsen says. "In so many aspects, patients have so little control. It's important to take charge in areas where you can."

Those commitments to take charge of the process come in many forms, Larson notes, often depending on the stage at diagnosis and how quickly a patient is able to implement changes.

"Some vow to do all they can in terms of nutrition and exercise, others reach out to help in a meaningful way, and still others find sharing their experience cathartic," she reports.

'Every woman is different'

Kathy Hill, a clinical nurse specialist who does individual, couple and breast cancer specific counseling and facilitates support groups at Wellness Place, a nonprofit community-based cancer support organization in Palatine, agrees.

Kathy Hill
Kathy Hill

"Some women, upon learning of a cancer diagnosis, begin an immediate information search, others don't want to know too much and still others worry about information accuracy," says Hill, a thyroid cancer survivor and mother of two.

"Every woman is different and copes differently."

In Hill's experience, newly diagnosed moms in their 40s and 50s may be most likely to look at diet and exercise options as ways to take better care of themselves and improve their lifestyles.

"Premenopausal women taking the drug, Tamoxifen, may begin looking at ways to make symptoms more palatable and others may seek information on the impact of particular drugs wondering what more there is to do," she says.

When health is threatened, you become vulnerable and many seek ways to take control, she notes. Others, Hill notes, don't change one thing.

Following initial treatment, Hill says many women begin to see their own resilience and courageousness.

"Upon diagnosis, women enter a whole new world and begin learning an entirely new vocabulary and skills," she reports.

"Within about a year, many report they don't take things so seriously and don't get frustrated as easily. Others discover new organizational skills."

The experience, Hill says, often helps women become more empowered to take control of their lives. "No one asks to become a member of this elite group," she says. "Yet for many, the results are amazing. Cancer isn't a gift, rather something to deal with and overcome. What you get out of the experience can indeed be a gift."


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