I've got Cancer ... so what exercise do I do?

Since my involvement in an exercise trial for chemo and exercise this is the question that I get asked the most.

This is the reason why I am working with St Vincents to fundraise so that we can get the standard of care to include an exercise program. We are calling that program Prehab. Find out more here: www.ladysko.org/uplift

In this blog, I attempt to answer what exercise to do using my experience.

DIsclaimers: I am not a health professional and make no money from nutrition or exercise. I’m a cancer patient that underwent exercise and changed my diet to fight the feisty wee fucker (aka breast cancer) that was trying to kill me in my right boob.

I have exercised throughout my life but I am by no means a lean mean athlete. I was not a picture of perfect health when I was diagnosed in May 2019. In 2014, I had a motorcycle accident and failed to rehab to my prior fit position. I have lifted weights before.

Why work out?

The data tells the story. This is my data in terms of lean muscle mass. The blue line shows the lean muscle mass and the red line shows projected lean muscle mass if I had not worked out (drawn my me).

The first 3 measurements were taken:

  1. The day I begun Chemo

  2. When I finished my first chemo protocol known as AC ~ 8 weeks in.

  3. When I completed my chemo treatment (22 weeks later).

They were measured by a dexa scan and taken at UNSW as part the Chemo and Exercise trial I underwent under the care of my Medical Oncologist Dr Sara Wahlroos.

The last 2 measurements are Sozo readings taken by Physio’s. The first shortly after I started radiation and the last reading in Feb when I had finished treatment for 6 weeks.

This graph shows the amount of lean muscle mass throughout my cancer treatment and recovery. We know to be true that the amount of lean muscle mass helps your ENDURE cancer treatments like chemo, never mind helps with mental health during one of the fights for your life. It helps you endure as it reduces fatigue and nausea. Two of the biggest “side effects” of chemo.

BUT it also makes sense… it is really really hard to do rehab. So by moving during chemo my recovery phase should be quicker.

Siobhan O’Toole Lean Muscle Mass

Siobhan O’Toole Lean Muscle Mass

Same data broken the phases. I had surgery in October 2018.

Same data broken the phases. I had surgery in October 2018.

Yeah yeah … I get it … so WHAT exercise ?

From Dr Sara Wharloos:

American College of Sports Medicine roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors recommendation:

150 min/week mod-intensity or 75 min/week vigorous intensity PA


2-3 weekly sessions of resistance training

This has been adopted the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Exercise Guidelines “Exercise should be part of standard practice in cancer care”

BUT what exercises ? Well the issue there is that depends on who you are, at what stage and what cancer and how fit you are. So …

Firstly go to your GP and get an EPC - Enhanced primary care form

I know it sucks that you have so many doctors and things to do when you are diagnosed …. I GET IT. But there is no one set of exercises that you should do. That is why we are raising money so that care can be simplified and this is part of your standard care.

The program I followed:

  • 8000 steps a day + weights three times a week.

Steps are self explanatory.

Weights: Six staple exercises. Each exercise is 3 set with 8-12 reps depending on the exercise. The weights I lifted were free weight dumbells. I was able to leg press 110 kilos at the end of chemo. The weights were HCE weights

Upper Body

  • Push Ups - 8 reps - I did push ups off knees and planks. I HATE push ups. But I did them.

  • Bicep curl to overhead press - 8 reps. I drastically reduced the weight after surgery and am building back up

  • Row - 12 reps each arm. I drastically reduced the weights after surgery and am building back up.

Push Ups

Push Ups

Bicep curl to overhead press

Bicep curl to overhead press




  • Split Squat - 12 reps each leg

  • Squat - 12 reps

  • Deadlift - 12 reps

Split Squat

Split Squat



Straight leg deadlift

Straight leg deadlift