Pink edition: Here’s to your health - exercise key for survivors

Boisean Lisa Hecht has ‘never been healthier’ after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

clangrill@idahostatesman.comOctober 2, 2013 


Lisa Hecht, left, and her friend Marilyn McAllister, a fitness and wellness coach, go for a run along the Greenbelt. Hecht is cancer-free after being diagnosed with breast cancer almost five years ago. She credits exercise for her current health.


  • Fitness tips

    Marilyn McAllister is a certified cancer exercise trainer and owner of Your Fitness Your Life in Boise. She has compiled a summary of her guidelines for breast cancer survivors. It is posted on her website,

    Get your shoulder back to work: Breast surgeries disrupt muscular balance in the shoulder and sometimes elsewhere. This can affect posture, reduce functionality, and cause pain. Resistance training can target the affected areas and help you get back to the activities of your life.

    Rebuild muscle and be strong: Sarcopenia is accelerated in cancer patients by inactivity, chemotherapy and premature menopause. Progressive resistance training rebuilds muscle so you can be strong for life.

    Reduce body fat: The same factors that reduce muscle mass in cancer survivors also encourage increased body fat, which is a risk factor for many health issues. Aerobic exercise and resistance training help reduce body fat.

    Keep your bones strong: Chemotherapy may accelerate bone loss, especially if it induces premature menopause. Weight bearing exercise and resistance training help preserve bone density.

    Gain energy and reduce nausea: Light to moderate aerobic activities boost energy and reduce treatment related nausea. The key is to work gradually, balancing exercise and rest.

    Reduce likelihood of recurrence: Physical activity reduces recurrence, especially as your strength and endurance are increased so you can enjoy vigorous exercise.

When Lisa Hecht was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she figured she had two options: She could sit around and worry about it or she could get moving and do something about it.

“I had always been pretty active, but after I recovered, I committed to 30 minutes a day, six days a week of exercise,” Hecht said. “I committed to one 5K every month and then running a 10K at the end of the year. I did that, and I ran my first 10K in 2011. I lost 12 pounds that year, and I’m down 16 now.

“I feel so strong and light now. I’ve signed up for my first half-marathon Oct. 13, the City of Trees, and I didn’t even run before my kids were born.”

Hecht, a former engineer at Hewlett-Packard, is now 56, and she’s feeling healthy and fit … and cancer-free.

“I just had my annual physical, with all kinds of checkups,” she said. “I won’t go into all the details, but everything came out clean. So, I’m going on five years of survival now … and I’ve never been healthier.”

Success stories like Hecht’s are the reason that fitness and wellness coach Marilyn McAllister of Boise enjoys her job so much.

McAllister became a personal trainer in 2005, and from the beginning she integrated programs for breast cancer survivors into her work. She is a certified cancer exercise trainer and owner of Your Fitness Your Life.

“I think all of the work I do is very satisfying, in that I see life changes in people when they get more fit,” McAllister said. “But when I see regular people face tremendous obstacles and get through it and come out stronger, that’s just a very, very satisfying part of my work.”

Working with people who are battling cancer is personal for McAllister, too.

“I got into this specialty for a couple of reasons,” she said. “One on them was because someone close to me passed away from cancer. I had been walking with her when she was in treatment, and I realized how important it was for her to stay physically active to help her get through treatment, and then to recover from the treatment.

“I saw that really tight connection between staying physically active and being able to weather the storm of cancer treatment. And cancer treatment can be a storm. I saw that in a personal friend.”

So, she took that realization and ran with it, so to speak. For almost 10 years, she has been working with breast cancer survivors.

The first step, she said, is to convince women about the benefits of exercise.

“It’s sort of counter-intuitive to think that exercise is going to help, because they might think that it’s going to be another drain on their energy,” McAllister said. “But I tell them that a 10-minute walk will actually help them both mentally and physically. And then that success will help them desire even more fitness.”

McAllister is also a former engineer at HP, and she and Hecht worked together to battle through Hecht’s recovery.

“I had been working with her for a couple of years when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Hecht said. “She was great, because she shifted right into issues that were related to recovery from surgery. I was fortunate that I didn’t have chemotherapy and only a lumpectomy. It was early Stage I, so again, I was very fortunate. That’s why I really encourage women to get out there and get their mammograms and find these things early.”

She also encourages women to seek out running groups, because they can serve as a great support system.

But she and McAllister both said that exercise doesn’t have to be all about running.

“The key is to find something you’ll enjoy and you’ll do regularly,” Hecht said.

McAllister said she has clients who get their exercise through golf or other activities. Regardless of the form of exercise, people will see benefits, she said. Especially people who have battled cancer.

“Physical activity and being fit has a mental aspect for all of us,” she said. “It just happens to be more profound when someone is working through a disease.”

One need only to hear the pride in Hecht’s voice when talking about her running accomplishments to know that is true.

“I recently ran the FitOne 9K, and I had the same pace as my (personal record) in last year’s 5K,” Hecht said. “So I can see improvement. I’m getting faster. … Before I had breast cancer, running the Christmas Run for 2 miles, I couldn’t do it. Now I’m looking at a half-marathon.”

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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