From Can’t to Can

I’m 5’9 ½. Over the years, my weight has varied from 123 pounds after college to 167 in 2004 after three years of steroids. By 2007, though, the steroids were out of my system.

From 2007 to 2010, my weight was stable. I weighed between 133 and 135 pounds. I ate when I was hungry, and I ate what I wanted. I didn’t think much about my body, weight or fitness regime.

Cancer totally shook my body and my body image up, though. I never expected to gain weight during chemotherapy, let alone 23 pounds in four months. My oncologist prescribed a lot of medications to alleviate the vomiting that I experienced in the first round. In so doing, he threw my digestion for a loop. With the disclaimer that everybody poops, I typically eliminated once every 10 days during the four months of chemotherapy. (I cringe when I think about how many drugs were stuck in my body during that time.)

Upon completing chemotherapy in January 2011, I lost 13 pounds by April. My scale seemed stuck after that, though. However, in the past month, I’ve moved from 10 pounds to seven pounds over my pre-cancer weight. To some, that might not seem like a big deal (slight pun intended). But, as a young, female cancer survivor, there are larger issues of body image and sexuality here. There’s also the reality that many of us face:

We’re done with treatment, but we don’t look in the mirror and recognize ourselves.
Our bodies have changed.
Our hair has changed.
For some of us, our breasts have changed.
And, our lives have changed.

It’s been an effort to look at myself in the mirror without detesting what I see. (And, yes, I used the word, “detest,” purposely.) I recently realized, though, that I couldn’t encourage my students and readers to love their bodies if I didn’t start doing the same. So, I’ve moved from a place of detesting to a place of tolerating.

I also started thinking about what I could do to change my routine. There’s a part of me that would love to lose those last seven pounds. More importantly, though, I need to do whatever I can to strengthen my body before my mastectomies on April 25th. The surgeons will be removing tissue and muscle from my back and my chest (all the way to my shoulders), and I already have weak muscle tone in those areas.

I have a lot of restrictions with respect to exercise:

  • I can’t do yoga because increasing flexibility isn’t a good thing for one of my conditions.
  • I can’t lift more than the lightest weights because of my limited muscle strength.
  • If I do more than 15 or 20 minutes of exercise, I end up exacerbating my fever disease.
  • I can't do exercises in which my head is below my heart. (My pressure is already low as it is.)
  • I can’t build up my endurance and stamina so that regular exercise will allow me to do more in a month or two. More than 15 or 20 minutes of exercise a day will increase my fevers, dizziness and muscle fatigue.

For the past five years, my doctors have allowed me to do 10-15 minutes of physical therapy with a resista-band at home and walk as much as I can. I love walking, and it’s the one thing that I can (almost) always do. And so, I’ve walked and walked. I try to walk at least two miles a day, and that hasn't impacted my health negatively. But, walking hasn’t changed my weight or my muscle tone either.

With Fashion for Paws and double mastectomies in April, I’ve been asking myself to focus less on what I can’t do and more on what I can do.

  • I can do five to seven minutes on an elliptical (at the lowest level). That small amount will help me build some muscle tone in my upper body.
  • I can do 15-20 minutes of a barre class, water aerobics or a recumbent bicycle.
  • Weight machines, even on the lowest resistance, offer me more than my resista-band or two-pound weights at home.
  • I can start physical therapy next month to allow me one month of preparation in advance of my surgeries.

I joined a gym last week. For some, that’s not newsworthy, but for me, it is. I’ve wrapped my head around the fact even 10 or 15 minutes of exercise can help. I’m also accepted that the membership fees are money well spent to make a commitment toward my overall physical health.

I’m working past what I can’t do and working toward what I can. I can’t do more than that, right?

What obstacles are you facing right now? What small changes can you make in your life to alleviate those problems? How can you replace a “can’t” with a “can?”

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