Probably the hardest thing for me to embrace about my situation is the lack of answers. My doctor can’t tell me if a med she’s prescribing will work, or if it does, for how long. The only thing she can guarantee is that at some point it will stop working.

So a study released today that says exercise can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by 40% is probably the best news I’ve heard since the advent of chemotherapy.

To put it in perspective, many cancer drugs that the FDA approves have success rates lower than that.

The study goes on to debunk the myth – and relieve our guilt – that what we eat has anything to do with combating the disease. “Women with breast cancer don’t need to make extreme diet changes (like cutting out meat, dairy, sugar, soy, etc.),”  said Dr. Ellen Warner from Odette Cancer Center at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who coauthored the review of more than 70 research articles and publications. “There is no evidence any of these are effective. They can eat anything in moderation and following Canada’s food guide would be helpful if they don’t know much about nutrition.”

Yes, she concludes, a diet in high-saturated fat definitely spells trouble, while soy products – which at times get a bad rap because they mimic estrogen – can actually improve longevity.

Exercise, on the other hand, is the Holy Grail. The study recommends 150 minutes of activity per week, which it says less than 13% of breast cancer survivors do.

I count myself among that 13%. And I can only add my own anecdotal evidence, that exercising is what is keeping me sane. Working out improves my mood. It chases away the fear. It grounds me. It’s my Xanax. Yes, it helps me keep my weight in check. And I’d hazard a guess that by using my body more, it makes it healthier, more robust and therefore, on some level, able to fend off the rapid spread of this disease. If I had any recommendation to give someone in my situation, vigorous, heart-pounding, sweat-gushing exercise would be it.

More importantly, though, this study gives me something I can actually DO to keep my disease in check. It takes away my helplessness which can lead to hopelessness.  And it takes away the guilt that I’m not doing enough.

As cancer patients, we need more information like this – studies that show us habits that lead to better outcomes. I’m willing to make many lifestyle adjustments, but I need to know that they are having an impact. Someone telling me that he beat cancer by juicing or she did by ingesting a lot of cannabis is all well and good.  But a study that shows that thousands of people did one thing and changed their lives – well that’s something I can take to the bank.

Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson

Writer. Blogger. Advocate. Breast Cancer Conscript.