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.
Happyhappy Friday!! Lots of things to look forward to this weekend in these parts.
Speaking of which, I’m now all moved into my dad’s. I haven’t lived with my dad since I was 12 years old. It’s kind of weird being in the same city as my mom and not living with her! With that said though, I think it’s good for me and I’m starting to settle in nicely.
Meet Buddy, the family dog. A boxer-bulmastiff mix who looks ferocious but couldn’t be any farther from it. He’s actually scared of people – including me! Working on getting him to warm up to me and used to having me around.
Apart from Buddy, I’m also living with my little sister, her boyfriend, their newborn son, and of course my dad. Living with a baby actually isn’t that bad when you’re not the one responsible for looking after it…
I’m also living in a room that at one point both little sisters have lived in. It’s hot pink.
After years of living in stark white apartments, I actually don’t mind it much. My furniture is all black so it won’t clash. I just seemed to have lost the box that my IKEA screws were packed in. So pictures of my new bedroom set-up are on hold…
There’s of course my new kitchen:
Wonder what sort of things I’ll create in here!
Ceramic stovetop surrounded by brick. It’s a big and bright kitchen great for taking pictures in. But I will say that bigger kitchens equal more walking around while cooking. It’s tiring!
In other news, I went to the gym today for the first time in SEVEN WEEKS. The first time since my accident! I got the okay from my new physiotherapist here in Moncton for light jogging on the treadmill. She also gave me a ton of active exercises to do with my arm. Before I was only allowed to do passive movement, which means it could only be moved by others, not myself.
I toyed with the idea of starting off with a Couch To 5k style workout. But my mom said “no.” And even though I’m a fitness professional, I still listen to my mom. I’m glad I did! Easing into it was waaaay better.
Here’s the deets if you’re curious:
5 min warm-up walk @ 3.0mph, 1% incline
1 min @ 3.5 mph, 3% incline
1 min@ 3.5 mph, 5% incline
1 min @ 3.5 mph, 7% incline
1 min @ 3.5 mph, 9% incline
–> repeated 5x for a total of 20 minutes
1 min easy @ level 0
1 min hard @ level 5
–> repeated 6x for 12 minutes
3 min cooldown @ level 0
Then a few sets of lying leg raises and side knee drops because I’m terrified of rolling off the ball and effing up my arm more.
Followed by a solid 15 minutes of stretching. I AM SO STIFF. Holymoly. I haven’t spent any time stretching since my accident and it shows. I’m only good at doing it when a workout or yoga class are involved.
Overall, it felt absolutely wonderful to work up a sweat again. Even though it’s considered an easy workout by my old standards, I still got up into my cardio heart rate zone.
A lot of my doctors and physical therapists have told me I’m lucky in terms of arm rehabilitation because I’m a personal trainer. I never really got that because I was so stuck on the idea that my injury is preventing me to work and make money strictly because I am a personal trainer.
I finally got what they meant today though. It’s nice to know exactly what I can, can’t and should do in the gym to keep my body in good healing shape. Having to move halfway across the country right after my accident made life very hectic. I’m happy to finally be at Point B and able to take the time to focus on my healing again.
Oh, and one last thing. Because of the shitty week it’s been, and the need to look nice for a funeral next week, my mom and I treated ourselves to a haircut.
My “before” picture taken earlier this week. Turning my head to avoid the camera ;)
Of all the things I could be frustrated about, being unable to style my hair with one arm ranks at #1. I haven’t cut my hair since August and it’s turned into this unruly mane I have no means of managing.
Problem solved! I went in asking for shorter layers. The same thing I ask every single time I get my haircut. Instead I usually walk out with long chunky layers that only ever look good when straightened. This hairdresser finally gave me what I asked for. The above picture is my new hair air-dried with no product. Just scrunched for a little for bounce. SO much better and easier to manage with my one hand! I know I’m no hair expert, but I do also deal with my hair everyday. So I like to think I know a little something when making requests to hair dressers ;)
Alright. That ends my ramblings for a Friday night. We’re getting a snowstorm in New Brunswick right now. I really wish that was an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not.