Having been through all of this cancer stuff twelve years ago, I honestly expected this time to be pretty much the same. Naive, I realize now.
In 2004, I was 31 years old when I found out that I had cancer. Still fairly young–I’ve known breast cancer survivors who have been diagnosed at a much younger age–I was able to bear the effects of the treatment and surgeries, still maintaining a somewhat normal life. Indeed, I took advantage of the amenities at our local YMCA and exercised regularly and even attended hour-long classes during my treatment.
Now? Things have changed. Dramatically.
The chemo drugs hit me a lot harder this time around. Some days my only cardio was simply hobbling to the bathroom with an unsteady hand braced against the wall as I slowly moved forward. During my off weeks, I gradually began stretching, cardio, and weight lifting. By the time I was ready for my next round of chemo, I was feeling pretty darned good. And then I would be back at square one once that chemotherapy began dripping into my veins.
After my bilateral mastectomy in December, I was not allowed to exercise or move my arms for at least the first couple of weeks. Once I did get the go-ahead from my surgeon, however, I was off and running, so to speak. She had given me a deadline of a month to get back full arm range of motion. If I was not able to make this happen by my next appointment, I would be forced into physical therapy.
By this time in my treatment, I was angry at my body for being so weak, and I was determined to rush the process of regaining strength and mobility. I returned to the videos that I had relied upon for my exercise routines before and during treatment. Grunting through the stretches and low impact cardio, I pushed through.
Bad, bad idea. My body rewarded me, but not in the way that I had hoped. I instead found myself wracked with pain and muscle spasms.
I had been focused on my hoped-for end point, full health and strength, along with a proclamation from the oncologists of NED (No Evidence of Disease). As Craig Groeschel says in his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life,
“If you try to focus now on the last chapter of your story, you’ll likely find yourself too paralyzed to write the first page.”
Although I had a goal–regaining my strength and mobility within a month–along with a singular focus on the end of my treatment, I had effectively paralyzed myself into inaction by my refusal to accept this stage in my life fully. Despite a logical understanding that I do have cancer for a second time, I still don’t want to believe it at times. The hopeful end point of my treatment (NED) seems tenuous now, and I have often attempted to bulldoze my way to that unknown future in order to escape the current pain.
After a period of depression and a downright pity party following my initial attempts to exercise after my surgery, I’m trying to take things a bit slower now. I may not know if I will ever reach that final diagnosis of NED, but I can move forward a bit now, trusting my future to God. As Groeschel goes on to say,
“I like to say it this way: I will do today what I can do to enable me to do tomorrow what I can’t do today.”
Today I can try to raise my arms a bit more than the day before. I can do a bit of cleaning to increase the strength and range of motion in my upper body. And I can rest.
Time and patient effort right now are needed. As Ellie Arroway is told in the movie Contact, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”