After finishing treatment for stage two breast cancer in 2007, one of the first things on Anne Patterson's to-do list was to get back to her aerobic routines.
That's when she realized she could barely lift her arms above her head.
Now, she isn't just doing aerobics. The 55-year-old is more active than many people her age. She's biking, swimming and running, including in the Columbia Iron Girl Triathlon and the Baltimore Marathon. And in her spare time, the Rodgers Forge resident shares what she's learned through support organizations and her website, Survivorship Institute.
Patterson wishes there had been someone around to give her advice when she first showed up in her old aerobics classes.
"When I went to my first classes, I realized I really had lost a lot of strength and energy, so I really wasn't able to keep up with those classes," she said.
Patterson went online looking for exercise programs crafted for survivors and found that what she was looking for didn't exist in Maryland. After talking with her doctors at , she researched the subject and launched her website last year. It includes fitness, nutrition and research information for breast cancer survivors, family members and doctors.
"My mission became to try and find or initiate programs in the community or just let the community become aware of the need for programs for survivors," she said. "I felt like I had to share it with somebody, because I had it all. But I felt that someone would like that same information and they didn't need to go hunting for as long as I had to hunt for it."
Since Patterson's first awkward training sessions, more fitness centers have recognized the needs of the growing ranks of breast cancer survivors, like Patterson. Lynne Brick's and the Maryland Athletic Club now offer programs to help survivors build stamina and energy. And organizations such as the Baltimore-based have cropped up for cancer survivors.
Survivors, Patterson said, have unique needs and issues that can arise from recent treatments and surgery scars.
"You want an instructor that's sensitive to those issues," she said. "A breast cancer survivor who's had a mastectomy might not be able to do the the same kind of band work because it's painful."
Patterson still has to "readjust" her expectations, she said. Where once she lifted 8-pound free weights, she now only does 2 or 3 pounds.
Patterson now focuses on new challenges. Last year, as part of the Active Survivors Network, she trained for the Iron Girl triathlon in Columbia. Though she only did the biking segment her first year as part of a relay, she trained just as hard for the running and swimming segments.
"I trained for all of it and that made the difference for me. That really brought me back, because it was lots of exercise," she said. "I could never imagine that I'd participate in a triathlon event."
And she didn't stop there. She added the running leg of the triathlon to her course this year, and last weekend, she ran the first six miles of a Baltimore Marathon relay. Patterson finished in an hour.
All this activity helps her stay healthy but she says the better feeling comes from inspiring others.
"Early detection is the cure, being proactive and just sharing that with other women so they can be proactive in their health care," she said. "I think it just helps me too, to focus on my own choosing healthy lifestyle choices. ... It keeps me on course for my own survival."