When Amy Guerrin was battling breast cancer, she found the best way to release her emotions was to channel her inner
and play the air drums. Ms. Guerrin, 52, had discovered Pound, a workout created in 2011 by two recreational drummers and former college athletes that uses weighted drumsticks.
Before being diagnosed in August 2016, Ms. Guerrin says her workout involved running around taking care of others. She had raised four children, now out of the house, and she cares for two adults with disabilities who live with her and her husband in Plantsville, Conn. As a case manager for the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, she cares for up to 50 people at any given time.
At the time of her diagnosis, she weighed 232 pounds, but says her height, 5 feet 10 inches, helped hide how heavy she had gotten. “Having been the caretaker of so many others, I was suddenly forced to take care of myself and juggle appointments, treatments and surgeries,” she says. During cancer treatment, Ms. Guerrin lost 50 pounds.
Determined to keep her weight off and regain strength, she joined a local gym, but found it isolating. She tried walking, but longed for companionship. “My job has me very connected to people all the time, so when I had to take time off, I felt lonely,” she says.
Ms. Guerrin turned to social media as a way to share her cancer story and kept seeing posts from a local fitness studio touting classes for Zumba, Zumba Toning and Pound, which she knew nothing about. “The people in the photos were always smiling,” she recalls. “I don’t consider myself a good dancer, and I was also bald and tired, but the posts kept capturing my interest.”
In July, six weeks after her mastectomy, she noticed that the studio was moving to the plaza across from her house. “I no longer had an excuse,” she says. She loved the sense of community in the classes and found Pound to be therapeutic. “I pounded out the fear, the anger and joy of victory,” she says. “I have pounded my way back to strength in chest muscles that had been cut and pulled and stretched and from a weak, battle-weary woman to a stronger, leaner me. I’m healthier now than I was pre-cancer.”
Ms. Guerrin attends up to four classes a week at her gym, Zing Fitness. Pound is her favorite, but she also attends Zumba, a dance-based class that combines interval training, resistance training and cardio, and Zumba Toning classes, which combine light weights and dance routines.
Her Pound classes last 45 minutes and use quarter-pound plastic Ripstix to simulate drumming during a workout that involves intense cardio, strength training and yoga- and Pilates-inspired moves. The first part of class is done standing and involves leg and arm work and rhythmic steps. “When you nail a routine, you feel like a rock star,” she says.
The second part involves core work performed on the ground and coordinated to Ripstix pounding on the ground and together in the air. The classes are choreographed to two-to-four-minute songs, calibrated with interval peaks. “Your arms don’t stop moving the entire time,” Ms. Guerrin says. “Sometimes I’m so sweaty when I walk in the door from class that my husband thinks it’s raining outside.”
Before she started working out, Ms. Guerrin would stop at
or Burger King for breakfast en route to work and have a bag of popcorn and Coke Zero in the break room for lunch. Now she starts the day with a banana and yogurt. “Occasionally I still get an egg McMuffin, but I take half the bread off,” she says. Dinner is a protein and vegetables. Double-caramel Magnum ice-cream bars are her splurge. She occasionally goes out with women from class for skinny margaritas.
The Gear & Cost
“We’re a really colorful bunch. I think people try to outdo themselves with bright clothing,” she jokes.
Ms. Guerrin prefers to wear racerback tank tops, which she says give her more freedom of movement in her shoulders and arms. She also bought cancer-related T-shirts. “They start a dialogue and let people know what my perspective is,” she says. “On my last night of chemotherapy, I came running into class with a screaming neon-orange shirt that says ‘Cancer touched my boob so I kicked its ass.’ ” A drop-in class at Zing Fitness costs $5.
Exercise to Battle Breast Cancer
Fatigue and depression are two of the most common symptoms women experience when going through treatment for breast cancer, says Kathryn Schmitz, associate director of population sciences at Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, Pa.
“When you’re tired and someone tells you to go exercise, your first thought is, ‘Are you nuts?’ ” she says. “But exercise does not have to be a 3-mile run.”
A roundtable convened by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2010 concluded that exercise is safe during and after all breast-cancer treatments, as long as you keep the intensity low, and eases cancer-related fatigue. And a 2017 study by researchers from the Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto suggests that a half-hour walk a day can help women who have survived breast cancer prevent the disease from returning.
Dr. Schmitz says the best exercise is one that you stick with, whether that’s kicking a soccer ball with your children or going for walks. “Group exercise can act like a support group for women who are feeling alone during treatment,” she says. She cautions that it’s not uncommon for people going through treatment to have boom or bust cycles of energy. “If you’re feeling up for it, work out. If you feel worse after, back off.”
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