Exercise and Metastatic Breast Cancer: Tips from a Survivor

By Sandy Cassanelli

Finding out I had breast cancer in 2013 was very hard; learning two years later that my cancer was metastatic was even more distressing. But both times, exercise helped me face my situation.

I was in the best shape of my life when I was diagnosed at age 36. I was running, cross-training, and working with a personal trainer. Throughout my experience as a cancer patient – which included surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – I kept exercising.

Photos provided by Sandy Cassanelli Sandy Cassanelli uses exercise to cope with breast cancer.
Photos provided by Sandy Cassanelli
Sandy Cassanelli uses exercise to cope with breast cancer.

Two years later, my cancer returned in my liver. I transferred my care from a hospital in Connecticut to Dr. Eric Winer at Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. The travel is worth it because I am in the best of hands. Dr. Winer said my cancer was treatable and that I could live a long time. I take two oral drugs – palbociclib‎ and letrozole – and now, at age 41, I feel great.

As a metastatic breast cancer patient, it is important to me to inspire other women in my shoes and convey the message that they, too, can live well with this disease. If you have metastatic breast cancer, here are some tips that might help you.

You can live a full life. When I heard my cancer was metastatic I thought I was going to die. My daughters would have no mom. “This is it,” I thought. “I am in big trouble.” But it turns out that, with the right care, many women can live well with this disease.

Exercise has physical benefits. I didn’t get many side effects from chemo, and I like to think it was because I didn’t sit around. I was keeping my muscles and bones active by exercising.

Exercise has mental and emotional benefits, as well. Running makes me feel as if I’m not sick. It clears my mind and makes me worry less about the cancer. I run, go for walks, and do cross-fit and yoga.

A little exercise can help. Even if you are not a fitness enthusiast, you can still benefit from exercise. Take a walk. Go for a bike ride. Appreciate the fresh air and nature all around you. Each day is a gift.

Sandy Cassanelli is CEO of Greeno Supply and has two daughters, 14 and 10. She is an advocate for breast cancer research and co-leads the Breast Friends Fund that raises money for Dana-Farber.

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