Get Up Offa That Thing: Exercise Helps Cancer Patients

March 16, 2010 at 4:18 PM (Energy, Happy, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

Don’t hate me because I’m in good shape.

When I was younger, I was a sloth. My mom signed me up for gymnastics classes, diving classes, riding lessons, the local swim team. I didn’t last long in any of them. The problem was, they all involved exercise and effort. I was much more of a sit-down-and-read-a-book kind of girl. Because sports were mandatory at my school, I volunteered to be the goalie for both field hockey and lacrosse, if the coach would let me get out of running laps with the rest of the team. (Hey, if I could stand in one place for the whole game, why did I have to get in shape?) I was even voted “Class Couch Potato” in my senior yearbook.

Then, when I was 21, I met this guy. He never sat still. Rollerblading, cycling, running, hiking, sightseeing… if I wanted to spend time with him, I had to get up. But still it took an engagement ring before I really got serious about working out. (Holy crap, a wedding gown? I better get my rear in gear.)

Fast-forward to the birth of my first son. All of a sudden, working out became a treat (sort of), a ninety-minute period of alone time when I was responsible for no one but myself. And, as any mother, stay-at-home or otherwise, can tell you, we don’t even get that in the loo. If I had to exercise for some peace by myself, I’d do it. (Never mind that it had to be at 5:30 a.m.; that just gave me the excuse to nap when the baby napped.) It turns out I am vainer than I am lazy.

Fast-forward again to my life P.C. (post-cancer). When I recovered from my first surgery, I realized that without all those tumors inside me, I felt better than I had in at least a year. Possibly since before I had had kids. So I kept working out. And during the IP chemo, which I was told came with “crushing fatigue” (boy, did it ever), I kept working out. Some days just a lurch down to the bottom of the hill and back, but I got moving. It helped me to feel in control of my body, in control of my life, in a disease process that is totally out of the patient’s hands in so many ways. It gave me time to think things through while I staggered, and make some personal decisions without interruption. I’m convinced that having a pretty high percentage of muscle mass helped me come through the six rounds of IP cisplatin as strongly as I did.

Once chemo is over, every time, and I start crawling out of the pit, exercise helps me feel like a normal person (at least until I catch sight of my squishy, pale, bald self in the weight room mirror). It helps me get my energy back sooner than I would have just waiting inside my house. It helps me get rid of the carbo-belt that develops around the waistband of chemo patients, thanks to the fabulous anti-emetics available nowadays and the raging cells looking for sugar.

Today, I found a study that shows how cancer patients that get regular exercise have more vigor and less emotional distress than cancer patients who don’t. (Sign up for a free MedScape account to read it – they have great articles.) Which I probably could have told you without the grants and the patients and all that time, but now we have proof.

So my advice for cancer patients: GET UP. Lurch down the hallway and back again. Once you can do that five times, add some stairs. Go for a swim. Walk the dog. Go down to the end of the driveway and get the mail. Once you finish chemo, treat yourself to a gym membership or a daily walk with a friend, and keep moving. The oxygen will help your body recover; the muscles will burn off the spare tire, and the companionship will keep you coming back.

Look, I love an afternoon in a comfy armchair with the cat and a good book as much (and probably more) than the next girl. But it isn’t going to prolong my life the way being in shape will.

Besides, the chair and the cat will still be there in an hour.

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Hero Worship

March 6, 2010 at 8:17 PM (Family, friends, kids, mommy guilt, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I got to meet Kelly Corrigan today. You know, she wrote The Middle Place. (If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Quickly – I’ll wait. Well, maybe not.) She grew up in the same place I did, and we have a mutual friend, Lisa, who was plugging Kelly’s new book on FB yesterday and hooked me up with the reading today at a local library. The moment she walked into the room, I felt like I had met her before, or knew her from somewhere. (I’m sure I wasn’t alone.)

Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She was  37, and her daughters were 2 and not-yet-4. (Sounds strangely familiar, right?) Anyway, I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t read it, but I will tell you that when I read The Middle Place the first time, it certainly relieved me of the pressure of having to write my own cancer memoir. Sure, the tumors were in different parts of our bodies, we live on opposite coasts, and her tale takes a different course than mine, but aside from that she pretty much wrote down every thought that was running through my head that first summer of treatment. My knee-jerk impulse to careen home and curl up in my mom’s lap. My realization that the world was not nearly as forgiving a place as my life to that point had led me to believe. My constant search for the best words to use in mass emails to strike the balance between accuracy and upbeat optimism, so as not to get anyone down (and ensure plenty of replies). My awe at the way my husband stepped up to the plate to maintain some semblance of order over chaos. My fear of how every moment of my illness was affecting my kids.

Kelly read from The Middle Place and her new book, Lift, a small but laser-sharp review of her daughters’ little-girl years, which she wrote so they would remember more than Kelly had of her own early youth. She explores so many of the hidden joys and pains of parenthood, and made me want to write down more of my own boys’ moments, knowing my own terrible memory and feeling the need to share their trials and triumphs with them when they’re older.

Quick-witted and smart, the more Kelly spoke, the more I understood why her books and her essays are so well received. She said herself that she “walks a fine line” of not-having-really-bad-stuff-happen-to-her (no plane crashes, alcoholism, crushing poverty) but still speaking to everyone in common sentiments. Her humorous take keeps the mood light enough that you want to read more, but the love that is so evident in all of her stories, whether about her own daughters or just dear friends, carried all of us in the room right into her lap.

So of course I had to say hello, and our mutual friend had given me a name to drop. I told her how she had written the book that I was going to write, and she laughed graciously. I’m sure I gibbered on, unable to get across how truly aligned I had felt with her own reactions, making my career as a wordsmith seem a bit misguided. I only hope that I didn’t embarrass Lisa too much.

Maybe when I get to meet Jude Law some day I won’t sound like quite so much of a starstruck schoolgirl. Then again, he hasn’t read my mind. Yet.

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Save Money: Get Cancer!

January 26, 2010 at 4:24 PM (Age, Energy, Hair, Silver Lining) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Recent articles in the media may give you the impression that cancer can be expensive. So expensive, in fact, that many patients need help in paying for their treatments. But I’ve put together a little list of the fantastically fiscally responsible features of this insidious illness. Check it out:

Baldness: Eliminates costs for hot water to wash the hair, electricity to blow-dry and straighten the hair. No shampoo, conditioner, frizz serum, or hairspray. No salon appointments, cuts, color, etc. No razor blades or shaving cream, waxing or eyebrow appointments. Average annual savings: ~$2,500 – 3,000.

Fatigue: Depending on your pre-cancer social life, savings can be significant. No cost for movie theaters, club cover charges, bar tabs, or concert tickets. (Who could stand up for three hours straight?) Deduct the cost of increasing your cable selection or increasing your Netflix membership, but average annual savings: $500 – 3,000.

Figure changes: Who knows what size you’ll be next week? Depending on your treatment protocol, you could be pumped full of fluid, plumped up on steroids, recovering from surgery, or in no mood to eat. And since the only places you’ll go will be the drive-thru at the pharmacy or a medical facility, you’re going to be looking for comfort anyway. Buy some yoga pants and this fleecy-lined sweatshirt in three colors each and you’re all set. Shelve your shopping addiction until your shape has settled. Average annual savings: $1,000 – 10,000 (depending on your habit). [NOTE: I didn’t really do this, but hypothetically, it could work. Nothing could stop me from shopping. Nothing.]

Feet: Don’t need heels (see reduced social life). Don’t need new trainers (see fatigue). Yoga doesn’t take shoes, and besides, your feet hurt. Get some snuggly boots or comfy soft slip-ons and relaaaaax. Average annual savings: $250 – $750+.

Nutrition: Eating out is limited to take-out, since who wants to be perky enough to be in a restaurant for an hour? People will be bringing you food since you’re too tired to cook, and other than that there’s a case of Ensure in the cupboard. Bananas and yogurt will round out the selection. Average annual savings: $300 – 1,000+.

Reading: You can cancel your magazine subscriptions. People will bring you the current issue of every trashy Hollywood tabloid, and, if they’re really good friends, shopping bags full of shelter mags. Plus, you’ll be spending a ton of time on the internet doing treatment research, reading killer blogs and connecting on i[2]y.com. Average annual savings: $50 – 300.

Home decor: for the first two weeks at least after your surgery, friends and relatives (especially those at a geographical distance too far to visit) will send flowers. LOTS of flowers. Plants, cut blooms, and, if you’re lucky, gorgeous bouquets from Winston’s. Since you’ll be a little immunologically compromised, the nurses won’t let you keep flowers in your room, so they’ll all have to go home. Which means that no one will notice the dirty slipcover on the armchair or the fact that the neglected and frustrated dog has eaten the doormat. Average annual savings: $100 – 500+.

See? Now run right out and tell your favorite cancer patient to quit their caterwauling about health insurance, co-pays, and pharmacy costs. This ought to cover at least one and possibly two recurrences of even the most hideous diagnosis. Right?

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Drat. Mom Was Right Again! And Here’s A Cornell Study To Back Her Up.

January 11, 2010 at 7:44 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When we used to go outside to play in the snow, Mom always told us to put a hat on. We’d ignore her (hats were NOT cool in the ’80s – hard on the feathered hair or some such) and slog around for twenty minutes, then come inside complaining that our feet were cold. “If your feet are cold, put a hat on,” she’d say. What kind of fool sense was that? If your feet are cold, clearly you need better boots. With wedge heels and faux shearling peeking over the top. Or possibly we just needed hot chocolate.

Now that I’m a cancer chick, I’ve come to realize that there may be something to this “cold feet/body = cold head” thing. Without hair, I’m FREEZING. All the time. From mid-June to mid-October, I’m okay, but the rest of the year? Cold. Layers, and lots of them. One of the layers must be wool (ok, cashmere), including the socks, or I’m shivering. I have rediscovered the magic of hats (and thank Kors they’re fashionable again!), and wear one all the time, inside and out. (Side benefit of baldness regrowth: no hat-head!)

My constant hypothermia has become a bit of an inter-gender needling trigger chez moi. Mr. Wonderful, whose metabolism usually runs at a high boil, is comfortable in the house in a t-shirt and jeans, bare feet. Occasionally he’s been known to take the dog out in the snow in said bare feet. He’s comfortable with the thermostat set at 64 (financially as well as thermally). My boys are always complaining that when I’m cold I make them put on sweaters. I, as previously noted, am only really warm in a hot shower or tucked into bed in (dead sexy) flannel PJs and a (dead sexy) fleece hat. Oh, and please set the thermostat to at LEAST 67. Preferably 69. All three boys find my shivering amusing, and think I’m making my griping up (but have come to expect that I’ll get them with my frosty fingers in the ribs at least once a day).

Today, there’s proof for the ladies. I discovered that some researchers at Cornell have released a study that proves that bald people are colder than people with hair! That’s right, four Biological and Environmental Engineering students put sensors on the heads of test subjects and put them in a cold environment for twelve minutes. They already knew that the head is a major source (60 to 80%) of heat loss (Mom was right!). The test subjects with hats showed little difference in head temperature regardless of hair length or thickness, but subjects without hats showed much higher heat loss through the head if their hair was shorter than one cm, and once their hair length reached two cm it started adding significant insulation to the skin.

I don’t think my hair is two cm long yet, but even if it were, I’d still quote this study. Rock on, my hatted bald-chick peeps.

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My Kilt Encounter – An Update

January 4, 2010 at 1:39 PM (Hair, Karma) (, , , , , , , , )

I was checking my stats and noticed that several hits from the past few days have come from “xmarksthescot.com”. An unfamiliar URL. I traveled there to discover that it’s a community of kilt-wearing scotsmen. I guessed they were amused by the tale of my Trader Joe’s encounter of last month, and discovered that someone had put a link to my story in a comment thread. When I navigated back to the original comment, look what I found!

http://www.xmarksthescot.com/forum/good_feeling-t55992/index.html

The universe works in mysterious ways.

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Hair Envy

December 30, 2009 at 10:24 AM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s not easy being green. Having to spend each day perusing magazines like InStyle with their seven-page editorial spreads of people like Blake Lively, Debra Messing and Penelope Cruz. Watching a little TV at the end of the day and being confronted with Pantene ads of models flipping their glossy, wavy, scapula-long locks around like modern-day incarnations of Cher.

As I’ve said before, baldness didn’t scare me this time around. I’d been through it before, had a DYNAMITE wig, loved the ease with which my morning routine rolled along, and relished the break from shaving, plucking, zits, etc. (Yes, the shiny-face-in-photographs thing was annoying, yes, sweating off my eyebrows six times a day was tedious, but they all beat being dead.) But as a (prematurely) post-menopausal female rapidly approaching the big 4-0, I could use all the feminine beauty mojo I can get. Baldness, and the subsequent Death-Valley-Ultramarathon that is growing out curly hair, eventually loses its silver lining and gets just plain cloudy.

So watching these twenty-something robo-babes and their semi-professional hair-flipping contests is starting to bum me out. Maybe it’s because I still think of myself as looking like them (at least in the respect that we’re both female) and when I catch sight of myself in the mirror I look SO unlike that now that it’s shocking, even more so than seeing my formerly Yul-Brynner self after a shower. I think of myself as having hair now, and this? Is so not it.

I think we need a Bald Channel. The King And I; the Star Trek with the bald chick in it; G.I. Jane; Shaft; the Natalie Portman movie where they shave her head; Kojak reruns. Ernie and Bert marathons. There could be made-for-tv movies about alopecia so chemo patients could understand that they’re not alone in the world, starring LeeAnn Rimes. Cancer patients all over the country would flock to the advertisers: moisturizers, wigs, great hats, Sephora tutorials on eyebrow and eyelash application.

Oh, great, like I don’t have enough projects already.

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Cold Food, Hot Dude

December 11, 2009 at 9:24 PM (Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

Trader Joe’s was pretty crowded for 7:00 on a Friday night (I know, I’m a real social butterfly), and I pulled my hat off when I walked in the door. (The fur-lined aviator hat is warm, but a little goofy.) Since my hair has gotten longer, it’s really itchy to wear my wig, so although it looks awesome, I’ve started going out without it. My hair is reeeeeeeally short, and it’s still pretty obvious that I’m growing it back from nothing; at Target today it got a lot of curious looks. I was a little self-conscious about it, but what the heck. My head is cute, my makeup is good, I’m rocking it. So people were doing double-takes tonight as they caught sight of my close crop. (I’m learning to live with the attention.)

Down at the end of the fresh foods aisle, a solidly-built gentleman was looking at cheese. Salt-and-pepper hair, Henry Rollins build, basket of groceries, and a kilt. With a sporran. And knee socks with the little ribbons. Big black brogues, a vest, and a bow tie. Awesome. He had a furrowed brow, as if he couldn’t remember what he was there to buy, or couldn’t find the right aisle for it. He looked very serious, and although I tried to catch his eye to smile, he was focused on his task.

I finished my shopping, checked out, and as I was pushing my cart out of the store, I noticed him walking across the front toward the register I had just left. I decided to take a chance that he had a sense of humor under that fierce demeanor, and as I rolled past him, I leaned over and said, “I’m glad you’re here – I thought I was going to be the one who got the most stares tonight.”

His face lit up and brightened from the center outward, revealing a radiant smile and twinkling blue eyes. He laughed as I rolled out to the parking lot.

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Seventh Time’s the Charm (Fingers Crossed)

November 23, 2009 at 7:24 PM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

I can’t believe it. Something worked! The results of last Friday’s CT scan are in, and while anecdotal (I won’t see the report until this Friday), I’m going to take the doctor’s “Your scans look better… good news all around” as a positive thing.

So let’s take stock: no symptoms (other than a mildly puffy left leg); declining fatigue; recovering cardiovascular fitness; renewed interest in culinary pursuits; hair growing in. One might be tempted to forget one has a medical problem.

Which seems to be a habit for me. Even when I’m down in the dumps, if I can just get the dog walked and the kids fed, maybe some grocery shopping done, I really have to remind myself (or step out of the shower and look in the mirror – yowza!) that I’m sick. So now that I’m starting to feel like a fully formed human being, that reminder every three weeks (and you can’t possibly visit The Cancer Factory without knowing you have a problem) might get increasingly annoying.

Rest assured, though, that I’m going. And adding Avastin to the top of my “Thanks” list! Let’s hope the fix keeps working; I could get used to this.

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