Monday, July 5, 2010

#214: Walking Away From Cancer

Like I been rode hard and put up wet. That's what cancer tired feels like. Worned out without getting a chance to cool down. Like all the energy has just been sucked out of you. I woke up in time to go back to sleep this morning. When I opened my eyes again, it was noon-thirty and my head appeared to be swiveling around on someone else's body. I wanted to move, I think, but my legs and arms seemed to be disconnected. Not paralyzed or numb, just not open for business.

Fatigue is the universal symptom of cancer, so they tell me. You may not feel sick when you have cancer, but you will feel tired. Your body is working so hard to deal with this alien that's growing inside you that you don't have the juice that you need to live the rest of your life. I started feeling tired immediately after I went back to work in November. Naturally I assumed it was the change from from 15 months of job hunting to 40 hour weeks that was wearing me out. But I never did get my wind back. I believe that my body was already at war, I just didn't know it yet.

Once the battle was joined, I had surgeries to recover from, radiation to absorb, and chemo therapies to process. There are steroids, anti fungal drugs, antibiotics, pain meds, and my psych meds. I'm a big boy, but that's a lot for me to carry. It wears a man out.

In Cancer Fitness: Exercise Programs for Patients and Survivors, Anna L. Schwartz proposes the remarkable idea that the best solution for cancer fatigue is exercise. It makes sense. When you're healthy, a brisk walk gives you energy. A really tough workout can leave me wiped out and sore, but I always feel better the next morning. So I've been taking Schwartz' advice. When I feel tired, it's up and around the block for me. It's not a long walk, it's not a fast walk, but it does get my heart rate up and lets me break a little sweat. I always feel more energized when I've finished.

Now there are a couple of caveats here. Number one: I don't walk when I'm feeling pukish. I don't want to be barfing all over the neighborhood. Someone is likely to call the rescue squad on me. Number two: I don't walk when I'm feeling really shaky, weak, and off balance. A fall outside with the accompanying scrapes, cuts, and potential infections would be a disaster for me in the middle of my treatment. And finally, number three: I don't walk farther than I comfortably can. When it's 86 degrees out like today, I go easy and keep it short. On cooler evenings when the sun is lower in the sky, I might pick up the pace and hike the long block.

This helps me in a lot of ways. It keeps my circulation up. Too much sitting around is a bad plan, especially for a fat man. It increases my water intake. When I drink more, my kidneys work harder getting all that nasty stuff out that the chemo pumps into me. I get hungry. When I eat more, I keep weight on, very important in battling cancer. And finally, it helps me to maintain muscle mass, a chronic problem with survivors who receiving treatment.

Maybe more important than what it does for my body is what exercise does for my head. It's a normal thing I can do. I can't go to work or sit out in the sun or take a long drive, but I can walk around the block. And soon I'll be jogging it. Not long after that, I'll be running miles again. Exercise reminds me that there's another chapter coming. I won't be running toward it today, or tomorrow. But by God, I can walk there.


1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite quotes (that I use ubiquitously with my students): "Energy begets energy" - Sarah Bernhardt. As I tell my kids when they come to rehearsal exhausted from their day - PRETEND like you have energy and you will create some energy. We are all actors!


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