Meet Alex

Alex talks about how important it was to her to be active both during and after her treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

I was always a fan of exercise before I was diagnosed, so when my consultant said I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the gym during my treatment and may not get back into the gym for months or even years after my stem cell transplant it really broke me. 

While I was having chemotherapy I did as much gentle exercise as I could. It took me a while to find (and accept) my new limits, but I would walk as much as I could (little and often) - I found exercise was an effective way to lift my fatigue and doing things like walking around the residential area near the Christie while I was hospitalised for long periods of time really helped me break up days and top up my vitamin D. There were definitely days where I couldn’t get out of bed, but there were also days where I could walk my dog around town and do as many as 8,000 steps.

While I was having immunotherapy my consultant actually advised me to train myself up ahead of my stem cell transplant. He said I should train my body for the transplant as if I was doing a long distance race, and that I wouldn’t fall so low if I had a higher starting point in terms of fitness. So I started going to my local ParkRun and doing a couple of runs a week in between. I started off by running and walking (mostly walking) but within a couple of months I was running 5km non-stop. By the time I had my stem cell transplant I could do a 7km hill run.

After my stem cell transplant, I was very weak for a number of months. When I started to feel a bit better, again I started with short walks up and down my street, then to the local woods, then into town. I bought a second hand bike and started cycling, too. Three months after my stem cell transplant I enlisted the help of an online coach who set created a programme of body resistance and cardio exercises for me. At that stage I still had my Hickman line in my chest and I had no equipment, but he was able to work around all of that and I slowly increased my fitness over a period of three months using basic exercises such as crunches, running on the spot, ankle touches and squats.

The biggest thing that exercise gave me was a sense of control and normality both during and after my treatment. It also really helped me to lift myself emotionally when I was feeling low or frightened - endorphins can really help to counter scary thoughts and a change of scene and fresh air used to really helped me to put my situation into perspective.
Less than two years after my stem cell transplant I ran a half marathon non-stop on behalf of The Christie Charity and in memory of Ella.
I fundamentally believe that staying active helped me to stay focused and positive during my treatment, and supported my organs and immune system in withstanding the pressure they were under.
Today, I attend a couple of gym classes a week and walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Blending into the middle of a crowd of gym-goers is incredibly healing for me - I feel like a normal 29 year old girl.