Cancer and Fitness (Member Blog: Emma Smith)
Cancer and Fitness – not really two words that go together right?
When I was told at the age of 30 that I had cancer I remember naively thinking that I had lived a lifestyle that should have excluded me from this disease. I was young, I was fit, I ate well, I exercised and didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs. But sadly for so many people, cancer does not discriminate. The thought of going from fit 30 year old women to bald, fragile cancer patient was inconceivable to say the least.
When that thought became a reality I was devastated. Pre cancer I was so active and vibrant and now I could barely get out of bed. I felt like I had become an old women in a matter of months. I felt like if I fell over I would break. I am a very independent person and pride myself on this fact, but now I needed help to do the most basic of things.
Fitness during in chemotherapy was incredibly tough. The chronic fatigue along with the debilitating effects of chemo are not conducive to exercise. I found myself only being able to walk on my good days and by the end even that was hard.
When I finally got my remission tick and stopped treatment I was elated! This was the end of it I thought! I could just get on with life now as I’m cancer free. To a degree this was true however I also had to pick up what cancer left behind. One of those things being a very different physical appearance than the one I had at the start.
Muscle wastage, weight gain, limited flexibility and zero stamina. It dawned on me that although I had fought so hard there was still work to be done. I didn’t recognize the person I saw in the mirror anymore and I felt like cancer had erased me.
It took two months after treatment to get to the point where I thought I could do something at a gym – even that was a stretch. I knew that fitness would not only be key to my mental and physical wellbeing but that it would help my cancer to stay in remission.
However the thought of walking into a gym was terrifying! A feeling I had never experienced before as I have always loved the gym. I knew how unfit I was and not to mention I was aware of my physical appearance post cancer.
Could I really walk into a gym and face being stared at when I was already feeling self-conscious? Could I really be the girl with cancer failing at the gym? I felt like I had failed so much already. During treatment I was fortunate enough to find an online community of women with cancer who’s support was invaluable. That sense of community and support resonated with me and I was desperate to find that in the real world. With that in mind I decided to give lissome a go.
I purchased the 7 day trial but the back and forth in my head continued. Not only was I worried that I would faint mid class I didn't want to be the girl with cancer any more. I was cancer free now and I just wanted so badly to be a normal woman trying to lose that extra few kg's. I was used to people looking at me in my headscarf and giving me the pity stare. I didn't want to be a patient anymore – I wanted to be a person. But scared or not I decided my health was more important than my fears.
I walked in expecting the pity stares, I expected people to look at my headscarf and then search my face for signs that I was sick – as so many strangers had done before. But it didn’t come! Instead I was warmly welcomed! I was not asked about my health status and I didn’t feel like ‘that girl with cancer’.
Well fitness post chemo also has its hiccups! I was slightly ambitious and went a little too hard for where I was at. It turns out that whilst in recovery high intensive exercise is not so cool. I promised my doctor I would calm it down and instead take the basic options. That didn't mean I would not do anything, I could think of nothing worse! I was however really worried the gym would tell me that they couldn't help me and to come back when i was fitter and more able. I didn’t want to be thrown back into patient mode all over again and I felt those invisible limitations clawing their way back.
So I plucked up the courage to tell the coaches my predicament and to my surprise they very kindly said they were able to amend my program so I could still train! This was literally the best news and I could not wait to get back to it - even if I had to take a BIG step back. It was hard to move those goal posts closer - But it didn’t mean I failed. Failing would have been not stepping foot in the gym and starting something. Failing would have been letting my physical state dictate my choices, my health and my happiness.
I did have hard moments is my effort to get fit. One of my very first sessions the lovely coach Ash had us do push up’s. Now I wasn’t good at push up pre cancer but post cancer I had zero strength in my arms. I also had neuropathy which meant at times my hands and feet went numb and it was very hard to grip bars or even feel what I was doing.
I could barely do the easiest version and my eyes filled up with tears as I watched everyone else finish as I was struggling to do half of. I felt broken and berated myself for not being able to do more. Then the entire class crowded around me, they were cheering me on. I was so touched but still I struggled to do the exercise. Then the class got down and they did the rest of the set at my pace with me. Those people will never know what that meant to me or how close I was to ugly crying . This is a small example of the support I feel coming to the gym.
The sense of community I have gained from lissome is beyond anything I thought I would get. The support and encouragement I was given at a time where I desperately needed this was nothing short of amazing. Not to mention the role models I train alongside every day. Thank you to this beautiful gym for giving me a place to belong to, a place to put myself first and to finally feel like a person again.