Saturday, October 19, 2013

Is anyone getting stronger quickly?

Yesterday at Vanderbilt, I read about a lady who had breast cancer. They had a picture of her, so I'm guessing she is about 50. Of course, the picture was of her competing in a bodybuilding competition, after chemo and in remission.

Inspired by her, I came down this morning to the kitchen and realized that I really didn't have enough energy to make coffee. In fact, I couldn't really think straight enough to decide on what to have for breakfast.

"My wife will do all that for me," I thought.

I laid on the couch. I took a few deep breaths, and they made me cough. "Rough morning," I thought.

As I lay there, my son, who is visiting from college for the weekend, runs up the stairs shouting to his sister, "I have so much energy this morning. I just went and did a bunch of pushups just because I have so much energy."


Then he went out to the car with a friend to get a screen protector for his phone. I thought, "I should do something." I forced myself off the couch for a new workout I read about. It's a 3-minute workout. In this case, I chose deep knee bends. I do as many as fast as I can, then pause for 10 seconds, do it again, and try to keep that up for 3 minutes. I've never made it past two.

In this case, it totally energized me. My youngest son saw me gasping for breath, and he asked if I was okay, but all the deep breathing cleared up my lungs.

Usually, when I try exercise to kick the doldrums out, it fails miserably. I just end up in bed, unable to do anything. This morning, though, I'm up and typing this blog now, feeling pretty good.

Of course, my wife has made me coffee by now, along with a bagel with egg and cheese.


So, my question is, if you've survived cancer, how are you doing at recovering energy, and what are you doing for exercise? How is the exercise working for you?

Exercise Story

I was feeling like my stamina was improving. I was walking on the treadmill at the gym and monitoring my heart rate. Over a couple of weeks, I had to go up in speed a little to keep my heart rate above 120. That was exciting.

Inspired, I walked several days in a row, and my body crashed. I slept all day one Friday, and then had little energy all day Saturday. I was on my feet most of that day, so I know it wasn't the result of being lazy and laying around.

So I have now limited myself to 3-4 days per week of walking 2 miles, keeping my heart rate above 120.

So here's the story. Last week, I decided to time myself walking around the block (big block). I started up the street, and I was quickly gasping for breath. By the time I rounded the corner and started down Strawberry Rd, I was wondering if I'd relapsed.

Really. I made myself come to grips with the possibility of relapse and be ready to give thanks to God in all circumstances.

Then I turned onto Dartford, which was downhill, and I realized just how uphill the start of walk must have been. My breath quickly came back, me feet felt lighter than they've ever felt, my heart stopped pounding.

The second lap, I took the uphill much slower. I felt MUCH better.

Earlier this week, walking laps at work, in the rain, I ran a little (very little) just because I felt like it.

Progress is SLOOOOW. But it's progress.

Again, I'd love to hear your plan, your success and lack thereof, and whether you're headed for a bodybuilding contest post-chemo or just struggling along like me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The New Normal Is a Lot Like the Old Normal

I was told to be prepared for the new normal. I had a good attitude about it. Leukemia, a slightly off version of Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (see tab above), chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant, and I was still alive. I'm a Jesus-follower. If my life were going to be marked by naps, day-by-day medical treatments, and a much slower pace, then it must be his will. All things work together for good for people like me, says the apostle Paul in Rom. 8:28. Life for me is about pleasing God. I'd like to do that without too much pain, but we all must accept the lot assigned to us unless God has given us the grace to change it.

I'm finding, though, that my new norm is not much different than my old norm except that I have to put on sunblock every day and exercise is nearly as effective.

  • I still am obsessed with work. My work involves not just running my warehouse in Selmer, and being a boss to the best crew of employees in the eastern United States, but also involves writing, which I love. I have so many writing projects that it is impossible I will ever get to them all. Thank God I have such a wonderful family, a lovely and enjoyable wife, and such a cute youngest daughter. (To my other children, you're wonderful, too, but most of you have moved out! Shame on you! Manu, you're not cute, just remarkably creative and becoming more responsible and reliable every day.)
  • I worked in the warehouse packing product a couple weeks ago. I only worked a half day, and I'm sure I was much slower than the younger guys, but it was apparent that I could have worked the whole day at that packing station.
  • I cover my arms, face, scalp, and neck in sunblock every day.
  • On a semi-regular basis I forget my past, stay busy from dawn to dusk or even later, and then, one morning, I can't get up. It used to take at least 24 hours to recover from such an episode, but now I'm usually okay by afternoon if I stay in bed all morning.
  • I have tried a couple times to get up, exercise, and thus overcome a "fatigue day" like that. Exercise is possible, and the ability to fall asleep standing up afterwards is impressive, but results have shown this to be a really bad idea.

The blisters, which I think I mentioned in the last post, went away within a few days of stopping my sunbathing program. I guess I'm going to be out of the sun forever.

My running program has been a disaster. For a while, I would run on the treadmill real slow (about 14 min/mile pace) for at least 4 minutes. I worked that up until I could run about 9 or 10 minutes straight, but it was torture. It was terribly painful, especially in my calves. After my last injury, where my left lower leg knotted up terribly and it took four weeks to get the pain out of my foot, my ability to run had dropped back to 2 or 3 minutes, still painful.

So I dropped that program as unsuccessful. Because we moved to Cordova (suburb of Memphis), we were able to get an inexpensive gym membership. I started to lift weights, and after six weeks I am very, very slightly stronger. That doesn't feel very successful, either.

But here's a program that appears to be working well for me. I was stunned on Sept. 6 that I was able to mostly walk, with a few 30-yard runs thrown in, a 5K in 47:18. That is under 16 minutes per mile. When I ran a mile back in June or July, I was only able to run it in 13:59, even though I ran the whole thing. The mile was really painful. This 5K wasn't really painful at all. It was hard, challenging, and I was sweating and breathing hard, but it was like a difficult workout, somewhat pleasant.

This gym has treadmills that keep track of my heart rate. I started walking at 2.6 mph (slower than 20 min/mile), and after a few minutes my heart rate would be up over 110. I sped up to 3.0 (exactly 20 min/mile), and my heart rate reached 120, which was my goal. Just over two weeks, I have had to speed the treadmill up to 3.4 to get my heart rate over 120. Clear, noticeable progress! There has been very little of that in my exercise programs up to now.

I'm sorry for those of you that have had a rougher route. I hope my story gives hope of things getting better, especially if you're careful about what you eat and stay active. Make friends; be outgoing. The statistics on the health of those with lots of friends and a few close ones versus loners are amazing. One study showed that loners were FOUR TIMES more likely to get a cold when a rhinovirus was dropped in their nose than those with strong social ties.

Why not be outgoing? If you have had a bone marrow transplant, and you can read this, you are a survivor. You have peered at death and walked away, probably not unscathed. You have a story to tell, and you are a conqueror. You have been victorious in battle, just like our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and just like King David and so many other great warriors of the past. Hold your head high, make good use of your second life, and give everyone "what for."

And I'm thrilled for those that have done better. I'm still on daily Tacrolimus and steroids to stave off the rash that covered much of my body for over a year. My lower legs were completely covered in rash that entire time. Tamera is completely off her Tacro, and her last post said she's only been taking it once a week up to when they took her off of it.

Another GREAT story is Lexe Selman, who is PLAYING SOCCER FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA LESS THAN TWO YEARS AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH AML. Come on. How can you beat that? I love her story. You MUST see the video and photos on her June 3, 2012 post. I cannot imagine playing in a soccer game between rounds of chemo, much less doing what she did.

Actually, yes I can. I could not play anything like my former self, much less like a young soccer star, between rounds of chemo, but I did play. Everyone was worried about me, but it was a lot of fun.

I remember a game of softball, after the transplant, when my thighs were skinnier than my knees. I had been walking stairs, so I could jog really slow. I hit the ball, thinking that I would surely remember that I couldn't run, but I didn't remember. My subconscious remembered the old days, commanded my body to take off, and my upper body was several feet down the baseline before my brain realized that I had left my legs behind. Somehow, I managed to turn sideways and roll as I hit the ground rather than faceplant.

I had someone run for me, even from home plate, the next time I came to bat.

Not being very smart, I went out and played soccer with teenagers and young men and women a couple weeks later. Same thing. "I have to beat her to the ball," and my body took off with my legs flailing behind me. I didn't roll, I sprawled. The moment when everyone looks at you and says, "You okay?" is pretty embarrassing.

Anyway, I thought y'all were due a little update. Back to the doctor on Oct. 11, when maybe I can go down on at least the steroids.