Cancer & Exercise Blog 4: Perspective & progress, Plus a bonus blog!
Posted: Fri, 19 Oct 2018 16:30 by Mr Tom Harwood
Photo caption: more photos up a hill, peak district a month after treatment finished.
BLOG 4: Progress, plateau, then progress! Plus a bonus blog!
So far I've experienced struggles, relief and complete jubilation (all at different times) as I continue what feels like a bizarre journey. Each week a new challenge appears, but am I really seeing much progress*? I'm not sure yet. I felt like I had until I ran a few weeks ago, and then it felt like I'd gone backwards. I'm not entirely sure why. My diet has been good and I've been 'on it' in terms of exercise. I was told there could be weeks after chemo when my body will just say "no"; maybe that was one of those weeks?
Most times I run I'm quickly reminded that exercise is hard. And the times when I don't get that reminder, I'm probably not working hard enough. This made me think about my previous blogs, the message throughout has been 'get your 150 minutes, you never know when you'll need them'. But 150 minutes is hard, exercise is hard and I'm starting to feel how hard it is to get those minutes in week after week. Especially when you're starting at the lowest possible level.
How can I convince others to get their 150 minutes when I'm questioning it myself? Well I'm to going to try and answer that in the below by looking at the progress I've made, if I've found the balance between enjoyment and hard work and if it's all worth it.
I've had a few setbacks so far; like struggling to walk for a few days after playing in a charity cricket match and my body seizing up after the first visit back to the gym. I wouldn't say I have lost motivation, however with progress being so gradual and so challenging, it's left me thinking 'I'm alive, I'm healthy, I could just stay at this level and I'll still be as happy'. Do I really want to make things hard for myself after seeing off cancer and chemotherapy?
Yes, is the short answer. It got me thinking about how I felt when doing something I loved was taken away from me. I should feel privileged, or even grateful to be able to go out and exercise really, especially knowing that's was it exercise that made my treatment go so much smoother. But motivation can be difficult when your body is fighting every breath and every step.
I've tried to run or cycle each week and I'm finally back into my gym routine. I've always been a very patient person and I saw progress immediately once I started again. But after a couple of weeks this progress slowed down significantly. I think my body was just pleased to be doing something again, or maybe I was caught up in the euphoria of the start of a new journey. Either way these initial steps forward were met with exhaustion after a while.
Maybe I got a bit too enthusiastic too quickly; it certainly didn't feel like I did. Each week I am still waking up with energy that has slowly been trickling its way back into my system. So, initially, my body felt absolutely fine and raring to jump on the treadmill. However I'm still teaching myself to remember what my body has been through, as doing exercise now isn't just a case of searching for the motivation. I could still have low days, I could still pick up a nasty infection, so driving my body into exhaustion could leave me prone to those.
After the immediate high of doing proper exercise, defeating simple tasks and coming to terms with being even more patient to see progress, there does seem to be actual progress! I'm a solid two months into exercising properly and I feel so much better. People have been asking me how I feel since I was diagnosed and generally I've felt ok, or I've thought I did at least. It's not until I compare how I feel now with how I felt after my operation or during my treatment that I realise how much my fitness has improved. What I have been doing so far:
- Run twice a week. Well, I've run, jogged, walked for twenty minutes with a colleague on the treadmill, this really helps.
- Badminton has started again. I'm very fortunate to have a friend that organises a weekly badminton session, this will be a great help.
- Silsoe Young Farmers have planned a charity swimathon and they have kindly let me choose the charity. As a club we will be swimming the distance of the channel crossing in 4 hours.
Goals have really helped me focus on getting my 150 minutes. I'm planning on following the 'couch to 5k' programme to help me back up to running five kilometres. And the swimming will be a great goal to aim towards.
I've been completely honest with people about how I have felt during this process and I've always said I felt ok, because I have. However I can walk around the village without wanting to crawl into bed once I'm home (read previous blog), and I can eat without needed to sleep for a solid two hours afterwards. So maybe I wasn't quite as ok as I thought I felt at the time. Maybe that's just how my body coped with it. Either way I can see how I've improved since the start of April and I'm starting to feel like this is all paying off.
I started writing this as a short couple of paragraphs, however it has become a blog post in itself, so it has become a bonus feature! Please take a read, let me know what you think.
Mental wellbeing… I've tried to keep away from writing about this, as I don't want to do its importance any injustice. But I am regularly asked how if feel and if my mental wellbeing has been affected. So I will briefly share my experience.
I've been very lucky. Cancer affects everyone differently and some cancers can be really destructive. Testicular Cancer is one of the most treatable cancers and has a 98% chance of being cured with treatment. Once I was diagnosed the doctors and nurses were very good at drip-feeding me information in digestible chunks. I knew all the worst possible outcomes and what my body might experience. However the most challenging time was before my diagnosis. Knowing something was wrong; being told it was this or that by doctors and not getting anywhere, that was challenging.
I took a big sigh of relief when I knew what it was, I had an inkling it was cancer, even after being told 'it is NOT cancer'. Finally knowing what it was and knowing how successful the treatment is was a massive weight off my mind. Throughout the whole process, all I had been keen to do was to get the treatment started, let it do its thing and get it finished as soon as possible. I wasn't particularly bothered how I would feel; I just wanted to get it over and done with so I could get back to enjoying the things I love.
It's so important to remember how different everyone is, though. There were people in hospital around me going through treatments unbelievably more challenging and intrusive. This made me feel so grateful and fortunate that my prognosis was so positive. I had, and still have incredible people around me who have helped me stay positive from start to finish. My family, friends and importantly Caitlin, have been exceptional. Having positive people around helped me be positive. When others saw me being positive, it made them feel positive, so the positivity just travelled around in one big loop. I'm sure any negative energy would have affected the whole circle of positivity and would have been a real disaster.
So to answer the question, I've been positive throughout the whole process, but I have been able to do this because of the success rate of the treatment and the people around me. I found it so important to talk about what I was going through. Do not underestimate the value of talking about your feelings, your issues or how something has affected you. Whether its cancer, exercise, your state of mind or what you should have for breakfast, people will help and people will listen.
- Cancer puts things into perspective, is it a problem if the supermarket doesn't have the brand you want? Is it really the end of the world if someone has a grumble on social media? Will it matter if you're five minutes late for a meeting? Maybe it does. But if these things get to you, remember that there is a whole load of more important things that are higher up the ladder of importance. Like family, friends, your health and maybe most of all, smiling.
- I've felt a mix of emotions whilst writing this. Part of it has geared me up for next part of the journey and some parts have had me welling up as I think about the support I've had. Perseverance proves that progress comes, eventually. So if you don't see immediate progress, do not panic, enjoy it and keep going.
- As ever, don't underestimate the value of being active. Those 150 minutes can benefit your health, your mental wellbeing and its been proven to increase your positivity.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, please like, share and spread the word. All the share's help! If anyone has any questions, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
*how many times will I say progress in this weeks entry?