“I use exercise to help me mend my broken brain and body.” Karen’s story

Published: 07 September 2023
Karen was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in January 2020. At the time she was also managing existing health conditions, dealing with bereavement and then covid lockdowns. Here she shares how exercise made a real difference.

Meet Karen

I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in January 2020, and I had a hysterectomy a month later, just before the first covid lockdown. Things went downhill quite quickly after that. Because of the hysterectomy I went through the menopause and that floored me on top of the rest of my cancer treatment.I was not well after the surgery, and I had 6-7 further procedures. I really struggled. My mum had died three years earlier from the same cancer and I thought I would be next.

I also have two neurological conditions which give me pain pretty much everywhere and affect my mobility. They are called Dystonia Syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and the treatments for both of those stopped because of the pandemic.

“I was trying to deal with all of this alone as I don’t have any family since my mum died.”

Everything felt so hard with the cancer, menopause and covid lockdowns. I had four beloved pets who all died over the course of a few months as well. I could not take all the negatively anymore and I just broke down. I felt like nobody cared.

I was speaking with the social prescriber at my GP practice and Macmillan was mentioned. I had heard about Macmillan before my surgery, but I never really understood that everybody needs support at some point in their cancer journey, and that is what Macmillan is there to do.

The Macmillan Buddies service made me feel like a person again and not like I am a hassle to others. They listen, they talk and it made a real difference.

Karen is sitting on a small trampoline lifting weights.

“I took small steps to start to exercise.”


I thought how can I get to a place of fitness in my own way. I walked on the treadmill and tried exercise classes. I would try to do at least 10 minutes or I would sit down and do it. We are all different and you can find ways to make exercise work for you.

I tried Les Mills classes and now I do Bodypump with weights and Bodycombat, which is boxing and kicking. You can sit down and do it or just do half of the class. I do it at my pace. Cancer has an impact on you mentally and physically wherever you are on your journey. When I exercise it is the only time, I feel I can be myself. When I am low in mood, I will exercise as it is a distraction – even if I do a short session.

When it was covid, it helped me to see people and I started doing disabled trampolining. This is when you have a specialist teacher who helps you if you have health conditions. I am now shadowing them so I can learn to be a coach.

“When I had my breakdown, I felt like I was not going to enjoy life again.”


I was overwhelmed by everything going on. Maybe it was the menopause, the brain fog and the trauma of everything going on. I hit this wall where I did not care what happened to me. Macmillan Buddies helped to save me as I was at rock bottom. I started to take one day at a time.

Jean has been like a second mother to me and made me feel I have a purpose and I am not alone. I think it is important to break down the barriers and talk about the ways cancer can impact on you.

I use exercise to help mend my broken brain and body. It has become a medicine for me and given me sunshine and new hope. I go to the gym to exercise and to have coffee and a natter with others. I know I will never be 100% but I am not just a person with cancer. Exercise reminds me I have a purpose.

My advice to anyone with cancer who is thinking about exercise is…


Cancer changes you - but do what you can. Talk to the instructors, if you go to a gym, chat to other people and find what works for you. With exercise classes they will often offer alternative moves. You can ask your healthcare team any questions if you are having treatment or you are unsure about anything.

Sometimes I go to the gym and just have a coffee to stick to get myself out of the house.

The main thing from my perspective is that I still have health issues, but I feel I would be whole lot worse if did not do some exercise.