When I was initially diagnosed with leukemia, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. Once I reached the top, I would pant like I had just crossed the finish line at a death valley 100 mile ultra-marathon. I went to the doctor and discovered my white blood cell count was one hundred and twenty eight thousand. That’s 128,000 if you prefer to look at a number. Since normal is 4-11 thousand, I was definitely in a little trouble.
As my medicine started to work, so did my legs. I became more active and no longer panted like a dog trapped in a car on a 90 degree day. I committed to working out, alternating between the treadmill and stationary bike. Over time, the commitment paid off. Not only was I fifteen pounds lighter, I felt more energetic, I had a clearer head, and started feeling better about living a “normal” life.
Around that time, I discovered I had a t315i mutation and was told my medicine wouldn’t work anymore. It completely short circuited my momentum and I didn’t have the heart to keep working out. I was so disheartened, I gave up. I didn’t want to experience the additional frustration of losing all of my energy again. It’s the little things like not being able to walk up a flight of stairs or feeling too fatigued to engage in extra-curricular activities that eventually drive you crazy about cancer.
It seemed like every time I started to work out again, something else would happen and I’d have to stop. It was a vicious cycle. Starting from scratch over and over and over again had taken it’s toll. Like a repeatedly abused dog, my will to find the motivation to get back into shape cowered to a uncontrollable body inhabited by another agenda.
Recently, I overcame the self-pity and decided to get back into the gym. Fully aware of the possibility I’d lose all momentum again, I was motivated by the plight of what my body has put me through. I got really angry and thought, no, I’m not allowing my body to beat me. Not now. I’m not giving up again. I resolved myself to keep moving forward.
I wish I could write a fairy tale about how it’s been easy, but I can’t. It hasn’t been. Even though I’ve experienced the inability to climb a flight of stairs in the past, my brain seems to be stuck in a time when I was eighteen and played two sports year-round. Waiting patiently for my body to build endurance is greater than the challenge of getting on the treadmill in the first place.
I wanted to believe I could fight through a thirty minute cardio program, but midway through my first couple of workouts I thought hard about ordering one of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” Life Alert bracelets. I felt like the wrestler stuck in the middle of the ring, whose arm frantically searches for his tag team partner after he’s been beaten up for ten straight minutes. I could never seem to stretch out my arm far enough for the tag. I wanted somebody to throw in a metal chair so I could crush my opponent over the head. That always seemed to solve the problem.
I know it’s hard for all people to fall into an exercise routine, but my natural tendency to be hard on myself hasn’t provided an outlet for practicality. I’m sure if I went to a counselor, this would be a topic of conversation, however, until I do, I use raised expectations to motivate me. It doesn’t always work, especially during periods where my body is struggling with leukemia. It seems unnecessary to fight through my own bloated expectations, but I haven’t been able to let that go. I still have some things to learn.
Slowly, but surely, I’m building up endurance. Five days out of the week I alternate between running three miles and interval sprint training. Five days out of the week I’m reminded of how starting an exercise routine from scratch is second only to visiting every booth in the middle of the mall in the category of “least desirable things to do”.
This seems silly, but working out is my way of telling my leukemia to go screw itself. I’m not arrogant enough to think I’ll always win, but when I do, it’s such a great feeling of accomplishment. I don’t rely on those feelings, but I surely relish them. If I happen to get back into shape throughout the process, then it’s another notch on the decision to never give up.