I'm sure my daily exercise plan sounded over-ambitious to some of you, but to clarify, this isn't necessarily going to be strenuous exercise. Going for a walk totally counts. Oh, sometimes I'll overdo it a little -- yesterday, I rode my bike around *two* blocks, instead of the previous day's *one* block, and it was kind of windy, and when I got back, I actually had to sit for a little bit so I wouldn't throw up. Oops. But I hadn't actually planned to work out that hard; the goal is *not* to get to some intense fitness level. The goal is twofold: a) get into somewhat better shape so I can hopefully tolerate radiation better, and b) start doing things to make my body feel happier.
I don't know if this is true of everyone going through cancer treatment, or any serious illness, but I kind of started to hate my body by the end of chemo. Hate and love at the same time. I am generally a calm person, and pretty resilient; I haven't been as emotionally rocked by this whole process as many people would be, and I'm so grateful for that. But still -- I think it's inevitable that some chaotic emotions will wash over you at points, even if you're a mostly sanguine sort of person.
I became intensely protective of my body over the last several months, getting more and more resentful of every needle poke, every intrusion. I was also kind of stunned by its resilience, by the way it took each bodily insult and, with time, healed over it. The port scar, a thin dark line on my upper right chest, is already starting to disappear. At the same time, I became intensely aware of how fragile my body was, how even my kid's cold could be a serious danger once my white blood cells were knocked down. And I deeply resented how little it was able to do when the fatigue hit.
For months, I was just trying to keep my life as normal as possible, and I think that was the right approach (and the one that was recommended to me). I know some people react to this kind of disease by stopping work, staying home, focusing all their energies on fighting the disease, and maybe that's the right choice for them. It's all so individual. But for me, the more I could go on with my normal routine -- teaching classes, taking care of the kids, cooking, gardening, and even mildly exercising, the better I felt. Pre-diagnosis, my life had gotten to such a good place; I love my job and friends and family and home; they all make me happy. So the more I could maintain of that, the better.
There came a point, in the last two weeks of chemo, when I couldn't really do any of that -- when all I could do was lie on the couch, hug the kids when they came by, watch tv, and wait for that phase to be over. That was incredibly hard for me, and the only reason why I didn't complain a lot more is that it had an end point, so I just gritted my teeth and waited. (Sort of like pregnancy, which I also did not love.) I think if I had a chronic condition along those lines, I would have to come up with a very different emotional approach to it all, and I'm sure that right now, from my viewpoint of mostly-healthy, I don't really understand what chronic illness is actually like.
But now I'm post-chemo, post-surgery, and I feel pretty normal again. Normal but...sludgy? All that couch-time took its toll on my body. And normal daily activities have had some effect on getting the body back to its pre-diagnosis self, but what actually makes the body feel notably *good* is mild exercise. Emphasis on mild -- if I push hard, then I just make myself feel sick, which is the opposite of what I'm going for. I have had enough feeling sick to last me a while!
Monday, I went for a short swim -- 15 minutes, with a little whirlpool time beforehand and sauna after. Tuesday, gardening for an hour or so. Wednesday, bike around the block. Thursday, bike around two blocks. Today, I joined Amanda to try out her hour-long barre method class (sort of a combination of ballet warm-up and yoga). And with all of these, I pushed my body gently during the workout, and afterwards, my body actually felt noticeably *good*. Muscles stretched and used and loosened up. Blood pumping, in a way that I could really feel. More oxygen to the system, and who knows, maybe my brain was even working better for a bit afterwards too.
Mostly, it just feels...healing, to do something actively good with my body. For many months, all I was trying to do was maintain as much normalcy as I could. Now, I can actually take a little time to enjoy what my body can do, to celebrate its returning to health. I needed that.
This afternoon, I go and start Herceptin again -- I'll let them poke a needle in the port, and sit for an hour while the drugs infuse through my system, hopefully starving any lingering cancer cells (should any still exist) of the food they need to survive. It won't be fun, but the exercise class this morning helped rebuild a little of my happy relationship with my body. And the sushi I plan to have for dinner should help too. The more good, happy things I can do with and for my body, the better.
As for how all of this applies to one's sex life during cancer treatment...well, you can pretty much see above and extrapolate. :-)