This year, my goal – not my resolution – on fitness is to set the bar low.
I was never a super athlete. But prior to cancer, I was in great shape and enjoyed exercise. Now, after years of grieving what I’ve lost, I have finally accepted my physical limitations and, with some creativity, have turned them into opportunities.
After diagnosis and after radiation and after chemotherapy ended – and I’m lucky to say “ended” – it understandably took me awhile to regain my strength. An aromatase inhibitor (AI) didn’t help matters, as I could barely move due to crippling joint and bone pain. Yet, after my oncologist took me off the AI, I still recovered sufficiently to start exercising again.
In the year leading up to my bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction, I was in the best shape of my life. Physical fitness and healthy eating would be paramount to helping me get through the surgery and the difficult recovery ahead.
So by day, I ran, walked, did weight training, and swam. Every night, I listened to a guided imagery CD by Belleruth Naparstek, titled Meditations to Promote Successful Surgery. This CD helped me visualize surgical success and thorough healing.
Exercising My Demons
The healing process, though, was excruciatingly slow. Walking was painful. Running would be out of the question forever.
I continued to swim, but I wanted another physical outlet, as well. I decided to ride a bicycle again after a long hiatus from this activity. So I bought a beautiful, brand spanking new bicycle.
You know that saying that once you learn to ride a bike you never forget how? Well, I actually “forgot” how to ride. Biking used to be such a joy, and now I could not balance, thanks to cancer’s collateral damage, including the side effects of my PTSD medications. Meanwhile, my two-wheeled nemesis is gathering dust in the shed.
In fact, lack of balance has been one of my many post-cancer surprises. The few times I go down a flight of stairs, I hold onto the banister for dear life. And I’m no longer able to ice skate, something I previously enjoyed a lot. My daughter recently went on an ice skate play date, and I had to stand on the sidelines cheering her on while she held onto the wall. Eventually, her friend’s mother came over and held her hand, encouraging her to move away from the wall. I experienced great joy watching my daughter find her way, but deep down inside I felt I should have been on the ice encouraging her, and my daughter should’ve been holding my hand instead.
And, until recently, fear of lymphedema in my right arm kept me from bowling. Period.
Truth is, I have spent too many years grieving my former athletic self and focusing on what I can no longer do. Now it’s time to stop feeling sorry for myself, accept my limitations, and embrace the activities I can do.
In the world of exercise, setting the bar low is not a bad concept. To me, it means a change in perspective – setting achievable goals rather than lofty ones.
The first step was to renew my gym membership. The next step was on the indoor track, which I especially love during the harsh Midwestern winters. I still swim regularly, but recently I added another activity to my exercise repertoire: bike riding.
Just yesterday, I took the stationary bike at my gym for a spin. And it was a great experience, as I got a bicycle workout and didn’t have to worry about balance. As I write this, my out-of-shape legs are sore, but I’m happy.
I plan to start lifting light weights in small increments. I now bowl left handed. I’ve adjusted my routine and now think creatively to embrace activities I never thought I could do again.
I’m done grieving the things I can no longer do. I’m just an ordinary person trying to cope the best I can with what I’ve lost – by focusing on the abundance that I still have.
Do you fare better setting the exercise bar high or low or in-between?
What are your challenges in taking care of your health?
How have you overcome limitations?
Tags: balance issues, Belleruth Naperstek, exercise, exercise and cancer, fitness and cancer, PTSD