I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at the age of 22, just before I turned 23. I had graduated from university six months earlier. I stand at six foot five (too inches shorter than my little brother) and I was athletic my whole life, mostly playing hockey with soccer and basketball coming second on the priority list. I was generally an active person and loved being so.
What I’m trying to say is that I was a pretty big kid weighing in around 220-225 at the time of my diagnosis. Now I wasn’t in the best shape, my physical fitness definitely peaked in my senior year of high school I’m sure but I could still get myself up and down the ice. My 220 was pretty evenly spread throughout me although I’m sure it would have taken dropping a good five-10 pounds before there would be any sight of seeing a “washboard” stomach.
Today I am tipping the scales at about 170-175, or barely measuring, depending on how you look at it. That’s 50 pounds down from my “fighting weight,” i.e. 50 pounds away from what I felt was a really comfortable weight.
Now don’t get me wrong I don’t need or want all of those 50 back, but I can tell you that 15-20 would be nice. And they have to come in the right package, I’m not going to sit down and eat ice-cream for a month to get there.
My first round of chemo involved a combination of seven days (24 hours a day) of “Ara-C” with three days of “idarubicin” for an hour each day. Then I was in hospital for 38 days waiting for my blood counts to recover. In that time I lost about 25 pounds…gone, vanished.
I left hospital after having a month of next to no activity, despite the fact that I had a collection of day passes towards the end, I was really beaten down, or so I thought. Later in my challenge I would learn what getting “beaten down” really meant, but to this point that was a major adjustment.
The biggest things I found were my energy. I didn’t have the physical stamina I used to and while my body recovered pretty quickly, I just had so much less muscle to work with that I really had to make major adjustments to my daily approach. I was only out of hospital for a couple of weeks before starting another round of chemo so I wasn’t too focused on rebuilding muscle, more on doing the things I loved and enjoying Christmas as it was that time of year.
The other major thing I found about loosing weight was my body temperature. Man I was freezing so much of the time, I had to wear more clothes wherever I was and this was enhanced by the fact that I also had no hair. I had this great set-up at my dad’s house where I had my own room and a TV room adjacent to my bedroom and I would keep those rooms so warm others would be peeling the clothes off when they visited.
I don’t know how that winter of 1998-99 ranked as far as low temps for Newfoundland but it was the coldest ever for me!
Losing lots of weight, which I had never done before, also comes with another interesting adjustment:your clothes don’t fit. All of a sudden I was back buying jeans with a 34″ waist and while most of my shirts and sweaters still fit you could obviously tell that I was swimming in them a lot of the time. For a long time I refused to get my clothes adjusted but I finally gave in with my dress pants and had the waist taken in as I realized I wasn’t going to put this missing weight back on instantly.
I have been out of treatment for almost three years and I’m still struggling to put some pounds on. I know the situation is my own creation as I have chosen to do other things with my energy than work-out and rebuild my body (i.e. I work too much).
Growing up I never really had to work at it to stay in shape because I was always so active that I was in good shape. I had my summers when I would get to the gym but it was more a social thing than a necessity or something I did with a specific goal in mind.
Things have changed today as I’m at a place where I need to the muscle building that you get at a gym (or in other ways) to get myself to a baseline level of strength that will allow me to get back doing so of the things I love like playing hockey and soccer.
It’s going to take another major effort to push myself to the next level of physical fitness that will get me back on the ice. And I’m slowly putting it as more of a priority for me.