Royal Oak fitness trainer, 71, keeps working during breast cancer treatment

Monday, May 20, 2019

Nancy Simpson

With a toned physique women half her age envy, personal fitness trainer Nancy Simpson, 71, helps her clients move more and gain strength. She practices what she teaches by eating healthy, working out, riding her bicycle and gardening. Few would guess she recently went through intensive treatment for breast cancer. Even when she was in treatment, it didn’t slow her down.

“Nancy’s lifestyle and optimism helped speed her recovery,” said Beaumont breast cancer radiation oncologist Dr. Joshua Dilworth. “She tolerated the planning and treatment like a champion.”

Over six weeks, Simpson received 29 radiation treatments. She was a candidate for the new proton therapy available at Beaumont. Proton therapy significantly reduced the radiation dose to her heart, left anterior descending artery, lung and unaffected right breast. This lowered her risk of complications and permitted Dr. Dilworth to treat her lymph nodes that might contain cancer cells.

It also meant fewer side effects, allowing Simpson to continue working with her fitness training clients - moving, stretching and exercising her body, too.

Her only side effect: mild reddening of the treated area that felt like a minor sunburn, with a tiny bit of dry peeling. It quickly resolved once treatment ended.

Dr. Dilworth said, “Unique capabilities of Beaumont’s proton machine allowed us to protect Nancy’s skin. This saved her skin from severe peeling, which can be painful and lead to long-term changes in the skin’s appearance and texture.”

Simpson passed her 30-minute proton therapy sessions listening to music and watching lighting themes that reduced anxiety and fatigue.

“My treatments were in the evening. I’d have dinner, and then drive to the hospital and park right outside Beaumont’s Proton Therapy Center - easy-peasy. The staff was kind. They played cool jazz music for me. It was a meditative, calm experience in a place of peace,” Simpson said.

Even though a dozen lymph nodes were removed from the area of her affected left breast, she has no lymphedema, which is a common, yet painful and lasting, side effect. Dr. Dilworth attributes this in part to Simpson’s continued exercise, which also maintained her mental wellbeing and helped her avoid other side effects like fatigue, weight gain and osteoporosis.

“I live close to Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. If it hadn’t been winter, I would have biked there for my daily treatments,” Simpson said. “I had complete confidence in my Beaumont care team.”

Beaumont’s proton machine is equipped with innovative capabilities when compared to other proton centers around the world:

  • 3D imaging, ensuring perfect patient positioning before treatment
  • functioning like a 3D printer, depositing protons in layers into the tissues that need treatment and avoiding healthy tissues
  • mandated specialized training of physicians, treatment planners and radiation therapists
  • around-the-clock monitoring by a team of physicists and upkeep by engineers

Simpson feels proud of how she came through treatment and calls herself a breast cancer thriver: “I feel courageous, victorious and grateful. And, I have a heightened sense of awareness and compassion for all who have to fight for their lives.”

Now, Simpson is eager to get back to cycling and has a strategic plan to regain her previous form. Starting with some short, easy rides for three to four days, “I will probably incorporate some interval work, but I think lower intensity work and some neuromuscular training is best.”

Simpson has no need to rush to reclaim her cycling fitness. Her breast cancer team worked hard to ensure she has a long life ahead to enjoy the ride.

Simpson cycling

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