I’m a new man. I can’t believe the difference. Part of me really is kicking myself in the pants for not having done this much sooner. You know sometimes you know something but it takes you a long time to act on it? This is a perfect example of that for me. I’m talking about the gym.
Cancer brings challenges on many levels, and depending on who you are, the biggest challenge you face will vary. For me, I had a fairly significant combination of emotional and physical. Fortunately my spiritual side guided me through each, but not without huge effort. I was always an active person. From the time I was a little guy I was either chasing a puck or ball, riding my bike, or playing in my sandbox (which seemed like a beach, but was apparently only 6′ x 6′).
As I grew up, I was always active in sports, hockey, soccer, and basketball–my favourites. Hockey was my first sporting love. I’ve played it almost my whole life. I was never a star at any sport, but I loved them all and held my own.
It all started with my trip to the hospital for “observation” which happened as a result of passing out at a business reception on a Friday night in November 1998. Two nights previously, I was at the rink playing my usual Wednesday night game of rec hockey. I played like crap, had no energy, couldn’t skate or even work enough to get a sweat going, but all of that was passed off as being out of shape. That trip to the hospital explained things clearly.
I can only speak of my experience, but I know when you’re diagnosed with acute leukemia, most everything in your life changes quickly. The ability to stay working: gone. Hanging out with friends at a party: gone. While having treatment, the chemo really kicks your ass, so your activity drops off significantly. From what I can tell, chemo given for acute leukemia is more invasive than most, so not only are you facing huge emotional challenges, but physically your body takes some pretty good hits.
Thus, my weekly games of hockey stopped. As it turned out, they stopped for six years. The chemo, and subsequent bone marrow transplant from my dad, were challenging on many levels, definitely not insurmountable for me, but tough for sure. If my challenges had stopped there I know it still would have taken me a while to rebuild physically, but the curve ball of my month-long stay in ICU in a coma on life support really knocked me back.
As a result of my ICU stay, I was forced to rebuild my body from the basement. At 23, I had to learn to walk again, and did so without any formal support from the medical system, which is still a source of frustration for me. I rebuilt, a little, and got back to much of my normal life as much as possible, whatever that is.
I relapsed in 2001, just over two years after my first transplant. More challenges on all levels, but fortunately I avoided ICU after my second transplant and recovered much quicker than expected, which allowed me to work sooner than planned. That, I loved, but this time, I also slowed down more, took time off, and paced myself. I still am challenged with the balance thing, sometimes I’m good at it, and other times, I’m desperate. I’m a work-in-progress, as we all are for different things.
In October 2004, I celebrated the third anniversary of my second transplant. I’d never had a third anniversary of a transplant before. It was a milestone beyond many doctors’ expectations.
That month, I also resumed one of my true loves. In the fall of 2004, I finally got back on the ice with my gear on for a real game of hockey. True, I was far below the average age on the ice, but I was back playing hockey.
I quickly realized that as good as I was feeling, my body still had some major rebuilding required before I could consider playing with guys my own age and at a pace that I was once accustomed to playing. Hockey ended and just as it did I made a decision that I probably should have made the week I left the hospital after ICU in 1999, I joined a gym.
Once upon a time I was a regular at the gym, though I have never had a love affair with it. I’ve always preferred my childhood approach of chasing a puck or ball. But since joining a gym, and making the effort to get there consistently (and lots of days it’s a huge effort), I have noticed some things. My shoulders aren’t as tight, I’ve got more energy, and–holy shit–I’ve got 15 pounds on (not all muscle, but it’s a damn good start!). Most importantly, I feel the best that I’ve felt in seven years!
I’ve got some minor physical issues as a result of my treatment and experiences: slightly reduced lung capacity; and a “dropped” left foot as a result of ICU, which basically means my left foot doesn’t work quite as well as my right foot, but nothing too bad save the pain when it gets tired. And, I’ve been missing 50 pounds for about the past six years. Now I don’t need all that weight back, but another 10 pounds would be sweet, especially when I put it on the right way.
I’ve done a lot of things physically to improve my health and continue recovering. yoga every morning is one of my favourites, but nothing has had an impact on my daily life like getting my ass back in the gym and pushing myself just a little out of my comfort zone. Whether you’re athletic or not, it doesn’t matter, I think the point that I’ve learned is our bodies crave activity, it thrives when pushed, and we need to push it. A little, anyways.
I challenge you to get off the couch, so to speak, and put your physical conditioning on a priority list, ’cause I know as it improves, so will everything else in your life. Nike has something with that slogan that’s been around for a couple of decades.
Live life. Love life.