Cancer survivor says exercise is a ‘magic recovery drug’

Cancer survivor, 32, who survived on tinned soup and crisps during chemo reveals how she got into the best shape of her life just 12 weeks after being told she was in remission

  • Ruth Naylor, 32, from Cheshire, documented cancer battle on social media
  • The mother, who went into remission last year, used exercise to persevere 
  • After being given the all-clear she embarked on a 12-week training programme
  • She shows off the results and encourages other cancer patients to use exercise   
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A mother who inspired thousands with her harrowing photo diary documenting her cancer battle has revealed exercise was a ‘magic drug’ that sped up her recovery.

Company director Ruth Naylor, 32, of Hale, Cheshire, was a busy working mother-of-two when she was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin lymphoma – cancer of the lymphatic system – in August 2017. 

Over the course of her treatment Ms Naylor released images of herself enduring grueling chemotherapy, including losing her hair, holding her head in her hands and hovering over a sick bucket as she lay in bed exhausted. 

Too ill to eat proper meals, she survived on plain food such as bagels, soup and crisps and only ate 800 calories a day. 

But even during the ‘darkest days’, Ruth used exercise to keep herself focused on the journey ahead. ‘I would put my trainers on and go for a walk, even just down the road,’ she said. ‘It was one of the only things that kept me sane and focused on recovery.’ 

And after finding out she was in remission she managed to transform her body in just 12 weeks, and is now in the best shape of her life after embarking on a new exercise regime and high protein diet.  

Company director Ruth Naylor, 32, of Hale, Cheshire, was a busy working mother-of-two when she was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin lymphoma in August 2017. Now Ms Naylor shows off the results of a 12-week body transformation programme, pictured before (left) and after

Over the course of her treatment Ms Naylor released images of herself enduring grueling chemotherapy, including losing her hair, holding her head in her hands, pictured, and hovering over a sick bucket as she lay in bed. The brave photo diary won her support worldwide

Since she’s been in remission has dropped her body fat by 35 per cent and gained 9lbs of muscle. 

Ms Naylor said: ‘On hearing the news I was in remission, I was craving a body which wasn’t consumed with drugs and sought natural therapies in a bid to resume normality in my daily routine and control of my body once again.’ 

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She had researched recovery plans and, as a former fitness lover, was already educated on the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health. 

Not only that but she hoped it would establish a regular sleeping pattern, something she had been missing after months of chemotherapy. 

Company director Ruth, pictured before her body transformation, described how she had lost her appetite during remission and had to reintroduce high protein food into her diet.  Since she’s been in remission has dropped her body fat by 35 per cent and gained 9lbs of muscle

During a 12-week training plan, Ruth doubled the number of calories she consumed from 800 to 1,600 and increased the amount of protein in her diet. Pictured, Ruth after the programme

Ruth said that ‘even on her darkest days’ during treatment she put her trainers on and went for a walk. The mother-of-two also relied on exercise once she was given the all-clear. Pictured, Ruth before (left) and after (right) her 12-week body transformation programme

Ruth’s diet before and after


Breakfast: Nothing

Lunch: Bagel with butter (350 cals)

Snack:Plain crisps (130 cals)

Dinner: Tinned soup and small bread roll (350 cals)


Breakfast: Porridge and fruit (300 cals)

Snack: Carrot sticks and hummus (150 cals)

Lunch: Salmon stir fry with broccoli, soy and ginger (400 cals)

Snack: Myprotein protein shake with oats and almond milk (250 cals)

Dinner: Grilled chicken, rice and vegetables (500 cals)

Ms Naylor said: ‘For me, exercise gave me the physical and mental strength to persevere.

‘Recent research-led campaigns state that exercise should be a critical component of cancer care yet many patients shy away from it.

‘Society tells us to “rest up” and we feel guilty exercising so soon after trauma, yet this could well be the key to a better, stronger recovery.’

Ruth added that she felt the NHS guidelines surrounding recovery from cancer was vague, and that she was told to rest, despite clinical evidence saying ‘if exercise was a pill, it would be prescribed to all cancer patients’.

Ruth made headlines with her candid photo diary documenting her treatment, including the image above. She now wants to encourage other cancer patients to embrace exercise

The mother-of-two shared brutally honest photos of herself as she endured rounds of chemotherapy, including this one of her lying in bed exhausted next to a sick bucket

‘Putting my trainers on and getting to the end of the road on those very dark days made everything seem possible again. It put me back in control,’ she said.

‘I don’t believe in “beach bodies” but I do believe in healthy bodies and I owed it to mine to treat it well’ she continued.


Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells.

It affects around 1,950 people each year in the UK.  

A common early symptom is having a painless swelling in the armpits, neck and groin.

Some people also experience heavy night sweating, extreme weight loss, itching, shortness of breath and coughing.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most common between the ages of 20 and 24, and 75 and 79.

It has been linked to people with lowered immunity, a family history of the condition, smokers and those who are overweight.

Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, steroids and stem cell or bone marrow transplants.

Source: Cancer Research UK 

‘No unrealistic objectives, just a busy mum willing to work hard to try and put her life back together, piece by piece.

‘I want to show what “recovery” looks like. For all those spat out on the other side of trauma, with no structure and little comfort, you can still achieve everything you’ve ever wanted to.  

During a 12-week training plan, Ruth doubled the number of calories she consumed from 800 to 1,600 and increased the amount of protein in her diet.

She then teamed up with a personal trainer Tom Pitfield, from Hale Country Club, who warned that they had to approach Ruth’s nutrition in a whole different manner to a ‘normal’ 12 week fitness program.  

Tom said his main concern was that Ruth’s love for food had completely disappeared as a result of her treatment.

‘I wanted her to find her love for food again, mainly to give her body chance to to recover and rebuild and also to achieve longevity out of this program’ he continued. 

‘My first priority with Ruth was not to worry so much about the calories but to get her to eat three balanced meals a day. Promoting her to start thinking about food again. 

‘Also getting her to really appreciate the importance of feeding the body correctly, especially with us putting more demand on her through exercise.

He added: ‘Once I could get Ruth to realise how much better she felt after feeding herself properly, a nice cycle of meals and exercise soon followed. 

Ruth’s personal trainer Tom said part of his mission was to get the cancer survivor to ‘love food again’. Pictured, examples of the healthy, high protein meals Ruth enjoyed on the programme

‘In week three, Ruth asked me could she have extra food as she felt hungry, I knew we’d cracked it. Now I had to keep her under control but this was a great challenge to have, to see Ruth enjoying her food again.

Tom explained that by the fifth week of the programme, he could tell Ruth’s body was ‘really responding’ and she was eating more than ever before. 

‘For me it’s the perfect outcome’ Tom added. ‘Dropping body fat, gaining lean muscle mass and feeling strong, fit and healthy.’  

Starting out with some gentle sessions such as jogging and light weights, Ruth slowly built up her strength and went from chest pressing 3kg to 14kg in a matter of weeks. Tom mentions that the 12 week journey wasn’t without its challenges.

Ruth teamed up with a personal trainer Tom Pitfield, from Hale Country Club, pictured together, to embark on the body transformation journey last year

‘In the early days, we looked into everything from her mood, how she’d slept, her appetite, any soreness. Sometimes she would wake up feeling fatigued, or sometimes she’d be full of energy so her training would be dependent on these factors.

‘Ruth had next-to-no coordination or balance so we had to work to regain this. After three or four weeks her body began responding to food, training and recovery. 

‘As with many recovering cancer patients, Ruth’s appetite and interest in food was none existent so it was great to see her appetite return as a result of her energy exertion,’ said Tom.

‘In the 12 weeks we trained together, Ruth’s lean mass went from 53.9kg to 58kg, so she lost a significant amount of body fat but increased muscle tissue which meant her metabolism was working much more efficiently. 

‘Gaining lean muscle and dropping body fat, it’s the ideal situation for anyone looking to improve body composition.’ 

Ruth said ‘it took a while’ but now she loves her body again.

‘To feel physically stronger than I have done for a long time is what keeps me going. I can see a difference in how I look but more importantly I feel different. 

‘To think that only a few months back, I could barely get up the stairs, I can now appreciate the wonder that is the human body. But more so, the power of the mind.’ 

Ruth is continuing with her strength training and will be training for the 2019 London marathon. She is now an ambassador for Cancer Research UK and a partner for MyProtein.


Ruth first visited her doctor in August 2017 with flu-like symptoms

Ruth first visited her doctor in August 2017 after suffering flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath for eight weeks.

She initially blamed her exhaustion on her busy life as a full-time working mother to her children, Eva, four, and Oscar, two, who she raises herself after a recent split from her husband.

She said: ‘I’d seen the doctor a fair bit with my children, so, as soon as I went in there she could tell I wasn’t right. I looked rough and wasn’t my normal bubbly self.’

At the University Hospital of South Manchester, an X-ray revealed what looked like a clot on her right lung, as well as abnormal blood tests.

After being given blood-thinning injections, doctors wanted to investigate further and asked Ruth to return for a more detailed CT scan the next day.

She said: ‘That’s when everything changed for me. My whole world seemed to stop turning.

‘I had a wonderful life; a beautiful five-bedroom home in a lovely village, that me and my husband built ourselves, with the help of an architect.

‘And we always had five holidays a year.

‘But none of that mattered when the doctor said I had an abnormal mass in my chest, something they believed to be cancer.’  

Ruth’s thoughts quickly raced back to the early death of her mother, Louise, at just 47, five weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

She said: ‘I was only 21 when my mum died, so when I was told I had cancer, I thought about my young children and how would they cope without me.’

The next day, she had a CT scan and more blood tests.

Ruth credits her friends for helping her through recovery, along with laughter and exercide

She said: ‘They found a tumour intertwined between my lung and my heart. I really felt like there was going to be no turning back from that point.

‘I asked, “Am I going to live?” They couldn’t even answer me that.’

It was not until a PET scan, which examines body tissues, a week later that the business woman was told she had rare stage 2 B Hodgkin lymphoma.

Transferred to the The Christie cancer hospital, in Withington, the mother-of-two heard she would need six months of gruelling chemotherapy, possibly followed by radiotherapy. 

She said: ‘My mum never got to the stage of having chemo, as she was so unwell, so I don’t know anyone who has ever had it.

‘Cancer doesn’t discriminate. I had no time to wait, so my treatment happened really quickly after my diagnosis.’    

At the time, she added: ‘On paper, I have it all. A beautiful home we built ourselves, two gorgeous children and a brilliant career.

‘When I’m in my hospital gown, I’m no different to anyone else. Just another woman desperate not to die. Cancer really teaches you humility’.

Ruth posted a photo last October laughing with her best friend during chemo

Although Ruth endured gruelling chemotherapy with no promise of a positive outcome, she insisted she ‘used the time to laugh’.

She took to Instagram last October to share a photo of her and her best friend reminiscing on their younger selves while she spent all day in a room being infused with ‘highly-toxic chemicals’.

Describing the visit as ‘the best medicine’, Ruth ended the post saying you can’t beat laughing about unrepeatable stories with an old friend, but adds she can beat cancer. 

As well as teaching her ‘humility’, Ruth said cancer has made her appreciate the simple things in life, such as a heartfelt letter from an old friend.

In an Instagram post last September she shared ‘a window to the past, full of mischief, misdemeanour and lessons learnt’.

She urged her followers to spend a minute appreciating how lucky they are, ‘then go make some memories’

Heartfelt letters from old friends taught Ruth to appreciate the little things


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