It has been exactly 138 days since I last set foot in a gym. In other words, 19.7 weeks, or 4.6 months. I know this specifically because I went to the gym the day before I was admitted to hospital with a 14cm mass in my chest. In retrospect, a moderate elliptical workout when there are veins protruding from your neck is NOT a good idea. But going to the gym was just a part of my day. It was a habit I spent a long time establishing and became one that was not easily broken.
I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about the gym a lot lately. When I first got sick, exercise of any kind was the furthest thing from my mind. I was on bed rest in the beginning, so walking wasn’t even an option. By the time I started chemotherapy, the cancer was pushing on my lungs and making me short of breath. The biggest roadblock so far has been the fact that the most active part of the cancer is wrapping itself around my superior vena cava – one of the main veins that brings blood into my heart. I have to be careful when I get my heart rate up and blood pumping because that area is being squeezed.
Even though I was a self-professed fitness fiend (so much so, I even turned it into my work as a personal trainer!), giving up fitness has been strangely easy for me. I still try to move my body every day for the sake of keeping it healthy for treatment. Since getting Buster, I like to save my energy for dog walks lasting 30-90 minutes each day depending on how well I’m feeling. But for the most part, I haven’t spent much of the last 138 days missing my old fitness routines and active lifestyle. It’s actually been a nice break to be lazy for a while!
That is, until recently. Over the past few weeks I find myself daydreaming about how I’m going to learn to run again, what kind of exercises I want to focus on to get my strength back, and even rejoining the gym. The trainer in me is thinking up schedules and plans to get my fitness level back up when this chemo thing is over in two months (so long as I don’t need radiation after). It’s nice to feel that motivation again, and start to feel hope that maybe, maybe, I’ll be healthy enough one day to take on an active lifestyle again.
Apart from the cancer and chemo business, I still have more roadblocks to get through until I can get there. There is of course my broken arm, which surprise, is still broken! I’ve gained a lot more mobility with it over the past few months, particularly with rotating my hand. But I’ll never be able to straighten my left arm fully, and I still can’t put any weight on it. I mentioned before that I took a gentle yoga class a few weeks ago. While I could do most of the movements, I was still very limited with my arm. Sun salutations and downward dogs are officially out of the question for me, most likely forever. Upper-body strength training will always be a challenge.
On top of that, there’s the new development of lung toxicity. The chemo poisoned my lungs and I’m experiencing decreased lung capacity because of it. I’m on Prednisone steroids now which have helped with the coughing and shortness of breath a lot. Before, I couldn’t get off the couch without gasping for air. Now I can at least yawn without breaking into a coughing fit. Next week I will start the two month process of weaning myself off the steroids, so hopefully the symptoms won’t come back. I’m also going to start seeing a respirologist to help “rehabilitate” my lungs. Here’s hoping the damage to my lungs is reversible and that they’ll be able to withstand running again someday!
I know full well that I won’t be back to my “old fighting form” as soon as all of this is over. I have learned too much throughout this experience that I don’t desire the same sort of vanity fitness goals I had before. The trainer in me is instead considering my roadblocks and thinking of ways to work around them to still have a healthy, happy, post-cancer, post-injury body.
Like any endorphin-junkie, I can’t wait to work up a sweat again. But until then, I know to keep up my daily walking routine, while enjoying this rare opportunity to be lazy. This past weekend that included lots of Beverly Hills 90210:
Chemo brain food.
As well as near-effortless meals made in the slow cooker and rice cooker:
Crockpot Chicken Coconut Curry:
Cube and brown 4-6 chicken breasts in a pan.
Cube 2-4 medium sized potatoes, slice 2 small onions, and add them to the slow cooker.
In a bowl, combine:
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tbsp curry power
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Kashmir chili powder (or cayenne)
- 1 tsp coriander
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
Add chicken and sauce to the slow cooker, cooking on low for 9-10 hours, or medium for 6. This is not a super spicy curry, despite all the curry powder (which isn’t very spicy to begin with). Just enough heat to make your nose run a little, but all the flavours are able to shine through.
The rice was an extra special treat. I finally cracked open the saffron I brought back from Toronto!
I’ve been hoarding this and knew it would lose its flavour if I didn’t use it soon. This little box cost $10!
I used this recipe with the addition of 1 tsp parsley flakes and 1 tbsp salted butter instead of fish sauce. It was perfect in every way.
Now, I will admit that it is sometimes really hard to sit back and watch people around me do the activities I love. I’d be lying to say I don’t feel a pang of jealousy when I see a runner out on a gorgeous day, or hearing about the fitness goals and accomplishments of others. Seeing as I can’t currently do most things fitness related, my interest in it has kind of plummeted.
But I keep reminding myself that this is my time to heal. I am currently doing what is best for my body, which is completely different than what is best for someone who is in a different stage of their life. Fitness is not a linear path. It’s all about the ups and downs and dealing with the roadblocks as they come. I am trying really hard to enjoy my lazy days with 90210, the slow cooker, and casual walks, while using my daydreams of fitness routines at the gym as something to look forward to and work towards.
Remember when this was a food and exercise blog?
Well I still do those things! Just on a much, much smaller scale.
Even though I whine about getting cancer despite all my healthy habits, I must say, it hasn’t all been for naught. My chemotherapy side effects haven’t been that bad. Not nearly as bad as some of the horror stories I’ve seen and heard. I credit my pre-cancer lifestyle for my ability to stay strong and withstand the powerful chemo poisons. I also hope my healthy body will be able to help the chemo work its magic faster!
Everyone told me to rest during treatment, but eventually my body started getting weak from lying around all day. I decided I wanted to try to stay active in order to keep my body strong. Then I read this New York Times article which says:
For those who can handle it, though, a light or moderate exercise regimen could help reduce some side effects of treatment, the new report stated. Studies have shown, for example, that arm extensions and other range-of-motion exercises can help relieve lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm stemming from breast cancer surgery. It can also help patients who gained weight during treatment slim down and regain some physical function, and combat some of the exhaustion stemming from chemotherapy.
On top of that, the study showed that exercise could reduce a breast cancer patient’s risk of dying by 40 percent and 30 percent for a person with prostate cancer. They’re not kidding around!
Honestly, when I first read that I realized that there really no longer exists any excuse not to do some kind of exercise. Then, I promptly hopped on my dad’s recumbent bike.
For over a week now I’ve been taking care to get 30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise almost every day. The usual mix of cardio, strength, and stretching. Cardio has to be monitored because the most active part of the cancer is around my superior vena cava, the main vein that goes into my heart. So nothing more than 65% of my max heart rate. Strength on the other hand is difficult because I’m recovering from surgery on BOTH arms now. One side is my elbow, the other side from getting a lymph node removed (with mild lymphedema as mentioned in the excerpt above).
It may seem counter productive to exercise when my biggest side effect is extreme fatigue (think run over by a mack truck x1000). However, working up a little sweat helps me bust through the fatigue and provides a big boost of energy!
In terms of food, I’m finally making the switch to organic.
I’ve always been too cheap to do this in the past. Especially when I couldn’t measure any concrete benefits from doing so.
Well it’s no longer a matter of preventing myself from getting cancer when I’m 64. It’s matter of getting rid of cancer today and making sure it neverever comes back. I now know I’m one of those people who are more susceptible to developing cancer. Suddenly the extra dollar for a can of garbanzo beans doesn’t seem so steep.
On top of going organic, I’m attempting to cut back to one serving of dairy and one serving of meat a day. Experimenting with some new products for fun!
Fresh fruits and veggies may sound like the easy go-to, but chemotherapy actually makes this the difficult part. I am a bacteria-free zone, and produce is crawling with it.
I joined an organic CSA before I was diagnosed and without it, I probably wouldn’t feel the pressure to eat any vegetables. So for this, I’m thankful.
I know a lot of people praise the benefits of raw vegetables, but I’m instructed to cook them down to kill any nasty stuff that may be lurking on them. And thanks to chemo deteriorating my stomach lining, green mush is a lot easier to digest.
Stir-fry with a blackened chicken breast. Sauce made with goat yogurt. It’s what’s for dinner.
Suddenly food and exercise aren’t just for my general health anymore, they’re for my LIFE.