I would describe myself as an active, energetic person. I enjoy spending time outdoors, exercising, and exploring the city of Boston. During the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis, I was training for a triathlon. When I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, one of my main concerns was figuring out ways that I would stay active.
I went through six 5-day long rounds of chemotherapy, with two-week breaks in between rounds. During chemo, I would walk laps around the nurse’s station and do an occasional wall sit (pictured) to stay active. If my memory serves me correctly, the wall sits only lasted for the first two rounds of chemo before I gave up on them. I still walked to keep my bowels moving (fun!), but other than that, most of my time was spent in bed.
After the first two rounds, the chemotherapy was starting to have a serious effect on me. When I was done with a round, I would hide away in my bedroom for a day or two, too tired to function as a normal human being. By the third day, I returned to what my parents would describe as my normal state. “Welcome back!” they’d greet me, as I started engaging in normal conversations.
I was mad that my body was failing me, and that I had lost the ability to stay active. At that point, I became motivated to get on the treadmill during the 2 weeks between rounds of chemo. I made small goals for myself such as 10 minutes of walking. Slowly, over the course of two weeks, I would work myself up to 9 minutes walking and 30 seconds of jogging, or 8 minutes walking and 1 minute jogging.
Unfortunately, I was trapped in a Cinderella-like nightmare. Just as I was starting to make progress and feel more like a normal human, the clock struck midnight and I lost it all with the start of my next round of chemo. Again and again, I repeated this cycle. Endure chemo, finish treatment and go back home, start feeling better — then WHAM back to chemo.
Some days, I was too weak to accomplish my goal. I would force myself to put on workout clothes, go down to my basement, and start walking on the treadmill. Within 3 minutes, I was laying in a ball on the floor, crying because I felt too exhausted or nauseous to continue. I felt like a failure, unable to do simple tasks that I used to love.
It was a completely isolating experience. I was a 19 year old who should be spending her Friday night at a party with her friends at school, not spending it crying at the foot of a treadmill. While my friends were supportive of my progress, I never felt like I could text them about my failures. How could I explain the pure terror I felt when I realized my body wouldn’t function in a way I wanted it to? Or that doing small tasks felt like moving mountains? Or that I was jealous that they could run/walk/ do anything they wanted?
Those days left me frustrated and mad at the world. Plus, running was my go-to stress reducing activity, and that was out of the question. Getting through those days included a mixture of letting myself cry, napping off the exhaustion, and trying to find something positive in a less active endeavor (see my previous post: Chemotherapy Activity Ideas).
Eventually, I made it through all my rounds of chemotherapy, and my small exercise accomplishments began building on each other. It took me a few months to run a full mile, a milestone that I will never forget. Every time I go for a run, take a bike ride, or hike a mountain, I am grateful for my ability to exercise and have control over my body. For the rest of my life, I will never take a single step for granted.