How exercise has helped me through cancer diagnosis and treatment

By Debbie Pitfield

So here is my story ….


I thought I’d write about how exercise and the ride that I’m having so far has been. It’s not a ride that I wanted to sign up for and definitely wouldn’t have done so if I had any choice, but cancer doesn’t discriminate. I had a diagnosis of breast cancer on New Year’s Eve 2021. I’m a keen cyclist and I have done plenty of challenges especially during lockdown, but I didn’t have this challenge on my radar at all. I should also add here that I am a specialist nurse looking after neuroendocrine tumours.

Before my diagnosis I had already started training for Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride over 12 days fully supported but still, the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken. Total distance: 1016 miles / 1635km Total elevation: 62,360ft /19,000m.

I also had a rearranged London to Amsterdam ride for women v cancer in June that I wanted to do .

Being on my bike and cycling is my happy place and exercising is vitally important for me both mentally and physically . With LeJog on the horizon and my plan hopefully still to be able to do it depending on what treatment I had, I already had a cycle coach. 

The next few months I had 4 separate lots of biopsies and by the time I went to surgery on 8 th February I had 64 scans. The biopsies left me very sore and bruised ,so I trained on my turbo to avoid any risk of injury. Also the jolting and bumps on the road made riding my bike outside very uncomfortable. Being able to cycle helped alleviate some of the anxiety and tension waiting for biopsy results and numerous hospital appointments. 

I went to surgery on the 8th February and was told by my surgeon on no account to get on my bike for the next 10 days. I had wide local excision , lymph nodes dissected and bilateral mammoplastie. At day 10 I was on my bike just gently turning the pedals on my turbo. I had gone out walking from the day after surgery, gradually building up the time and distance. I like walking but not as much as cycling .

My surgeon also made me promise not to go out on my bike until 6 weeks after my operation and I did stick to this. I’d have been crazy not to after 5 hrs of surgery. At one point part of my wound broke down a little and I found another use for the little snack bag on your handle bar. You can put a little wound drain pump in it and keep cycling. My training was mainly in zone 2 in order to allow me to recuperate from surgery but also keep my base level of fitness . 

Post surgery, having had my histology results, I needed to have a 5 day course of  radiotherapy. I found this really tough and again being out on my bike helped me forget this treatment. I got really sore and tender. The hospital had fitted in my radiotherapy so I could still go on my already booked cycling holiday to Spain. 10 days after finishing radiotherapy I went cycling. I can still hear voices asking me my heart rate and if I was in zone 2. The mental boost from being out on my bike in the sunshine and doing what I love I find hard to put into words. I took it easy for me and managed about 80 km a day but then on the last day I did a 100 km ride with a decent amount of climbing. I felt awesome and so proud of myself.

I am also taking a drug called letrozole as my cancer was oestrogen positive to reduce the risk of it coming back. This makes me feel a bit yuck. I then also got Covid having managed to work through the whole pandemic from the start and avoided it. This was just before the Jubilee weekend. I managed to be clear 10 days before London to Amsterdam. I persuaded my surgeon to sign the medical form to let me take part. The ride was a blast and I met some really inspirational women and have made friends for life. They were truly awesome .

I’m also a member of the Yorkshire Cogs and Roses cycling club although I live near Cambridge. They are also a fabulous group and have been so supportive to me throughout this experience. I am truly lucky with the family and friends that I have .

Cycling enabled me to cope with the challenges that cancer threw at me and without my bike the whole experience would have been very much harder. It has been my saviour. Next Tuesday I will set off on LEJOG.

Find out more about Debbie Lakes To London adventures and how she is getting on with her fundraising and KM’s.

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