A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, including breast cancer survivors. Breast cancer survivors can benefit from the same healthy diet and moderate exercise routine recommended for everyone. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, and being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health – both your mental and physical health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes while lifting your spirits.
Wendy Kozel is a wife, mom, and a woman living with metastatic breast cancer. Read more of her story here.
Adam: [00:07] From Susan G Komen this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Adam: [00:19] A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, including breast cancer survivors. Breast cancer survivors can benefit from the same healthy diet and moderate exercise routine recommended for everyone. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health, both your mental and physical health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes while lifting your spirits. To help us learn more about how living a healthy lifestyle has helped her, let me introduce to you, Wendy Kozel. Wendy, welcome to the show.
Wendy: [00:54] Thanks for having me.
Adam: [00:55] Yeah, I’m excited to chat with you. I love talking about health and healthy lifestyles and healthy eating and exercise so to start with, why don’t you give us a little bit of your bio. Tell us a little bit of your story so we can sort of understand and appreciate where you’re coming from.
Wendy: [01:09] Okay, currently I am a fifty-year-old married woman with one child and I have been living with metastatic breast cancer for ten years.
Adam: [01:18] Wow.
Wendy: [01:18] Really I should not be here. I’ve been told twice that I have less than six months quality of life and have come over that quite significantly, so I’ve been living with breast cancer for fifteen years, I had early stage. After my Tamoxifen treatment of five years, which was recommended back in 2004 when I first encountered breast cancer and I, all of a sudden had a horrible pain in my shoulder and it turned out to be progression to the humerus. So that was after five and a half years of survival of early stage. Right now I’m on a maintenance drug. It is a chemotherapy called [Cazilla? 01:57] and I have infusions every three weeks as long as my blood panels allow me to get the infusion.
Adam: [02:05] And so we’re having this conversation because obviously, you’re active. You lead a healthy lifestyle that’s important to you, and it’s important to you to be able to do that in the midst of metastatic breast cancer, so can you talk a little bit about why you decided to stay active? Why you decided to live a healthier lifestyle and make that important to you as you’re walking through this process?
Wendy: [02:26] Well, I decided, first of all, it was kind of a selfish decision to start working out. I hadn’t worked out really a day in my life before cancer or even when I had early-stage cancer. I was forced into being a global business director to retiring and so for something to do, I thought, “Oh, I’ll go try the gym.” So when I started with the gym, I noticed that when I would push myself to go even though I felt horrible after treatment or even say days and weeks after treatment, when I got out of the gym it made me feel better.
Adam: [02:59] Okay.
Wendy: [03:00] Also you’ve been reading and reading about nutrition. What goes in, comes out. I wanted to make sure that I did change my eating habits. I’ve always been quite a healthy eater, but I pushed that down a little bit to no prepackaged foods. Less processed foods because we all grabbed for convenience and I will say I was one of the biggest proponents with how busy my lifestyle once was.
Adam: [03:23] Right. Wow, and the switch to non processed foods like that sounds easy and it’s just remarkably hard, right?
Wendy: [03:34] It is so very hard. You go to the grocery store and what is termed healthy is still made within a process and even though it looks like it’s homemade food, there are chemicals in there to preserve that food because they want to sell it just not that day, but the day after.
Speaker 3: [03:53] Right, yeah. It takes a lot of planning and thoughtfulness and intentionality to be able to do that even for a day, much less make it a lifestyle. Like you must really be very thoughtful in how you eat and what you do.
Wendy: [04:07] Well, of course, it’s a process. You can’t just go and knock everything out. Recipes come with easy fixing, like say you wanted to make those cheesy potatoes that everybody likes. Well, those hash brown potatoes that you make are pre-packaged, so they go through a process. The Campbell soup that you put in, that’s again pre-packaged, processed food. The cheese is pre-packaged, processed food depending with the shredded and all that that you do, so what you have to do is make individual sauces and actually bake your potatoes and hash brown them and do all that. It’s a lot of extra work, but I’ve come to the reality that it has really made a difference in my life.
Adam: [04:50] I love that and how can it not, right? Looking at my own life, looking at how we eat foods once you get away from the process and the chemicals and those things, it has to make an impact on everyone’s quality of life involved if we’re willing to do that, even though it’s a lot of extra work. So what kinds of activities are a part of your normal weekly routine that helps you maintain your healthy lifestyle?
Wendy: [05:14] Well, first of all, I’m a big proponent on eating. Diet is a four-letter word and it’s not a lifestyle change so therefore your weight will shift up and down. Breast cancer does not like extra weight on you, so it’s not like you have to be skinny Minnie, but again, you don’t want to be in an unhealthy weight so therefore I start with my meal planning during the week. So I start and I look through the ads in the paper to do it economically as well and make sure that I make grocery runs that are smart and get the stuff that I need for the week.
[05:49] Now I don’t say definitely on Monday I’m going to have this, then Tuesday I’m going to have that. I’m just going to plan what I kind of feel like making for the week and be a little bit general so that it doesn’t feel like you’re restricted into these things when your case buzzer telling you you want something else. And then I take a few hours out of the day on the weekend and chop some things up that I can readily chop, but basically, if you know what you’re doing you can have things that are already easily accessible and chopped into portions when you buy them if you need that convenience. We all hum and haw for chopped up should we say carrots from a grocery store that has actually done it, but we won’t hum and haw about how expensive potato chips are.
Adam: [06:35] Right.
Wendy: [06:36] So think of it that way or how much of a convenience it is for frozen food meal rather than having all these convenience things all chopped up for you so don’t hesitate to do that. That way your meal planning will not seem so overwhelming. The next thing I look at is what kind of schedule do I have in between all the appointments that I need to do and my rest. Can I make out a workout session or just something that I’m going to go to that’s going to be some sort of activity? So I block out those things and then I see what the weather looks like if you can go outside in your climate and I work around it. Well, Monday, I’m going to do this, but I try to schedule at least sixty to ninety minutes physical exercise but block off your time. Make it an appointment. If you tend to make an appointment with yourself, you’ll keep it.
Adam: [07:28] Yes, yeah I love time blocking because you’re right, if you put something on your calendar and treat it like it’s one of the most important things you’re going to do for that day, then you’re going to do it and it helps you to follow through, right? I love that you do that.
Adam: [07:41] And I’ve made it such an appointment in my life that I schedule my chemotherapy and my oncologist appointments around my workout schedule.
Adam: [07:50] I love that. That’s fantastic. Well, you know so speaking of appointments and some of your activities, let’s talk through just a few of the activities that you do that bring you peace and comfort as you’re sort of dealing with metastatic breast cancer.
Wendy: [08:04] Well, my gym is not a big gym, so it’s a very social atmosphere and if you start to talk to people, everyone has issues with their life. Nobody’s life is easy. Just kind of having an empathetic conversation with somebody it can really bring in a perspective and get some gratitude in your life. Secondly, I could never shut off my mind and until I went to yoga and it took me a good six months to be able to just shut off that mind. That is the biggest skill I think that I’ve gained out of working out and being active.
[08:41] When you go into those scans, you need to be able to shut your mind off because a lot of times you can’t move and you’re anxious and you’re very nervous, so that is one of the elements I think. Also the strength, right now I’m dealing with my shoulder being almost incapacitated because when I went in for the pain in my shoulder I not only had cancer, but I had rotator cuff problems that they didn’t even address or recognize, and now I am dealing with no rotator cuff.
Adam: [09:12] Wow, that’s tough.
Wendy: [09:13] So thank goodness I was working out my other parts of my body so I don’t have frozen shoulder.
Adam: [09:19] Right, well and so speaking of that, how do you listen to your body and then begin to adjust your schedule based on how you’re feeling. How do you accommodate for that?
Wendy: [09:29] Well, we as metastatic breast cancer patients I think we listen to our body way too much at times because every pain and anything that’s painful, it’s cancer. Cancer has progressed there, so what we want to do is we want to be able to be mindful of our body. We all get fatigue, but you should be mindful of where that fatigue hits the level where you should stop something and go rest because we will all say, “Oh, I’m tired or put something down. You know, I’ll do that tomorrow.” because we quote ‘have fatigue.’ So to be able to gauge when that fatigue gets truly to the point of stopping is an important thing to plan out.
Adam: [10:13] Yeah, okay.
Wendy: [10:13] You do have to listen because you can overwork yourself and we know we pay for it two days later, but listen to your body. Do your self-care? All of this is basically self-care, it’s not selfishness.
Adam: [10:25] That’s right, that’s right. You’ve got to care for yourself really even to be able to care for anyone else you have to care for yourself first, and I think that’s an important perspective.
Wendy: [10:33] Correct.
Adam: [10:33] So speaking of perspectives, how has adopting a healthy lifestyle helped you remain positive even through the difficulties of living with metastatic breast cancer?
Wendy: [10:43] I’ve seen it help many people because when they see how good I’m doing and I have this terminal disease it kind of inspires them to start moving towards a healthier lifestyle, so really that keeps me going too. And I feel so much better. Everybody talks about a runner’s high. Well, you get a nutritional high because you don’t crave those other things that are not good for you.
Adam: [11:09] Yes, that’s great. I love that. A nutritional high, I think I’m going to start using that term a lot more.
Wendy: [11:15] Yeah, well you truly do.
Adam: [11:17] That’s great. If you have one final recommendation that you want to share with our listeners, what advice would you offer them?
Wendy: [11:23] Do not beat yourself up. Take baby steps at a time so that you get little successes along the way. Don’t jump in and think this is going to change overnight.
Adam: [11:35] That’s great.
Wendy: [11:35] My famous mantra is expectations breathe limitations, so be present and just try to do what you can do to get to your goal.
Adam: [11:45] Wow. Wendy, this was great. I love your enthusiasm. I love your approach to life, and to health, and to nutrition. I really, really appreciate you being on the show and hope you just continue to rock it out at the gym.
Wendy: [12:00] Alrighty. Thanks and everybody can do it.
Adam: [12:03] Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org, and for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out @susangkomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @ajwalker or on my blog, adamjwalker.com
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Support the fight by donating to Susan G Komen.
Intro and outro music is City Sunshine by Kevin MacLeod. Ad music is Blue Skies by Silent Partner. The Real Pink podcast is hosted by Adam Walker, produced by Shannon Evanchec and owned by Susan G. Komen.