Cancer treatment can wipe you out. Cancer makes you tired, chemo makes it worse, and radiation is just the icing on the cake. Given that I only had a one month break between round one and round two, I consider that I ended up pretty much being in treatment for 13 months, which encompassed 2 surgeries, a 5- and a 3-month series of chemo, and 5 weeks of radiation. I was pretty darn tired at the end of it. I spent a lot of time on the couch, reading and napping and otherwise being a slug.
So in September, I reconnected with the Living Strong/Living Well program. This is a free three month program for cancer survivors that in my case, is co-presented by Stanford University and my local YMCA. The program is also available in other parts of the US and, I believe, Canada. It’s a twice weekly class that meets at the YMCA whose purpose it to help us get back into shape. Every session, we did a short group exercise or workout program, then hit the gym floor for strength training, and ended with a short cooling down period with guided imagery or some stretching exercises. Our class had two dedicated trainers who were great. They had been trained in various types of cancer recovery and issues, so there were strength machines that I omitted from my workout, some of our stretching was designed to reduce lymphedema, and we were all encouraged to take it at our own pace. It was very, very supportive.
We started out with about 15 people, although that dwindled down to 5 at the end. One person left on the advice of her doctor based on some new issues that popped up. Our youngest member, a college student, only came in between chemo and surgery. I’m not going to say that I was sad to see him step out of the program, but he was in pretty fantastic shape compared to me, and I have this nasty little competitive streak which meant that I pushed really hard when I was working around him!
After the class ended, we were asked about our exercise plans moving forward. I am pleased to report that I did transition to a regular YMCA membership and am shooting for twice weekly workouts. Some things get in the way – PET scans require a few days of non-exercise and I like a few days after to flush the radioactive stuff out of my system – but overall I’ve been pretty good. I am much stronger than when I started, and whilst I absolutely hate going to the gym, I’m pretty happy about being there once I get started.
Of course, I still love books and my comfy couch, but it’s not how I spend all of my time any more. Which is a good thing, I think.