STOTT PILATES® Matwork
Mary Huckle was the healthiest she’d ever been in her life. As a personal trainer, health had always been at the top of her priority list. This made it more devastating to receive a breast cancer diagnosis when she was just 41 years old. Seven years after recovering from a full radical mastectomy, the cancer reappeared. Pilates has played an integral role in Mary’s recovery and ongoing treatment.
Here is her story.
When Mary’s sister started taking Pilates classes, she loved them, and encouraged Mary to try them. “You’d love it too,” her sister insisted, knowing that Mary was keen on anything fitness-related.
Mary had always been into fitness. Her health was paramount but in 2007, at her healthiest, she received a life-changing breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 41.
She underwent a full radical mastectomy, and had all the lymph nodes removed from the armpit. The resulting nerve damage and numbness were surprisingly debilitating. Mary remembers waking up in the hospital, trying to lift her right arm but not being able to do so. She wondered whether the movement would ever return. At the hospital, they taught her basic exercises to help rehabilitate her arm, but it wasn’t easy. Mary couldn’t get dressed, wash her hair, or do the most basic of tasks by herself.
Mary’s athletic background had given her a competitive nature, and after the surgery there was no way she was going to sit around wallowing in self-pity, she says. However, it was complete rest for at least two weeks before mild exercise such as walking was allowed. She couldn’t wait to start exercising. About a month after the surgery, she started 6 months of gruelling chemotherapy treatment, but she was determined to get back on the road to fitness. During chemo, on the good days, running, hitting the gym, and just taking her wig off and getting down to exercise classes became the norm she says.
After all the treatments, Mary undertook her STOTT PILATES Matwork certification. Pilates, she soon realized, would become “another string in her bow” as she continued with her recovery process. Little by little, she began regaining full range of movement and increased strength in her right side. Initially she found the arm movements in Breaststroke, for example, quite challenging. “You have to be patient,” she says.
Pilates, with its emphasis on moving around in different planes, helped her physically, and the emphasis on breath helped her mentally. “It’s relaxing but keeps you focused and stabilized,” she says.
Everything was going well, it seemed. Mary had returned to her fitness practice and, and had worked hard to re-build her client list that had suffered during that year of treatment and recovery. She was busy with work, doing what she enjoyed and just generally getting back to a sense of normalcy.
However, in 2014, she was once again diagnosed with breast cancer. Numerous scans and tests showed a reoccurrence in her chest wall and near the collarbone. Treatment recommenced with painful monthly injections to suppress oestrogen production until she underwent another surgery in early 2015, in which her ovaries and fallopian tubes were removed. Prior to that, a cancerous lymph node behind her collarbone had also been removed. Fortunately, these surgeries were less invasive than those in 2007. Mary rested for two weeks each time and was then able to return to teaching Pilates classes and training her private clients.
Radiotherapy soon followed. Five weeks of daily radiation except at weekends was hard but Mary couldn’t allow the breast cancer to undo all her hard work again. “I was determined not to let this second diagnosis affect me as the first had,” says Mary. “I felt like I had a responsibility to my clients.”
During treatments and recoveries, she’d even got used to verbally cueing class participants whilst just sitting down and not being able to demonstrate exercises. As frustrating as this was, Mary’s clients were both loyal and understanding. Her personal training clients were the same.
Several of Mary’s current clients are breast cancer patients, and her recovery has helped others in the same situation. She gives talks at her local hospital about the benefits of exercise, specifically Pilates, during and after breast cancer treatment. Mary continues to raise awareness for the prevention and detection of, and research into, breast cancer. She regularly delivers inspirational talks on how adversity can be turned on its head. It’s ironic that her personal struggles have led to a more successful career.
“I’m approached out of the blue, because someone, somewhere may have read or seen my story,” she says. “People feel that they can relate to me because I’ve been through breast cancer and am living proof that you can still do something with your life despite a major setback. My experience is invaluable to women who may still be reeling from the initial diagnosis, or are recovering from surgery or other treatments.”
After her first diagnosis, she went right back to her previously busy life. “I could work 24/7 doing what I love,” she says. However, since her second diagnosis, Mary has taken a more holistic approach to her life and to her health. She tries to separate work from family and to take more gentle forms of exercise, including yoga.
Mary lives with incurable, secondary cancer and she has checkups every four months which include blood tests, and a yearly mammogram. “Again, thanks to my personal training and Pilates background, I am extremely body-aware and will have any persistent aches and pains checked,” she says. “But I’m living a good life and feel very lucky to tell the tale.”