This is not my body.
I feel disconnected; disbelief. I am floating in a sea that I don’t recognize. There is a mental and physical heaviness, a sluggishness that dominates the day to day. An awkwardness that was never present before. I want to disconnect, not face the reality that my great legs are not so great; my waist carries too much girth; I am easily winded. I order loose clothing and I’ve had to go up a size in jeans.
Whether it’s scars from surgery, body parts that have been removed, loss of hair, weight gain or weight loss, body image is a common theme among cancer patients.
I know what to do. This is one instance where I do know the cure. Unlike two people currently in my network who are facing active treatment without a sure cure. Or perhaps without any cure.
For this moment, I am grateful for my relative health. I know to be here, now. Be grateful for this day, this moment in time where all is well. I also know what my body needs and I’m capable of providing it, even if I’ve shunned this effort for some time now.
How did this happen? I’m part jock (not necessarily a good one, but still…). I’ve always played sports. Squash. Tennis. Hiking. Skiing. Kayaking. And now I find myself overweight and out of shape. How did this happen to me?
Looking back three years, it was the last round of drugs and steroids that stayed my cancer but destroyed my joints. I hit my low point when I went walking one day and I was in such pain, I was afraid I wouldn’t even be able to crawl (or even roll!) back home. I finally just gave up and laid on the bed with a bag of potato chips.
This was the absolute nadir.
One: I never eat potato chips, and
Two: I always prefer moving to lying around.
A hip replacement meant rehab (yay!) but even with a serious effort in the gym on a daily basis, problems remained. The orthopod offered shots that might or might not work. Drugs to mask the pain. He shrugged. It wasn’t his mobility and quality of life that was at stake.
So I started yoga for rehab, rather than more drugs. The yoga was torture. I was tight, weak and wobbly. I was still in breath-taking pain. But I stuck with it and one year later, I had realized some significant progress. I learned stretches to keep my body more limber and twists that are nothing short of miraculous. Now I travel with yoga mat, balls, strap and blocks.
Many people haven’t heard about yoga balls. They are always on my must pack list. These dense, hard balls allow me to reach those deep muscles that hurt and cramp, and need massage to unknot. Wherever I go, my yoga balls go with me. Often, they sleep with me, to reach a sore spot in my shoulder or on my ribs.
The crux of my getting so out of shape was one simple issue: I had gotten out of the habit of being active.
Prior to this, if you had told me that activity was a habit, I simply would not have understood. Even with cancer, I was always moving, as much as I could be. I pushed myself to work out through chemo, to my enormous benefit. But this time, even I couldn’t overcome the after effects of the drugs and the not so successful surgery. The pain and disability started a downward spiral that fed on itself. I had established a new, not so good habit of inactivity.
The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.
– Mike Murdock
These words are true on so many levels. Our daily habits set the stage for our daily lives. Regardless of locale, we all travel with ourselves, our thoughts and our habits. I’ve been on the road over a month now, and it’s time to really take charge of my routine. Routine will transcend geography, if I can just get it in place.
I started a daily walk on Vashon Island. It included a fairly steep hill down to the ferry landing and back, about 3 miles altogether. Every day. Rain or shine. More or less. (I’m not a native Seattle-ite and gray drizzle does faze me.)
I recently volunteered for a golf tournament/fundraiser for Cancer Pathways and I noticed that my trusty khaki skort is getting a bit looser. I’m still over weight and out of shape, but at least its moving in the right direction.
Now, in Magnolia on the north side of Seattle, I walk every morning.
Magnolia has wonderful views of Puget sound. Directly south I can see Vashon Island where my friends are settling into their soon to be renovated house.
If I head southeast, I turn the corner to see the Space Needle.
And to the west, lies Bainbridge Island and the Cascades. This picture was taken early one morning as the sun hit the mountains and the fog had yet to lift from the lower elevations. This is my daily route and I love every step.
This walking routine was partly propelled by a wonderful and unexpected gift: a fabulous set of walking sticks from Diana Oliver at Urban Poling. The company is based in Canada, and they are on a mission to get people moving, one step at a time. This is their vision:
“We envision a healthy future founded on prevention. We envision achieving physical and mental well-being by being active. We envision a future of feeling good, from the inside out. Now we ask you, why wait, the future begins today.”
The founders, Mandy Shintani and Diane Oliver bring talent and enthusiasm to their comittment to health. Mandy has a Masters in Physical Therapy. Diane’s background is in business, sales and fitness. Together they make the perfect team. And very seriously, the perfect product.
Urban poles use 90% of your muscles, burn more calories, increase core strength and help with balance. The company warns that you should start slowly, using the sticks for just a third of your first foray. Listen to them! This is more of a workout than you may think!
I am using their Activator poles to start and I LOVE them. This is an easy way to add some tempo and pace to your walk, along with more of an all over body work out. On a psychological level, they also provide a purpose for my foray. I like the intentionality of walking with these poles. I know that I am going walking for me. It’s a gift to body and mind, just as meditation is a gift to my well being.
Walking is such a natural and marvelous exercise. You can do it anywhere and everywhere. Think seriously about adding a pair of Urban Poles to your life! A simple tool that brings with it meaningful motivation. Check them out. And thanks to Urban Poling for offering a 10% discount to my readers by using the code PWCRT.
And most of all, thank you Urban Poling for a totally serendipitous gift that is helping and motivating me to reclaim my life, one step at a time.
Wherever You Go, There You Are -Jon Kabat-Zinn
Another critical part of my routine which has slipped a bit lately is meditation. A fit mind is a fit soul.
I learned to meditate from one of the Maharishi’s students. (The Maharishi, you may recall, brought Transcendental Meditation-TM- to the west and taught the Beatles and Beach Boys the method). There is often some confusion around TM. It has no religious overtones. It is simply a technique that utilizes a mantra to keep your mind focused and not drifting. It stills “monkey mind” so you can benefit from the meditation.
The medical benefits of mediation are well documented. Harvard, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and countless others have studied the remarkable advantages of integrating a meditation habit into your life. For me, it has been life changing.
Between a healthy diet and a still mind, I face the day with greater patience and clarity. I am more grounded and less reactive. I am much more present.
I normally mediate first thing in the morning; and then mid afternoon. I’ve re-instituted the morning meditation fairly successfully. Now to schedule the afternoon session.
I am reminded of the old Zen saying:
“If you don’t have time to meditate for 15 minutes …Then you need to meditate for an hour!”
This speaks to our busy minds and our perception that busy-ness some how equates to accomplishment. Except it doesn’t. My best ideas and insights have come from being still, from meditating, rather than mindlessly doing.
Adding another 20 minute session sounds as if it should be easy, and I know the benefits are very real. So I will make it happen.
But I also need more hours in a day. When I’m traveling, in addition to exploring, filming and writing, I also need to plan ahead.
In Seattle, I’m looking at trips to Port Townsend, the Space Needle, possible a food festival, a sea based aviation festival, the Art Museum, paddling through the locks, Dragon Boat racing, several seafood restaurants, the farmers markets…the list goes on.
I also have several likely trips coming up (Vancouver; POSH; Pasadena for the NASA #GrandFinale; Sedona; Austin; Ireland; Houston to Florida via New Orleans; and finally, Cuba) and each needs reservations, research and planning so I can write, film and share.
Plus I am trying to figure out where to spend Christmas. (Suggestions and invitations welcomed!)
Overall, amidst the changing landscape and relative chaos, it’s the adventure of a lifetime. My lifetime. And I’m enormously grateful to have the interlude to simply travel and explore.
But my quality of life is diminished with my current state of unfit.
Fitness speaks to the state of my mind and body, and both are essential. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last several years, it is how critical quality of life is. This is a lesson every cancer patient learns.
I don’t often write about the difficult aspect of dealing with cancer and all its after effects. I tend to gloss over them and just make things happen. People tend to think I have it all figured out. I don’t. Especially when it comes to cancer.
As I mentioned earlier, I have two friends that are on my mind just now. Both have metastatic disease, and if I’m honest, chances are neither will make it long term. I am but one blood test away from a similar fate. I need to be healthy; to live now, and to be fit for anything that may come.
Setting up a habit for health isn’t a slam dunk. Getting on a healthy diet; finding the tools for stress management; staying socially connected with supportive people and getting fit means keeping four demanding and fairly complex balls in the air at all times. Plus what works today may not work tomorrow. Keeping it all together with a changing schedule while traveling isn’t always easy. There is not an instant fix.
If I could leave you with one thought, it’s just start somewhere. Just do one little thing. Park further from the store and walk. Walk the dog, chase the cat. Then do it again. Start a new habit of movement and celebration, just for you! And give yourself a great big gold star!
* I’ve had several people ask if they could donate to CancerRoadTrip. Rather than donate, shop!
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