Category Archives: Injury
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.
There once was a time when I hated my body. Like so many girls, I grew up thinking my body was never good enough. Even though I’ve always been a normal weight, even in my pudgy days, I always berated myself into thinking my body could be better.
When I set out to lose my university beer gut, a strange thing happened. As the numbers on the scale went down, I started to like who looked back at me in the mirror. As I started to run races and ticked off the miles, I began to think “Damn, I’m pretty awesome.”
After years and years of hating my body, I suddenly loved it. I credited my new active regime for the 180. Heavy weightlifting transformed the shape of my body from a skinnier version of the old one, into the body I always dreamed of having. I was on cloud nine. For the first time in my life, I had oodles of self-esteem, and I owed it all to healthy eating and exercise.
This is one of the reasons why I started this blog. I was just so excited about this revelation that I had to share it. I changed professions so I could teach people in the gym how to not only look good, but feel great as a result.
If you haven’t spotted the problem yet, I will tell you, there is a very, very big problem in all of this.
When I fell skating on the Rideau Canal in February, I didn’t just shatter my arm. I shattered the self esteem that I’d spent years building. It had never occurred to me that I was putting all my eggs in one basket. That my sense of self worth came from the fact that I could run and exercise and lift heavy things.
I never considered that an accident could take my ability to do those things away. And as a result, lose my sense of self worth.
I’ve been very open about my struggles dealing with my arm injury. Although it probably just sounded like whining over a broken arm to many, the struggles came from a very deep place.
In the months following my injury, I spent a lot of time mourning the things I’d never be able to do again. I clung on to the hope that maybe someday I’d be able to do a push up or go into downward dog. Again, silly things to get so upset over, but things that meant SO much to the identity I’d forged for myself.
Then the cancer diagnosis came and everything changed. Without that diagnosis, I would probably still be clinging on to some hope that I could still take on the activities I once loved. But now I truly understand how silly it was to put so much importance into something so fleeting. I never should have relied on my body’s abilities to give me self esteem. Even when it was blanketed in seemingly healthy things like running and eating good food.
I am only just beginning the process of recovering my broken ego. I am creating new passions and finding joy in things that have nothing to do with my body or the way I look. I will never again think “I love my legs because they can run far!” Because will I still love them if I suddenly can’t run anymore?
As you know, I still (mildly) exercise every day. But now it’s purely because it increases my rate of survival and makes me feel good. I still eat healthy foods because they’re good for the cells inside my body. My self esteem now comes from the idea that yes, I am pretty awesome, but not because I can lift “x” number of pounds. My self esteem comes from the fact that I am happy being who I am on this planet, regardless of the body the houses me.
Part I of this post was written exactly eight days before I was admitted to the hospital with a large cancerous mass in my chest. For those of you who are new to the party, my most recent health ailment has not been my first this year.
In February, I took a tumble skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and shattered my left radial head. A small bone at the end of the forearm that connects to the rest of the elbow. It’s the bone that is responsible for rotating your wrist, and of course, helps move your elbow back and forth.
I ended up having a 5-hour emergency surgery where they attempted to piece the tiny pieces of my elbow back together with screws and glue. I’ve since consulted with three surgeons about the injury, and all of them say it’s the worst radial head fracture they’ve seen.
That was my first time ever being int he hospital, ever having surgery, and ever having something wrong with what I thought was my otherwise perfectly healthy body.
The surgeon knew it was a long shot trying to piece together my bones, but he was hopeful my health and age would work in my favour. Problem is, it didn’t. Five months after the accident and my bones still hadn’t healed. They were actually deteriorating!
Apart from what the X-Rays and CT scans showed, I wasn’t making much progress in physiotherapy either. I still couldn’t straighten my arm or bend it up to my shoulder again, and I could only rotate my hand to face my body, and not up to the ceiling like you’re supposed to.
My surgeon in Moncton wanted to take a slightly more radical approach – remove the bone altogether. It was just a mess of broken bones and screws anyways, I might have a better chance at getting mobility back without it. A prosthesis was out of the question because I am so young.
I really hated the idea of more surgery, of removing a piece of my skeleton. By this point I’d become frustrated and tired with the injury. It had already forced me out of my job as a personal trainer and took away my ability to do my favourite activities. Hell, I had trouble even washing my face with it.
After consulting with other doctors and doing some of my own research, I ended up deciding to go with the radial head excision. My progress had stalled to a point where I was still considered non-functional, so why not? My surgical consult was scheduled for July 6th and I expected to go under the knife again sometime at the end of that month.
But then, the cancer reared it’s ugly head.
Any pending surgeries have been put on hold until the cancer is gone. I actually ran into my orthopaedic surgeon while waiting to go into the OR for my lymph node surgery, and I kind of felt like asking him if he wanted to just hang around and slice into my other arm while they were at it.
In terms of mobility, it’s still stuck. I was going to physio three times a week, but haven’t been since I went into hospital. It’s something I’d like to start up again soon if I’m allowed!
Pain is still on and off. This injury was an incredibly painful one, and sometimes it still flares up. But now the pain is just added to the chorus of the other chemo-induced pains happening all over my body.
I will say, now that I’m no longer so intensely focused on my arm, the severity of the injury doesn’t bother me as much. Before, the idea of living with limited mobility forever and ever agonized me. But cancer has certainly put that into perspective. So what if I can’t twist my wrist to pull a pan out of the oven? Christ, at least I’m healthy enough to be baking!
The cancer has also given me a slight peace of mind over the cause of the injury. Even though it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when the cancer started growing, the doctors say it is very possible the cancer is the reason why I broke my arm so badly and why it never proceeded to heal. Lymphoma is a blood cancer after all, related to leukemia which starts in the bones. My cancer didn’t start growing until it got into the lymph system, but those cells actually originated in my bone marrow. I’m convinced I had a “cancer growth spurt” in January, which not only caused my accident in February, but was also exacerbated by the accident itself.
So that is the latest update in the never-ending saga that is my arm injury. My gimpy left elbow actually now has a friend in my gimpy right arm. I’m still recovering from having a lymph node removed under my right arm and moving on that side is limited and painful as well.
I still intend to have the radial head removed someday, but these days I’m not so upset about it. If anything, I’m thankful for the lessons and experiences from this injury, because without them, fighting cancer would have been a much larger burden to bear.