6/20/2016: The Day the Earth Stood Still (for me). The day my internist called to tell me “It’s bad. Really bad.” Ovarian Cancer. Further testing revealed it to be the worst: stage 4. Meaning it wasn’t just throughout my abdomen and bowels, but it had migrated to lymph nodes around my heart and chest. The first words from my oncologist: “Your life as you now know it will never be the same.”
Chilled me to my bones, those words.
How can this be? I’m a lifelong competitive runner, nutritionally aware, a “practice what I preach” sports physical therapist. Used to being the healer/caregiver, I never thought I’d be the one needing help: the (gulp) patient.
After listening to (and researching) the laundry list of problems I would encounter with the aggressive chemotherapy, I decided I was going to think outside the box, be proactive and use my physical therapy knowledge to deal with the predicted physical issues.
First goal: I will always walk or walk/run to chemo no matter what (yes, initially my husband had to pick me up afterward for safety reasons). Chemo was only 3.5 miles away, so it seemed doable. It did get a little tough over the winter months, but I had it all figured out. Dress warmly in layers, and carry a change of clothes in my backpack. Use the ladies
room at the hospital to “baby-wipe” myself down, change and go for treatment. My oncologist got a real kick out of this; he said in his line of work he never sees a patient in better shape than himself!
Second goal: No pain or “feel good” meds for me, no sirree; with the exception of the now legal in NJ medical marijuana……great for getting me “out of my head” and letting me sleep at night. I am now really good at making cannabutter. But that’s another story; possibly a cookbook in my future?
Interestingly, the things I was doing before: working, running, cross training, strength training, core, postural, flexibility exercises, and foam rolling are really helping me combat the side effects.
- Stiff, tight muscles? Self-active release, foam roll (and the Melt Method – thank you Sue Hitzmann) ; gentle stretching. Check.
- Neuropathy (tingling, occasional numbness and cold in hands feet)? It’s all about revving up the circulation! Gentle, (for me) sustained cardio (run/walk; elliptical, arc trainer, spin cycle) along with the above. Check.
- Joint pain? I am a whiz at Kinesio/Rock taping, temporary splinting. This knowledge has taken me quite a long way for pain relief. As a last resort, I’ll self-medicate occasionally with children's liquid Tylenol or Advil (less stomach irritation for me in this form and you can really dose control). Check.
- Fatigue and/or weakness? High rep, low weight strength training; body weight core and postural program. A few days of taking it easy. Check.
People always ask me how they can help. I don’t honestly know unless you are going through the same thing I am. I could use some advice from folks that have been there. One thing I know for sure: don’t tell me how “strong” and “brave” I am!! You would do exactly as I’m doing: by facing this head on and trying not to fall apart! There’s no bravery there, really, just reaction based on fear. Bottom line? Survival. And please, don’t throw a pity party for me. It’s all there in your eyes, and I can plainly see it.
Yes, I’ve had to make some major modifications to pre-cancer previous routine, but I am able to incorporate everything into my cancer battle. My work hours are significantly reduced, and my running is now walking/running but I power through this daily. Staying motivated to continue my daily exercise is also a challenge, but I’ve found music really helps. My surprising go-to song? Learn How to Live (thank you 80’s pop idol, Billy Squier!).
There are specific lines in certain songs that just make me tear up when I hear them: Hercules Mulligan (Hamilton: The Battle of Yorktown) rapping: “When you knock me down I get the F*** back up again!” Fun! (the song? Carry On): “May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground.” Gets me every time.
Then there are some days I just don’t want to get out of bed. But hey, there were days I didn’t want to get out of bed B.C. (before cancer)!
The psychological issues continue to be much more of a struggle for me than the physical ones. It comes down to “quality of life”. How does one define this? It’s all relative, really. I’m used to a very physical life with both work and play, so my definition may not compare to someone else’s.
I know I’ll never be able to go back to my former life. But how do I find a “new normal?” I haven’t yet been able to sit down and come up with a new plan for myself; establish new goals outside of my cancer life. Finding a new purpose. The hardest task of all.
Cancer, of any form, is a very real and personal illness which affects many people in many different ways! This story is from Janice Morra, who as you can see was very active and took her physical condition, prior to being diagnosed, very seriously. It was this lifestyle of physical activity that she pursued, which helped her to compete against this illness and not just simply throw in the towel.
Guest Blogger: Janice Morra