Ten-Year Survivor Fights Breast Cancer, Finds Exercise

photo of Sally Scanlon and her husband

Ten years ago, Sally Scanlon, 55, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was facing a breast cancer diagnosis. Today she is helping other women through the disease by motivating them to exercise.

Coping with treatment

In June 2001, Scanlon’s doctor found a lump during an annual exam. A mammogram and subsequent biopsy confirmed stage II breast cancer. After discussing options with her doctor, Scanlon decided to have chemotherapy and radiation.

She was 45 at the time.

She started her chemotherapy in July and finished in September, then began a 7-week course of radiation that November. During treatment, she experienced a lot of nausea and slept a lot. But over the course of her treatment, Scanlon says, she tried to stay positive.

“I didn’t want to hear about the worst-case scenarios,” she says.

Instead she leaned on her family and church family. Her daughter and grandson, who lived in Georgia, came to stay with her while she went through treatment. Her husband was unflappable throughout the process, as well.

“My husband, Rob, was so great through the whole experience. He even shaved my head when my hair started to fall out,” she recalls.

While in treatment, Scanlon attended an American Cancer Society Look Good, Feel Better class, which offers beauty tips to cancer patients to help them feel good about how they look during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I was so impressed with the class and the people I met there. So when I found out that the American Cancer Society was doing a walk in my area – the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Providence – I signed up.”

Getting moving

I discovered there were huge benefits to exercising. I've since lost 50 pounds. But the mental benefit has been even more important. It is such a big stress release.

Sally Scanlon

As part of getting ready for Strides, Scanlon joined a walking program with some of the other participants. They met every Saturday to walk.

“I discovered there were huge benefits to exercising,” Scanlon says, “I’ve since lost 50 pounds. But the mental benefit has been even more important. It is such a big stress release.”

Around the same time that Scanlon started walking, she found out about the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program, which matches specially-trained breast cancer survivors with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to provide emotional support and guidance.

In 2004, Scanlon went through the training and became a Reach to Recovery volunteer. And through that work, she found out about a study called Moving Forward Together 2, a research program to boost exercise among Reach to Recovery participants.

Scanlon was a natural fit.

“I saw the woman I was counseling get a lot of the same stress relief from exercise,” she says. “Even though I was the one in the counselor role, it helped motivate me to stay on track with my own exercise.”

Her advice to women who are newly diagnosed: get out there, get online, and talk to people.

“I didn’t know anyone who had cancer when I was first diagnosed,” she says. “Now my friends call me the ‘cancer magnet’ – I meet and talk to people with cancer all the time. Get in touch with the American Cancer Society. Get online. Talk to people. It really helps.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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