Fill Out Your Profile to share more about you. Learn more...

Recovery and Exercise Stamina Issues

Wow, I still am having a hard time maneuvering around the forums since the .org blew them up. I have no idea if I'm posting in the right place, but here goes..

I'm seventeen months past my treatment plan, and doing pretty well. But I don't seem to be able to build up exercise stamina. As in, I'm now doing a lot of gardening and landscaping on a very large lawn I didn't own prior to my treatment. It doesn't matter how many weekends I work at the gardening, or how much walking I do during the week - I seem to just hurt from the effort without actually building up stamina and getting stronger.

Before cancer, I ran 10k races, half marathons and a marathon. Last year, I ran quite a bit. Now running feels out of the question.

I know gardening involves different muscles and types of effort. I know I'm nearly three years older than I was at first DX, but…. shouldn't I be able to build up more stamina, again?

Anyone else finding it's taking longer than they are being told to get anywhere with this?


  • maggie15
    maggie15 Member Posts: 771
    edited May 2023

    abbyrhodes3, I have the same problem. I coached competitive swimming in my "spare" time for many years so I know something about athletic training as you must having been a runner. I have been banned from the pool and the gym but I have stretch cords, weights and balance balls at home so I can work on everything I need to. My flexibility has improved but in spite of a reasonable progressive training plan my strength and stamina have plateaued.

    I know that some things are not the same as before (decreased lung function, anemia, worse arthritis and osteoporosis) but with meds I'm still in the normal range so I'm a bit puzzled, too. I discussed this with my ortho who told me I should be pleased since I have once again ditched my cane and all the degenerative changes in my spine are not troubling me. He then told me to walk only on paved surfaces since I had torn my meniscus walking on a trail (another ban.) I had left knee problems a year and a half ago much closer to bc treatment and rehabbed the knee with injections and PT exercises. I was able to get back to walking three miles at a time, albeit more slowly. I tore the meniscus in my right knee last Dec. With injections and the same exercises I can walk again but now hit the wall at two miles.

    I also get fatigued carrying things. I can now bring in the groceries from the car but I have had to really slow down. I walk first thing in the morning before I run out of steam. I used to be able to clean the house in a morning but now I have to pick one task for the day like vacuuming a room or cleaning the bathroom so everything gets done more occasionally. I am persistent (stubborn?) so I keep exercising hoping for improvement but more realistically preventing further decline.

    Some people seem to bounce back to their prior physical condition or are able to make progress working with a trainer. However the aftereffects of treatment and aging seem to hit other people harder. While this comes from a prayer and refers to life in general it can also be regarded as secular advice applied to conditioning after a setback.

    Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    I hope you can get back to something close to your previous fitness level and your new normal becomes closer to your former one. I sympathize with your frustration.

  • melbo
    melbo Member Posts: 266

    years ago I ran half marathons regulalry, but I had to take a break for my mental and emotional health after I fell into an ugly cycle of running to eat. After my diagnosis I wanted to get back into better physical shape so I got a peloton bike and started riding and lifting weights.

    i have definitely struggled with progress, with what feels like teeny tiny victories instead of actual, measurable progress. I assumed in my case that it was just being older and heavier more than anything else, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me that my body was also still recovering from all the treatment.

    I think like anyone living through body trauma (and surgery, radiation, chemo, and all of it sure seems like trauma to me) has to re-adjust their expectations and reset the parameters of what they consider progress.

    Good luck.


  • mountainmia
    mountainmia Member Posts: 857

    Sympathy and empathy from me. I finished treatment for TNBC in late 2019, and was ready to get back to my prior activity level when covid hit. Early 2020 I suspended my gym membership, and then canceled it after determining that I wouldn't be ready to go back for some time.

    I did finally go back a year ago (April 2022) and was able to rebuild my strength, past where I'd been before. But endurance is harder for some reason.

    Now I've been on a vacation to Spain (yay me!) and 2 days after arriving, I got sick with some upper respiratory infection. Despite seeing a doctor (who spoke much less English than my meager Spanish) and getting a prescription for antibiotics, I didn't get better and instead ended up worse. I got home Thursday evening and was able to see my own doc PCP on Friday. Lots more antibiotics, some prednisone, and antihistamines… Diagnosis of mild bacterial pneumonia. Generally I'm feeling better but my energy is wiped out. I think it's gonna be a long slog to get back to where I was before the trip.

    My experience, talking to the cancer clinic after-care NP, is she recommended taking yoga classes to improve my fitness. That's really her entire recommendation. She's said it more than once. I'm sure it's great, but that's not what I want to do. I want to be able to walk far, easily, and I want to be able to lift weights that are "challenging" for me. I don't want to do classes. I am not a class person. I don't want to do yoga. It's just not my thing. (Sorry. I've devolved into whining…)

    Anyway, I'm sorry you're experiencing these road blocks. As I said, I have sympathy and empathy. I think it's true you might not get back to where you used to be, but you might get better than you are today with patience. I hope so. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It's a frustration I think many of us feel.

  • ruthbru
    ruthbru Member Posts: 46,727

    I once read that however long you were in treatment, it will take that long again to get back to 'normal'. From my experience, I'd say that it takes twice as long as that. Gardening uses a lot of different muscles & can make just about anyone achy & sore because they are muscles one doesn't usually do. I would probably break your time up into smaller segments of time. As far as the walking goes, I'd keep track of how long & far you go & probably start adding a little time or distance (very slowly). You might want to work with a personal trainer (if you could find one with experience in helping people who have had health challenges, that would be ideal). Working with an experienced PT might be another good option. I do think most people can get back to their normal (or at least very close to it); but it takes longer than we (who like to be active) like & is frustrating!

  • cardplayer
    cardplayer Member Posts: 2,051

    I was very sedentary before I had cancer, but my fatigue wasn’t a problem. After I completed chemo and recovered from my mastectomy, I started to walk as exercise. I was also doing PT for should issues related to the mastectomy. But my stamina hasn’t returned. I walk about 2 miles everyday but by afternoon, I’m pretty beat. I spoke to my PCP about my fatigue and she suggested eating protein in the morning rather than cereal. So now I have protein for breakfast. It’s helped a bit, but I’m still tired by the afternoon. Maybe medications?

  • maggie15
    maggie15 Member Posts: 771

    @cardplayer, Sometimes medication helps if there is a measurable condition causing fatigue (anemia, hypothyroidism, vitamin deficiency) so it's worth checking that out. It's not a magic bullet, however. My anemia is caused both by iron deficiency and inflammation/chronic disease so iron supplementation helps some but the ICD is not so severe that it warrants EPO therapy. My steroid inhaler helps with breathing and stops the debilitating cough but it won't repair the scarred part of my lung that doesn't work or move my deviated trachea so it is fully open again.

    My palliative doc gave me a pretty good explanation of general post cancer treatment fitness issues when I asked the other day. Cancer treatment is toxic and about 53% of "survivors" (NEAD) are able to overcome the damage and regain or improve on their previous fitness level. That's why the weekly recommendation (150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, 2-3 sessions strength training, daily stretching) is given in time amounts rather than physical goals. Exercise is really important and should be given priority whenever you have the most energy. Nutrition (protein, water, fruits/veggies for antioxidants) and sleep are vital, too. Every person is different so the exercise program and additional therapies (meds, PT, acupuncture, cognitive behavior therapy) should be individually tailored. It means that some of us might have to rethink our aspirations (smaller garden, walks rather than mountain hikes) but should stick with our exercise routine since it cuts the risk for recurrence and promotes general health.

    Some of the treatment damage can't be identified and most people are on their own figuring this out as it doesn't seem to be a medical priority. I'm not thrilled to be in the 47% but I did luck out with access to helpful medical advice. We're all grateful to be alive and thankful for what we can do but this is just another aspect of the cancer cure myth.

    Here's a link to one survivorship program that deals with this issue. There are probably others, also.

  • mountainmia
    mountainmia Member Posts: 857

    @maggie15 yes, all that. Yesterday I was talking with my son, who is in the military and is deployed to a different US base for the next few months. He's working 12-hr days, 6 days a week and told me his goal is to increase the weight for his back squats and deadlifts to particular amounts. (Then he said, really his goal is just to get to the gym a few times a week, even if it just means shooting baskets by himself for 30 minutes.)

    I'm recovering from mild pneumonia (thank you, radiation-induced fibrosis, among other things) and haven't worked out for more than a month. I told him my goal right now is to do back squats and deadlifts again, whatever the weight.

    Point is, we need to make the effort to do what we can, even if it's disappointing just how much that is.

  • cardplayer
    cardplayer Member Posts: 2,051

    @maggie15 Thank you for sharing the article. My PCP thought my fatigue was caused by surgeries last year (mastectomy, implant and hip replacement), so I expected this year to be different. I guess I should be happy with my current exercise routine and do the best I can with everything else.